Akemashite Omedetou – What it Really Means & How to Reply


Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu, 明けましておめでとうございます, What does it mean and how to reply to the Japanese new year greeting

When you look up how to say “Happy New Year” in Japanese “Akemashite omedetou (gozaimasu)” is the first phrase you will find. However, after moving to Japan I noticed that wishing someone a happy new year is more complicated in Japanese because there are two expressions. So let’s take a look at the real meaning of the phrase “Akemashite omedetou (gozaimasu)” and how to reply to the new year greeting.

Akemashite Omedetou (明けましておめでとう) is usually translated as “Happy New Year”, but in contrast to the English phrase, it is only used after the new year has started. The common reply to the new year greeting is the same “Akemashite Omedetou” usually followed by “Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegai shimasu”.

Below you will find some alternative and more appropriate translations for the Japanese phrase “Akemashite omedetou (gozaimasu)” and I will also explain the meaning of the wordakemashite” in more detail. Of course, I will also tell you what the replyKotoshi mo yoroshiku onegai shimasumeans in English and talk about the otherHappy New Yearphrase that Japanese people say before the start of the new year.

The Real Meaning of Akemashite Omedetou (Gozaimasu)

Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu (明けましておめでとうございます) is a formal Japanese expression used in January after the new year has begun. It means “Happy New Year”, but a more accurate English translation would be “Congratulations on the start of the new year” or “The new year has started. Congratulations!”.

In order to fully understand why these translations are more accurate than the English expression “Happy New Year”, we have to take a deeper look at the meaning of the words used in the Japanese new year greeting: “Akemashite” and “Omedetou (gozaimasu)“.

What Does Akemashite Mean?

Akemashite (明けまして, あけまして) comes from the verb akeru (明ける) or its formal version akemasu (明けます) and can be translated as “to dawn, to grow light“, “to end (of a period, season), or “to begin (of the New Year)” (see source). When you conjugate akeru (明ける) into its polite te-form you get akemashite (明けまして).

akeru明ける (あける)dictionary form
akemasu明けます (あけます)polite form
akemashite明けまして (あけまして)polite te-form
Conjugations of the verb akeru (明ける)

The word is used in common phrases such as Toshi ga akeru (年が明ける) which means “the New Year begins” or “the New Year starts“. And Yo ga akeru (夜が明ける) which translates as “dawn breaks” or “the day dawns“.

Traditionally the phrase “Shinnen akemashite omedetou gozaimasu” (新年明けましておめでとうございます) was used instead of the shorter and now more common version “Akemashite omedetou (gozaimasu)”. Shinnen (新年) means “New Year” and so Shinnen ga akeru (新年が明ける) would also mean “the new Year begins/starts“. This phrase isn’t really used, though.

Changing akeru (明ける) to akemashite (明けまして) can sometimes change the whole meaning of a sentence. However, in this case, the te-form is just used for connecting the first phrase “(Shinnen) akemashite” with the second phrase “Omedetou gozaimasu” and so the meaning of the sentence stays the same.

I don’t want you to get confused by this, but just to be complete. In other expressions such as Tsuyu ga akeru (梅雨が明ける), for example, the word akeru (明ける) actually means the opposite. If you translate this phrase into English you get “the rainy season comes to an end” or “the rainy season closes”.

What Does Omedetou Gozaimasu Mean?

Omedetou (おめでとう) means “Congratulations“, “Well done“, or “All the best“. It is used when you want to wish someone a happy birthday or congratulate them on other occasions. Gozaimasu (ございます) is a polite ending that makes the sentence or phrase more formal. In casual situations, it can be omitted.

Here are a few examples:

Otanjoubi omedetou
お誕生日おめでとう
Happy Birthday!
(casual)
Otanjoubi omedetou gozaimasu
お誕生日おめでとうございます
Happy Birthday!
(more formal/polite)
Gokekkon omedetou
ご結婚おめでとう
Congratulations on your wedding!
(casual)
Gokekkon omedetou gozaimasu
ご結婚おめでとうございます
Congratulations on your wedding!
(more formal/polite)
Akemashite omedetou
明けましておめでとう
Happy New Year!
(casual)
Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu
明けましておめでとうございます
Happy New Year!
(more formal/polite)
Omedetou (casual) vs Omedetou Gozaimasu (formal)

How to Reply to Akemashite Omedetou (Gozaimasu)

The formal reply to Happy New Year is “Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu” (明けましておめでとうございます), but in casual situations “Akemashite omedetou” is more often used. After that, it is common to say “Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegai shimasu” (今年も宜しくお願いします). To friends, you can respond with “Akeome! Kotoyoro!”.

So let’s take a look at these phrases one by one.

1. “Akemashite Omedetou” vs “Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu”

Akemashite omedetou (明けましておめでとう) and Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu (明けましておめでとうございます) both translate as “Happy New Year” or the more literal translation “Congratulations on the start of the new year”. The difference is that Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu is more formal.

That’s why I recommend you to reply with Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu in formal and business situations and to respond with the shorter and more casual sounding Akemashite omedetou in informal situations.

My rule of thumb is that, except for when talking to someone with higher status or a higher social position (someone I would address with the Japanese honorific san), I tend to reply using the same phrase. Basically, the same rule when responding to Konnichiwa.

2. Kotoshi mo Yoroshiku Onegai Shimasu

After replying to someone’s happy new year greeting with Akemashite omedetou (gozaimasu), it is common to say Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegai shimasu (今年も宜しくお願いします). This is a phrase that is nearly impossible to translate into natural English, but it means something along the lines of “I look forward to your continued patronage again this year!” or “I look forward to working with you again this year!“, or “I look forward to another great year with you!“.

I know that these phrases sound kinda awkward in English especially when you use them to reply to your friends. However, in Japan, it is a very common phrase. So don’t worry about the English translation, just remember when and how to use this important Japanese phrase.

You can either say Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegai shimasu right after your reply with Akemashite omedetou (gozaimasu). Or you can wait until the other person says it first and then respond using the same phrase or just Yoroshiku onegai shimasu (宜しくお願いします).

Especially at work with your coworkers and sometimes with your friends, it can also be common to say Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegai shimasu together at the same time. A slightly more polite version that you can use with your boss, for example, is Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegai itashimasu (今年も宜しくお願い致します).

3. Akeome! Kotoyoro! (abbreviation, very casual)

Since Japanese love and tend to shorten everything, there’s (of course) also an abbreviation for the new year greeting we have just discussed. You can express everything we said before in just two words: Akeome! Kotoyoro! (あけおめ!ことよろ!). Or in three words in case you prefer to write it “Akeome! Koto yoro!”.

Akeome (あけおめ) is the abbreviation of Akemashite omedetou (あけまして おめでとう) and Kotoyoro (ことよろ) is the clipping of Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegai shimasu (ことし も よろしく おねがい します). It is commonly used among friends and family and in texts.

What do Japanese People Say Before the New Year?

Before January 1st and the start of the new year, Japanese wish a happy new year with the phrase “Yoi otoshi o” (良いお年を) or its more formal version “Yoi otoshi o omukae kudasai” (良いお年をお迎えください). It translates as “Happy New Year” or “Please have a good New Year”. The standard reply is the same phrase.

So remember to use the phrase “Yoi otoshi o (omukae kudasai)” in December until the end of the current year. However, once the clock turned midnight and the new year has started on January 1st you should switch to “Akemashite omedetou (gozaimasu). Kotoshi mo yoroshiku ongai shimasu.” or the short “Akeome! Kotoyoro!”.

Overview How to Respond to Happy New Year in Japanese

GreetingReply
Akemashite omedetou
明けましておめでとう
Akemashite omedetou
明けましておめでとう
or more formal:
Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu
明けましておめでとうございます
Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu
明けましておめでとうございます
Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu
明けましておめでとうございます
or more casual:
Akemashite omedetou
明けましておめでとう
Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegai shimasu
今年も宜しくお願いします
Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegai shimasu
今年も宜しくお願いします
or more formal:
Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegai itashimasu
今年も宜しくお願い致します
or just:
Yoroshiku onegai shimasu
宜しくお願いします
Akeome! Kotoyoro!
あけおめ!ことよろ!
Akeome! Kotoyoro!
あけおめ!ことよろ!
or:
Akemashite omedetou
明けましておめでとう
Yoi otoshi o
良いお年を
Yoi otoshi o
良いお年を
or more formal:
Yoi otoshi o omukae kudasai
良いお年をお迎えください
Yoi otoshi o omukae kudasai
良いお年をお迎えください
Yoi otoshi o omukae kudasai
良いお年をお迎えください
or more casual:
Yoi otoshi o
良いお年を
How to Respond to Happy New Year in Japanese

Alex (RockinJapanese)

おはよう. I'm Alex. I have started studying Japanese when I was still a high school student and I have been living and working in Japan since 2015. I'm still learning new Japanese phrases and words every day and I thought that publishing them online will be useful for you, too. Hopefully, my study notes and free Japanese lessons will help you to reach the Japanese level you want to have! If you have any questions feel free to contact me anytime! Alex

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