When the Christmas season is approaching, you may want to send Christmas cards to Japanese colleagues, clients and friends. Although Christmas is not the same type of holiday in Japan as it is in other countries -- less than 1 percent of the Japanese are Christian for starters -- the Japanese do celebrate the holiday, usually with romantic dates or a friends and family gathering with a Christmas cake and a bucket of chicken. Writing "Merry Christmas" in Japanese in your Christmas cards may impress any Japanese people to whom you send a card.
Step 1: "Merry Christmas" and "Happy New Year" in Japanese
Translate "Merry Christmas" in Japanese. If you're unfamiliar with the language, opt for the simplest of holiday sayings, such as "Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!" Including "Happy New Year!" in your Christmas card is culturally appropriate. New Year's is a more important holiday than Christmas in Japan, and the Japanese send out "nengajo," or New Year's postcards, wishing each other cheer much like Westerners mail Christmas cards.
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Step 2: Top to Bottom, Right to Left
Write from top to bottom and from right to left. Traditional Japanese writing reads from up to down in a line, with the first line at the rightmost side of the page and subsequent lines to the left. The first character you write will appear at the top right corner of your card.
Step 3: Address Your Greeting
Address the message to your friend or colleague. If you're writing to a friend, you may address him by his given name, but you should address a person with whom you're not close -- especially business colleagues and clients -- by her family name. You can write in kanji, the Chinese-origin ideographic Japanese alphabet, or in hiragana, a Japanese phonetic alphabet. If you don't know the kanji in the recipient's name, use hiragana. In any case, add "san" in hiragana after the name. "San" is a title of respect and ensures the message is polite. Add "he" in hiragana after "san." "He" means "To," as in "To Mr. Yamada." Write the hiragana in proper stroke order.
Step 4: Write "Merry Christmas" in Katakana
Write "Merry Christmas" in katakana. Katakana is the Japanese language's second phonetic alphabet reserved for foreign words and words that require emphasis. In the case of "Merry Christmas," there is no Japanese translation. Instead, the Japanese say the phrase in English as closely as their phonetic alphabet allows. The katakana characters in the phrase "Merry Christmas" are pronounced Meri Kurisumasu.
Step 5: Write "Happy New Year" in hiragana
Write "Happy New Year" in hiragana. Although traditionally the phrase "Happy New Year" does contain some kanji, many Japanese write the phrase entirely in hiragana. "Happy New Year" translates to "akemashite omedetou gozaimasu" in Japanese.
Step 6: Sign Your Card
Sign the card with your name. Write your name in English, or, if you're looking for a challenge, attempt to write your name in katakana. After writing your name, write the hiragana characters "yo" and "ri." "Yori" means "From" in Japanese, as in "From Bob Jones."
You can write "Merry Christmas" and "Happy New Year" along with the rest of your message horizontally -- from left to right like English text -- instead of vertically if it is easier. This is the proper way to write Japanese horizontally, although the vertical way is the traditional option.
If the Japanese alphabets prove too difficult for you, write the phrases in the Roman alphabet. Most Japanese can read their language in the Roman alphabet, which they call "romaji." Write "Merry Christmas" in English and then write "Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu."
It's a very good idea to have a native Japanese speaker vet your Christmas card before sending it.
Don't put spaces between words in a sentence when writing in Japanese alphabets. The written Japanese language does not require spaces. Your messages "meri--kurisumasu" and "akemashiteomedetougozaimasu" should not have spaces between each word when writing in katakana, hiragana or kanji.