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New Year Holidays in Japan: Nengajou

Date Published: Last Update:2015/05/19 Traditional Culture , , , ,

For some other parts of the world, Christmas is the time for sending holiday greetings through postcards and mail. It is not much like that in Japan though. The Japanese receive holiday greeting cards in New Year’s Day (January 1), thus called Nengajou or the New Year’s Card.

The New Year’s Card or Nengajou

The nengajou (年賀状, New Year’s Card) is a traditional way of the Japanese to send greetings to faraway friends and family. It is also a way to tell those people, as they not always meet, of how well you are doing. The Japanese send these postcards before the deadline (usually mid-December to near end of the month) set by the post office so that they will arrive on time on January 1. Due to the huge amount of deliveries, the post office usually hires students as part-time workers to help in the delivery of the letters.

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One of the postcards sold in the year 1932. Can you guess what animal in the Chinese Zodiac is 1932? (Photo by electrons_fishgils on Flickr)

History of Sending New Year’s Cards

The New Year’s Day, just like in other countries, is a very special holiday in Japan. Before, it is a custom to call relatives, neighbors, and those who showed them kindness over the preceding year. This was done during the first few days of the New Year. During the Meiji Period (1868 – 1912), the post office began issuing post cards and people began sending these cards instead of making a phone call as a form of greeting. The post office then started a service where they promise to deliver these greeting cards on January 1 if they were posted before the set date.

In 1949, postcards carrying lottery numbers, called the otoshidama-tsuki nenga hagaki began selling. The holders of winning numbers will receive prizes which are not of cash but appliances like TV and car navigation systems. Because of this, the sending of postcards immensely increased since then. Today, the post office prints up more than 4 billion prize-carrying New Year’s Cards every year.

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The first set of otoshidama nenga hagaki or the New Year’s Card with lottery numbers that were sold. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

People can also buy from other sources or make their own designs. Bookstores and stationers sell printed cards. Most of the design of these cards have the Chinese Zodiac sign of the New Year, conventional greetings, and stuff related to New Year. Famous animal characters and mascots with an equivalent in the Chinese Zodiac have been especially popular in their celebrated years. Example of these are Snoopy in 2006, and Mickey and Minnie Mouse in 2008.

Conventional Card Greetings

Traditionally, addressing is done by hand to demonstrate one’s handwriting. Some postcards also have spaces where the sender can write a personal message. Conventional nengajou greetings include the following:

  • akemashite omedetou gozaimasu (あけましておめでとうございます) – can be understood as “Happy New Year!” or “Greetings for the New Year!”
  • kinga shinnen (謹賀新年) – Happy New Year!
  • Kyonen iroiro osewa ni narimashita. (去年いろいろお世話になりました) – “Thank you for the kindness you have shown for me last year.”
  • kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu (今年もよろしくお願いします) – can be translated as “I hope for your kindness again in the coming year.”
  • gashō (賀正) – Happy New Year!, it can also mean “to celebrate January”

How about in your country? Do you send postcards during this time of the year? Share it with us in the comments section below!

References:

1. Japanese New Year, Wikipedia.

2. Nengajo. About.com.

3. Writing Nengajo. Web-Japan.

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