As 2018 draws to a close here in Japan with a cavalcade of snow and cold, we say farewell to the year of the dog and welcome in 2019, the year of the boar. That means it is time to get in line at the local post office and purchase a nengajo, also known as a New Year’s card. According to a Japanese friend, nengajo are more popular than Christmas cards. She also told me that the Japanese use the New Year holiday to inform relatives and friends that they are healthy and ready for a new year to begin. Big corporations also send them to employees to usher in a prosperous and successful new year for the company, as well as the employees. These cards often include a graphic representation of the zodiac for the new year and a greeting. A common greeting on a nengajo is Akemashite omedeto gozaimasu! Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegai shimasu!, which roughly translates to Happy New Year! Let’s have another good year!
Nengajo for 2019. The front has a picture of a boar. The back is for the address and contains your hopefully lucky lottery numbers!
Nengajo for 2019 include graphics of inoshishi or boars and some also include lottery numbers! Not all nengajo include lottery numbers, but they are the most popular. Get a lucky number on a card and you could win a number of prizes including ¥300,000 (approx. $2,800 with the current exchange rate), small appliances, or locally grown foods, and postage stamps. The winning numbers are usually announced mid-January via the TV news, newspapers, and now social media.
New Year’s cards can be purchased at the post office and convenience stores like Lawson or Family Mart. The post office seems to be the preferred method as it can be one stop shopping: buy the cards, get a special New Year’s holiday stamp in red to validate the lottery number, and drop it in the Nengajo slot for a January 1 delivery. Yes, the Japanese post office will hold all of the nengajo dropped in the special New Year’s slot and deliver them all on January 1st. Or you can drop your card in the regular mail slot and it will be delivered immediately. If you want your nengajo to be delivered on January 1, you have to make sure you mail it in the appropriate slot between December 15-25. Any cards dropped at the post office after December 25 will be delivered like regular mail.
I recently read a Japan Times article that stated the nengajo tradition has been declining in Japan now for several years. Fewer and fewer people are mailing the cards these days as the tradition is viewed by those under forty years of age to be old fashioned and tired. The younger generation here in Japan prefer to send New Year’s greetings via the very popular social media app LINE (which is similar to WhatsApp). I guess the same is true for the United States when it comes to Christmas cards. I remember Christmases long ago when my mother would write and send dozens of Christmas cards to family and friends; and we would receive dozens of Christmas cards to display around the house. The cards always gave our house an atmosphere of holiday cheer. It is sad to see a beautiful tradition replaced by the digital avalanche of progress. I encourage progress, but it saddens me that tradition is often the innocent victim left behind in the name of change.
My wife and I used to send out dozens of Christmas cards every holiday season. As the years marched by, the amount of cards we received dwindled, but we still sent out dozens. So, as tradition dictates, my wife and I mailed several Christmas cards to family and friends and we also received a few this year. We have and will continue to keep the tradition alive in our household. Did I make the nengajo deadline? Sadly, I admit that I did not. I learned about the deadline while writing about nengajo for this blog…but there is always next year! Until then, ring in this new year happily and safely with family and friends!
© 2018 Gregory Vessar
Akemashite omedeto gozaimasu! Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegai shimasu!
Happy New Year!