Now that Christmas has passed, people are gearing up for the Japanese New Year, or Oshōgatsu. Part of bring in the new year involves sending new years greetings cards, called nengajō, to family and friends. These postcards arrive in your mail box on New Years Day if the sender posts before the Christmas deadline.
Think of it like the tradition of sending Christmas cards, but a little more involved because your mailing list will usually include acquaintances or connections that you may hardly ever see, or consider yourself very close to at all, out of politeness.
As you get older and meet more people, the number of people you owe a card to also grows. While my husband were still dating and living together, we sent out about 30 postcards a year. Now married, that number has increased to around 70. In comparison, the home stay family I spent my year in Tokyo with usually mails out 400 postcards, which is a fairly normal number for a larger, established family.
Because the sheer volume of cards people mail out, the designs are usually fairly simple and everyone receives the same one. Although in the past Japanese often included a handmade drawing and message with the cards, now many choose to have them printed or print them at home with family pictures and a small one liner greeting. Should you receive a greeting from a Japanese acquaintance, friend, or family, you’re supposed to send your own card in return.
Making your own card is pretty simple. On one side you write the address and name of the person you’ll be sending the greeting to, as well as your own name and address below. Traditionally this is done vertically, but you can write horizontally if you wish. Especially when writing to other foreigners, it’s more aesthetically pleasing to write names horizontally. Many people utilize the pre-printed boxes made for filling in postal codes, but especially on the return address part might be difficult to align without some trial and error when printing addresses instead of handwriting them in, so some choose to ignore them like in the example below.
The on the back of the card you can draw, stamp, or print your own design on a new years greeting postcard. During the month of December, the post office will start selling blank new years greeting postcards for people to buy and print their greeting onto at home. You can either choose inkjet paper or photo paper postcards to print on, in varying pre-paid postage designs.
The Japan Post also puts out a new years greeting card kit you can install on your computer with preset designs and handy features for organizing address lists and easy printing. Here’s a link to it.
Or, if you’re not feeling very artistic or aren’t very tech savvy, you can purchase a pre-designed card at your local convenience store or buy designs in bulk online.
When our mailing list was much shorter, I used to hand stamp each card with sets sold at local stationary stores this time of year and decorate with embossing, decoration tape, and/or markers. Now that our list has grown and continues to grow, I usually reserve the handmade cards for any of my students that choose to exchange addresses with me and design and print the rest on the computer.
Anywho, once you’ve created the design you’re ready to add a message. Messages can either be printed or handwritten in later. The most commonly used one liners are “akemashite omedetou gozaimasu” (“happy new year”) and “kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu” (roughly, “I/we humbly ask for your kindness this year as well”), but if the addressee has gotten married recently, has had a child, or some other life-changing event, you might want to include this in your greeting as well.
This site is really handy for coming up with a good message to write, especially if your Japanese is a little on the rusty side. Messages are categorized by situation or type of greeting.
When you’re finished making your card you can either take it to the post office personally, or drop it in any mailbox around town. You might need to pay additional postage when mailing cards abroad. Regular cards for domestic delivery go into the slot on the right side of the mailbox, while cards for international delivery with correct postage go into the slot on the left.
One cool thing about the greeting card exchange here is that most postcards include a lottery number at the bottom where the receiver has a chance to win money and other prizes. The results are announced on later on in January. It would be nice if we were lucky enough to win something this time around! 🙂
Happy greeting card making, everyone! Until next year!