Japan has multiple customs dealing with New Year’s. Many of these are for connecting with family and friends, such as visiting shrines together or writing one another cards. Japanese New Year’s greeting cards are called 年賀状（ねんがじょう）or “nengajo.” When you are in Japan or have Japanese friends, you know for sure you will be receiving at least one nengajo. This means you have to send out these cards too!
Knowing how to write New Year’s cards correctly will come in handy, so here is a step-by-step guide introducing you to the world of nengajo.
Step 1: Make a List
Now, you’re probably wondering who you should be sending nengajo to. The Japanese usually send these delightful cards to family and friends but also to coworkers, business partners, classmates, teachers, and so on. Instead of thinking of it as a friendly hello, the Japanese tend to see these cards as a civic duty.
But while the custom of sending New Year’s cards is so embedded into society, nengajo have a very important role. People can reconnect over these cards, and these encounters are something precious.
Also, if there is a family you know who has suffered the loss of a loved during the previous year, you may receive a “mourning postcard” that lets you know not to send a nengajo.
Step 2: Buy or Create Your Own Cards
You will begin to notice stores bringing in nengajo around the beginning of December. Loft, supermarkets, and, of course, post offices will have a surplus of Japanese New Year’s cards for you to choose from. The main design, however, will be the Chinese zodiac animal that represents the upcoming year.
However, if you want to get creative, you can certainly make your own postcards as long as you have the appropriate paper. Many people like to use family photos on the front, but there are plenty of websites offering free designs, digital software, and your own tastes to create the perfect nengajo. Of course, you don’t have to use an actual nengajo postcard either! A plain postcard works too!
Step 3: Write Your Message – Commonly Used Phrases
All the following lines basically mean “Happy New Year” in Japanese. You can use any of them when writing a card, though some of them are not used in conversation or are more formal than others.
- 謹賀新年 （きんがしんねん）
- 恭賀新年 （きょうがしんねん）
- 賀正 （がしょう）
- 迎春 （げいしゅん）
- 明けましておめでとうございます。 （あけましておめでとうございます）
- 新年おめでとうございます。 （しんねんおめでとうございます）
- 謹んで新年のお喜びを申し上げます。（つつしんでしんねんのおよろこびをもうしあげます）- This is the most formal on the list.
The first four, “Kinga Shinnen (謹賀新年),” “Kyouga Shinnen (恭賀新年),” “Gashou (賀正),” and “Geishun (迎春)” are considered seasonal and are never used in normal conversation. Greetings always come first, opening the card warmly.
The next section of the card after the greeting is some words of appreciation, gratitude, or the wish for continued support in the new year. Here are some useful phrases to add to the card:
Translation: Thank you for your help last year.
Translation: I ask for your continued aid this year.
Translation: Wishing everyone good health (and fortune).
Note: These sentences technically mean the same thing, except the top one is slightly more formal.
The Japanese also traditionally include a personal message should the recipient have done something worthy of gratitude. For example, if someone helped you get a work visa against all odds, there is a pretty high chance that you will want to mention that in the card somewhere along the line.
Step 4: Mail the Nengajo
Usually, nengajo already come with postage included in their price. This is nice, because you don’t have to worry about licking stamps all day long.
You also want to refrain from handing a nengajo to someone directly.
When you write the recipient’s address, make sure to use the following format:
- The card should be positioned vertically, as should the recipient’s address. Write it in large script. Your address (the sender) should be on the bottom left hand corner in smaller script.
- You can write addresses in English or Japanese. In the case of English writing, the recipient’s address can be horizontal instead of vertical.
- Should you have decided to use a regular postcard, make sure to write 年賀（ねんが）below where the stamp goes so the post office treats the card as it should be. In other words, so it doesn’t arrive prematurely!
Japan Post begins accepting cards from early December . At this point, the post office goes into overdrive. Every post box receives a new slot specifically for nengajo, and the workers are sure to label every single card to ensure the card doesn’t arrive before January 1st, as this is considered bad form. No, the post office makes certain that as long as you get the nengajo in by December 25th that the greeting card will be delivered on the morning of the New Year.
Did you know that in Japan alone over 4 billion nengajo cards get delivered each year? Part-timers are hired for the sole purpose of helping get these nicely wrapped bundles of New Year’s cards to their recipients on January 1st. It is rather miraculous when you think about it.
Now, if you plan on sending your nengajo abroad, Japan Post will add another stamp (usually around 20 yen) to the normal postcard cost. The card is then delivered by airmail, so unfortunately you never really know when the nengajo will arrive to your friend or family members outside Japan.
Step 5: Lottery
Lastly, you might be surprised to learn that nengajo aren’t solely for telling people you are thankful for their support and are wishing them well. Nengajo also come with lottery numbers, called otoshidama, for the New Year Jumbo Lottery. The numbers are issued by Japan Post and are printed on the bottom of the postcard prior to being sent out. Announcements happen on or around January 15th. The usual prizes include televisions, washer/dryers, stamp sets for the year and the like.
Japanese nengajo, or New Year’s cards are friendly greetings that you receive on the first day of the new year. These cards contain greetings and warm wishes for health and happiness from the first day onward. They can be received from anyone you know, so be sure to send out your own and join in spreading the cheer! Who knows, you may get lucky with the lottery too.
By Valerie Taylor
東京都在住。太陽光発電に関する企業で通訳・翻訳、 国際関係業務を勤めている。 また、ダンスと忍術を訓練している。
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