Author: M.Kok

Japanese new years cards 年賀状 (ねんがじょうnengajō)

As most of the ‘western’ countries send Christmas cards, the Japanese send New Years cards. There are various types of ‘Nengajo’, but the spirit of the idea is the same- a new year’s greeting.

Greeting & design

Depending on who you send the card to, the greeting and the card design will differ.

For example, a ‘Nengajo’ for a family member or a friend can be a picture of yourself holding a stuffed animal corresponding to the Chinese Zodiac Calendar (2021 is the year of the Ox). With the classical greeting of 明けましておめでとう(Akemashite omedetō) or/and

今年もよろしくお願いいたします(Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegai shimasu). That roughly translates into ‘happy new year’ and ‘let us get along well this year as well’.

Whereas as a greeting card that is meant for a client or your mentor or teacher should have a more conservative design and a more formal greeting. A common greeting is 謹んで年始のご挨拶を申し述べます

 (Tsutsushinde nenshi no go-aisatsu o mōshiagemasu) which means ‘I  express my sincere new years’ greetings’.

Where to get

You can buy the cards from everywhere, from the most basic designs sold in convenience stores and post offices to the more elaborate ones found in specialty stationery shops and online.

If you are confident enough in your calligraphy skills, it might be a nice idea to write a card by hand. Similar to western greeting cards, not many people bother to write ‘Nengajo’ by hand. By taking the time to write one, it will surely make your ‘Nengajo’ stand out from the rest.  

How to send

The traditional way is to send a new year greeting card to every one of your connections. Your boss, all the co-workers, your trainer at the gym, the guy you play online games with- everyone.

(Except)You do not send ‘Nengajo’ to a household that has had a death in the past year.

Now the present life and its realities don’t permit that anymore. With all the circles of everyday acquaintances getting larger, most Japanese only send cards to their family members.


The time to send the ‘Nengajo’ starts from the second week of December up until the twenty-fifth. Since Japan’s post service is so efficient it is borderline magic, the delivery of the ‘Nengajo’ on the new year’s day is guaranteed. There is a special post box next to the normal bost box you put your card in so it will arrive on the exact day. If you ought to put it into the normal post box, it will arrive as soon as the post-service can manage(usually quicker).

If you receive a personalised ‘Nengajo’ the custom is to send one back. If you check your post late and you think your response won’t make it by the seventh of January you should send a 寒中見舞い (kanchu mimai) -a winter greeting card instead.


There are many types of cards and many forms of greetings. There is even a nationwide lottery ‘Nengajo’. Why not surprise your friends and loved ones these holidays by taking part in this lovely tradition.

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