【WINTER】The ‘Nengajo’ Postcard: a heartwarming tradition of the Japanese New Year

Japanese people exchange Nengajo postcards as New Year Greetings, much like Western people sending Christmas cards to each other.


Japanese people exchange Nengajo postcards as New Year Greetings, much like Western people send Christmas cards to each other.

New Year’s Greetings in Japan

In Japan, it was a long-established custom to personally present your greetings to people who had helped you and to your superiors at the beginning of the year. They give thanks for the help received during the previous year and ask for continuous help in the New Year. After the Japanese postal service was developed,  this New Year’s greeting custom turned into exchanging special postcards called ‘nengajo’. People living far from each other keep in touch with friends and relatives with these postcards.

The 2016 Nengajo postcard issued by the Japan Post
The 2016 nengajo postcard issued by the Japan Post

The Origin of nengajo

New Year’s greeting letters were exchanged in the 18th century via the hikyaku delivery service. However, hikyaku men delivered letters on foot, so only a small number of people were able to send their letters. The custom of exchanging nengajo postcards spread throughout Japan during the Meiji period, from the middle of  the 19th century. The postal service enabled people to send postcards everywhere Japan.

An image of a Hikyaku man
A hikyaku delivery man

Nengajo: A distinct type of mail

Nengajo is delivered on the morning of January 1st, if the sender mails the card before Christmas day. The nengajo post card is special, because the top side has the word nenga (年賀) in red color, so it can be sorted out of other mail. ‘Nenga’ literally means, celebrating the New Year. ‘Jo’ stands for various kinds of letters, including postcards. The nengajo postcards issued by the Japan post have a uniquely designed stamp every year. This stamp shows the New Year’s animal, associating with the Chinese zodiac. Buying a nengajo postcard while you visit Japan is nice, because it clearly shows the year you visited Japan.

 The animals of the Chinese Zodiac
The animals of the Chinese Zodiac

Nengajo postcard designs

A phrase for celebrating the New Year is a must, and many Japanese people also use an image, or a picture of the New Year’s animal. Images of iconic New Years items and lucky objects such as kadomatsu decorations, plum flowers, and the maneki-neko (lucky cat) are also popular. Computer printing has become more and more popular, so some people use memorable photos of their family from the previous year. There’s a lot of computer templates designs on sale, so anybody can easily make a beautiful New Year’s card.
nengajo

Japan Post’s nengajo cards have a lottery number.

Receiving a lot of nengajo postcards is nice, because we connect with people through them. Another benefit is the lottery numbers printed on postcards issued by Japan Post. Prizes include foods from localities around Japan, special postage stamps, and cash! If you get a nengajo postcard from friends in Japan, check to see if you get lucky:
http://yubin-nenga.jp/otoshidama/ (Japanese text only)

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Aquico

Aquico

Editor / Writer

“My dream is that Tadaima Japan will make more people want to come to Japan. I want to introduce the beautiful Japan in which I was born. I like fingernail art!”