Japanese “nengajo” (年賀状) or New Years greetings cards are a fun and easy means of showing your appreciation to all those people who have helped you navigate the tricky waters of living in a foreign country — and they’re also a great way to send cool Japanese well-wishes to your friends and family back home.
But there are rules about when and who to send your nengajo to and restrictions based on what happened during the previous year. So, to avoid offending a large group of people too early on in the year, here’s a step by step guide to sending your nengajo.
Step One: Buy or create your own nengajo
From early December onwards you can pick up pre-printed nengajo in variety and stationery stores like Loft and Don Quijote, post offices and supermarkets. There are literally hundreds of different designs to choose from but most will have a version of the zodiac sign for the upcoming year.
2019 is the year of the pig/boar so not too difficult to draw if you want to create your own! Some people like to include photos of themselves or their family and there’s also the option to create digital designs and print them off. There are websites that offer free printable designs — the Japan Post has a whole amazing create-your-own section for nengajo.
You can also even just buy a normal card and write “nenga” (年賀) next to the address to indicate that it’s a New Years card.
Step Two: Write your message
Once you’ve made your nengajo, it’s probably best to include a message (there’s nothing more mysterious, or creepy, than an empty greetings card) and Japanese has many a stock phrase to wish somebody a happy new year so you can mix it up a bit.
You can, of course, write a more personal message. The custom of nengajo is based on “nenshi-mawari” or New Year’s visits where people would call on their family, friends and neighbors to say thank you for their support during the previous year. So, if a nice person did something like bust you out of a maximum security prison it’s good to specifically thank them for that.
Japanese New Years Phrases
|あけましておめでとうございます||Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu||Happy New Year|
|新年おめでとうございます||Shinnen omedetou gozaimasu||Happy New Year (alternative)|
|昨年はお世話になりました||Sakunen wa osewa ni narimashita||Thank you for everything last year|
|今年もよろしくお願いします||Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu||Thank you in advance for this year|
|ご健勝とご多幸をお祈り申し上げます||Gokenshou to gotakou wo oinori moushiagemasu||Wishing your family good health and happiness|
The Japan Post website also provides some example phrases in Japanese for different social contexts that you can copy.
Step Three: Send your nengajo
Usually when you buy nengajo they already include postage which means that you don’t need to buy stamps and get a furry tongue sticking them all on. Japan Post starts accepting cards from December 15th at which point the whole postal service assumes its ultimate nengajo form, changing post boxes to include a separate opening for nengajo and labeling each card to ensure they will be delivered not before or after but precisely on the morning of the 1st of January (as long as you sent them before the 25th). If you are a bit late to the game, you can still send cards up to be received up until the 7th of January. Anything after that will be socially unacceptable — or at least, belated.
The post office hires part-time workers to help deliver the estimated 4 billion cards which arrive at each household in nicely bound bundles. When the nengajo are delivered, it’s an exciting time for families to open their parcel of New Years wishes and check out this year’s designs.
Note that you’re not supposed to send nengajo to a person who has had a death in the family the previous year. They should have sent a mochuu hagaki (喪中はがき) or “mourning postcard” to let you know not to send one if you’re not sure.
To send your nengajo abroad, Japan Post has an 18 yen stamp that can be added to the normal postcard (already postmarked) to be delivered by airmail, though there are no guarantees that the postal service at the other end will do as efficient a job.
Step Four: Win the lottery (hopefully)
Many people use nengajo with lottery numbers for the New Year Jumbo Lottery. The numbers are issued by the Japan Post and usually printed on the bottom of the card. Prizes are announced on January 15th and are normally household objects like a TV, a washer/dryer or home spa kit. With odds like 4 billion to one, it might just be your lucky New Years day – anything’s possible!
This post was updated from the original on Dec 21 2018.