Nengajo – How to Make a Japanese New Year’s Card

Fukuoka Now shows you how to spread the New Year’s Cheer this December!

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As Christmas and the New Year approach, the mind often wanders to the distant shores of the land we call home, to family and to friends. Keeping in touch has been made easy ever since Skype came into being but nothing says Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year like a card in the post, especially if it has come all the way from Japan. But international post remains expensive, and quickly adds up if you’re planning to send a large number of cards. Luckily, Japan has a cheap and easy alternative: nengajo.

Buying your Nengajo
Nengajo are special Japanese New Year’s cards that come with domestic postage included. They can be bought from stationary stores around Fukuoka such as Loft, but a great place to start is Tenjin’s Central Post Office. Since the beginning of December, the Post Office has had a special desk positioned outside which deals only in nengajo. Here, plain nengajo sell for as little as ¥52 and come on both printer and pen-friendly paper, meaning you can add your personal design to each card. The post office also sells ready printed cards from about ¥150 each.

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Designing your Nengajo
2015 is the zodiac year of the Ram and many pre-printed cards focus on this theme. But pre-printed cards can be expensive and let’s face it, designing your own is much more fun. To get some ideas, Fukuoka Now attended NPO Hearty Care’s ‘The Way of Calligraphy’ event, which focused on teaching designs for New Year’s cards. Before the event, calligraphy (shodo) was completely alien to us, but it proved fantastic fun, led by the brilliant Ukyo Kamigori of the Onchikai Shodo Academy. Though there was little hope of reaching sensei status in an hour and a half, with a little bit of practice we each managed to make a postcard and quickly became calligraphy converts. Calligraphy sets (brush, inkstone, practice paper and a matt) can be purchased from Daiso and other ¥100 stores for under ¥500 and great fun can be had personalising your nengajo with a calligraphy brush. Check out our designs below for some inspiration:

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Some Useful Phrases
Which characters you should use depends on who you are sending the card to. Traditionally, there are certain 賀詞 gashi (greeting words) you should avoid using when sending a card to your boss, elders, or someone who is considered above your status. Gashi can be a single kanji or a combination of two or more. It’s frowned upon to send less than four kanji to your boss, but one or two-kanji gashi are okay for your friends or someone who is of lower status. Luckily there are some universal phrases that can be written on nengajo that can be sent to anyone without getting into trouble.

Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu
Happy New Year.

Kotoshimo yoroshiku onegaishimasu
Kind regards/thanks for putting up with me/thank you in advance for this year.

Kyunenchu wa osewani narimashita
Thanks for (everything you did/taking care of me) last year.

Gokenshouto gotakouwo oinori moushiagemasu
Wishing your family good health and happiness.

Nenshino goaisatsuwo moushiagemasu
A New Year’s greeting to you. (formal)

The following website kindly provides a template of New Year’s greetings in many different languages, and a few English phrases for Japanese speakers.

Posting your Nengajo
If you are sending your card domestically, once finished, it can simply be posted from any postbox around Japan with no need to worry about stamps. These postboxes will have a special nengajo slot from Dec. 15. In Japan, once posted, nengajo are sorted and held until New Year’s Day when all of the estimated 3.2 billion nengajo are delivered.

If you are planning to send your card abroad, you can pick up one of the special ¥18 Nenga stamps which cover international postage. These delightful stamps are themed about Sushi and Tempura this year, just in case your family and friends forget where you are posting from. Stamp added, take your card to the postbox and you’re set to go. Unlike sending nengajo in Japan, the cards won’t be held and travel at standard airmail speeds to their destination.

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It is protocol not to send nengajo to people with a death in the family in the previous year.

Nengajo: Regular nengajo, without design, but with lottery number. ¥52
Calligraphy set from Daiso ¥100 Shop: Brush (¥108), Inkstone (¥108), Practice Paper (¥108), Matt (¥108)

Start date:
Special nengajo slots will be marked on all post boxes from Dec. 15 (Mon).

If you want your nengajo to arrive in time for New Year’s day, post them by Dec. 25. Cards posted by Dec. 28 might make it, but that’s not guaranteed.

Replying to nengajo
If you receive a nengajo from someone who you didn’t send one to, it is considered bad manners not to reply. You should send them a card before Jan. 7, the nengajo cut off date. Anything sent after that will not be considered a nengajo, but instead a kanchumimai (winter greetings) card.

Don’t throw away the nengajo you receive! On the bottom right of every nengajo you will find a six digit lottery number, and lucky winners will be announced on Jan. 18. This year there will be 32,327 first prize winners, who will each receive ¥10,000 (five digits required). There will be 323,275 second prize winners, who will each receive a goodie bag (4 digits required). There’s a 1/50 chance of being a third prize winner all of whom will receive special New Year’s stamps. For more details and to check if you’ve won anything, go to

Did you know? 3,221,044,000 nengajo were posted in 2013-2014.

Report and photos by Oscar Boyd and Tomo Greer

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