Fukuoka Now shows you how to spread the New Year’s Cheer this December with nengajo, the ultimate winter greeting card!
As Christmas and the New Year draw near, our thoughts naturally drift to family and friends in the far-off places we call home. While the internet has simplified staying in touch, there’s something uniquely heartfelt about receiving a Christmas and New Year’s card in the mail, especially one that has traveled all the way from Japan—extra points for distance! However, the cost of international postage can add up, especially when sending cards to multiple recipients. Fortunately, Japan offers a cost-effective solution: ‘nengajo,’ or New Year’s greeting cards, which are a traditional and economical way to send festive wishes.
Buying your Nengajo
Nengajo are special Japanese New Year’s cards that include postage for domestic mailing. These can be found at stationery stores around Fukuoka, such as Loft, but the Fukuoka Central Post Office is an excellent starting point. Starting in November, the Post Office sets up a dedicated desk for nengajo sales. Basic nengajo are priced at an affordable ¥63 and are available in varieties suitable for both printers and handwriting, allowing you to personalize each card. Ink-jet friendly versions are also available for ¥63, with premium ink-jet photo versions costing slightly more at ¥73 each. Additionally, the post office offers a selection of pre-printed cards starting from ¥68.
Designing your Nengajo
With 2024 being the Year of the Dragon, many pre-printed nengajo will feature this majestic zodiac sign. While these are readily available, creating your own designs is not only more cost-effective but also a delightful way to express your creativity. Shops like Daiso brim with stationery that can spark your imagination. However, when adding decorative elements, remember that your nengajo will journey through the postal system unguarded. It’s best to avoid using embellishments that could detach or damage the card en route. For a truly personal touch, consider using calligraphy. Complete sets, including a brush, inkstone, practice paper, and a mat, are available at ¥100 shops. Crafting your nengajo with hand-written calligraphy is not only immensely satisfying but also imbues your greetings with a traditional flair.
Some Useful Phrases
When composing nengajo in Japanese, the characters used, known as gashi (賀詞), vary depending on the recipient’s relationship to you. Tradition dictates using certain phrases when addressing your boss, elders, or those in a higher professional or social position. These gashi may range from a single kanji character to a combination, with a general guideline being to use at least four kanji for superiors. In contrast, shorter gashi of one or two kanji are acceptable for friends or those with whom you have an informal relationship. For those unfamiliar with these subtleties, there are universally acceptable phrases that can be used on nengajo, ensuring your New Year’s greetings are well-received by any recipient without the risk of a cultural faux pas.
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.
Gokenshou to gotakou wo oinori moushiagemasu
Wishing your family good health and happiness.
Nenshino goaisatsu wo 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
For domestic delivery in Japan, once your nengajo is ready, it can be dropped off in any mailbox. Look for the designated nengajo slot, available from December 15 to December 25. Nengajo are specially handled by Japan Post, sorted, and stored until they are all delivered on New Year’s Day, contributing to the massive undertaking of distributing approximately 1.4 billion cards.
For international dispatch, you’ll need to affix an additional ¥37 stamp to the nengajo‘s pre-included domestic postage, bringing the total postage cost to ¥100. After adding the stamp, simply take your nengajo to the mailbox. Remember, unlike the domestic service, international nengajo will not be held for New Year’s Day delivery; they will be sent via standard airmail and will arrive according to typical international delivery times. Please note that New Year’s Day delivery and other special services provided by Japan Post are exclusively for domestic mail within Japan.
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: ¥63; Ink-Jet friendly: ¥63; Ink-Jet friendly (for photos): ¥73; pre-printed: ¥68
International stamp (nenga): ¥37
Calligraphy set from ¥100 Shop: Brush (¥110), Inkstone (¥110), Practice Paper (¥110), Mat (¥110)
Special nengajo slots will be marked on all post boxes Dec. 15 (Fri.) to around Dec. 25 (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
Receiving a nengajo from someone to whom you haven’t sent one calls for a prompt response to honor the gesture. To adhere to tradition, make sure to send a return nengajo by January 7th, which marks the end of the customary New Year’s greeting period. Any greetings sent after this date are not regarded as nengajo but rather as ‘kanchumimai’ or winter greeting cards. While these are still thoughtful, they don’t carry the same New Year’s sentiment and may not fulfill the social expectation of a timely New Year reply.
Don’t discard the nengajo you receive! Each card features a six-digit lottery number in the bottom right-hand corner. The awaited lottery results are announced on January 17th, an exciting tradition of the New Year. This year, there are 1,448 first prizes up for grabs, with rewards including ¥310,000 in e-money, ¥300,000 in cash, or a combination of a special stamp collection from 2023 and ¥200,000. The second prize will go to 144,800 winners who can expect a delightful small package from their hometown among other gifts—this requires matching four digits. Additionally, with a 3% chance, third prize winners will receive a special New Year’s stamp sheet. Keep your nengajo safe and visit the Japan Post official website for more details and to check if you’re among the lucky winners.
Original report and photos by Oscar Boyd and Jasmin Bethke, updated Dec. 2023.