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 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 the internet 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 (bonus points!!). 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 stationery stores around Fukuoka such as Loft, but a great place to start is Fukuoka’s Central Post Office. From the beginning of December, the Post Office has a special desk positioned outside which deals only in nengajo. Here, plain nengajo sell for as little as ¥63 and come on both printer and pen-friendly paper, meaning you can add your personal design to each card. If you want an ink-jet compatible nengajo, that’ll cost you a whopping ¥73. The post office also sells pre-printed cards from ¥68 each.
Designing your Nengajo
2020 is the zodiac year of the rat 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. Stores like Daiso are a great source of inspiration for design, and sell all sorts of stationery. Remember though that your nengajo will be going through the post unprotected, so don’t stick on anything that might fall off as it travels across the country or to other sides of the world. If you’re feeling really brave, calligraphy sets (brush, inkstone, practice paper and a matt) can be purchased from ¥100 stores and great fun can be had to personalize your nengajo with a calligraphy brush.
Some Useful Phrases
If you’re writing in Japanese, the characters you should use depends on who you are sending the card to. Traditionally, there are certain gashi (賀詞 – 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 difficulty.
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
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. Postboxes will have a special nengajo slot from Dec. 15 to around Dec. 25. Once posted, nengajo are sorted and held until New Year’s Day when all of the estimated 2.3 billion nengajo are delivered.
If you are planning to send your card abroad, pick up a special ¥7 nenga stamp to add to a regular domestic postage included nenga postcard, and you’re ready to send overseas. Your total postage fee becomes ¥70. These delightful stamps feature Mt. Fuji 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 until the New Year and travel at standard airmail speeds to their destination.
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: ¥73; pre-printed: ¥68~
International stamp (nenga): ¥7
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 (Sun.) to around Dec. 25 (Wed.).
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-hand corner of every nengajo you will find a six digit lottery number, and lucky winners will be announced on Jan. 19. This year, there will be a special prize of a pair of tickets to the Tokyo Olympics! Also, there will be 2,361 first prize winners, who will receive prizes such as ¥310,000 in e-money, or ¥300,000 in cash (6 digits required). There will be 236,160 second prize winners, who will each receive a small package from their hometown or another prize (4 digits required). There’s a 3/100 chance of being a third prize winner, all of whom will receive a special New Year’s stamp sheet. For more details and to check if you’ve won anything, go to https://nenga.yu-bin.jp/.
Did you know you can send newly-harvested rice grains as nengajo? The grains are placed in a nengajo-shaped, vacuum-packed plastic (¥900~) and will be sent with a written message. Postage costs ¥250. A unique way to send nengajo this New Year!
Original report and photos by Oscar Boyd and Jasmin Bethke, updated Dec. 2019.