The custom of sending New Year greetings cards or Nengajo in Japan, started a thousand years ago in the Heian period and peaked during the Meiji era. In the early years, cards were personally delivered and stuffed into mail boxes on January 1st, but from 1899 they were collected in December and delivered on January 1st. New Year greeting cards in Japan are very unique for the following reasons:
1. They are postcards.
2. They are never delivered before January 1st.
3. They need to be posted on a certain date in December to be delivered on January 1st. (usually by December 25th).
4. They contain no Christmas greetings, rather a simple congratulatory message as Happy New Year with an advanced thank you message for favors to be taken in the coming year.
5. They feature one of the 12 Chinese zodiac signs , where there is one sign for each year and the cycle is repeated after every 12 years. All 2014 cards will have pictures of the wood horse.
6. They contain a lottery number and a chance for the recipient to win a prize following a lottery draw in mid-January by the Japan postal service.
7. They are either made at home using high tech printing devices, latest computer software or ordered in bulk with printing companies for a price averaging 110 yen/card.
In 1949, the lottery ticket post card was introduced by the Japan postal service, where lottery prizes ranging from cash prizes of 10, 000 yen to towels and commemorative stamps are awarded.
A typical Nengajo may be a simple, blank, white postcard where one writes or draws a new year greeting using a calligraphy brush, or rubber stamps containing conventional messages, or it may also have a recent photo of the sender and the specific zodiac sign of the coming year, in addition to a personal message.
However, people who lose a family member to death in the past year do not send new year cards as they are in mourning, and instead send an advanced (in mourning) postcard by early December, reporting their loss, requesting people not to expect or send them new year cards for that particular year.
Having been in Japan for over 22 years, I usually send out about a 100 cards to my superiors, friends and colleagues whom I rarely meet now and look forward to receiving their cards to update myself about them. In the digital era, increasing numbers of people are opting for digital versions of New Year greeting cards, and sadly as with many other fading, traditional Japanese customs, there seems to be a decline in the enthusiasm and excitement of wirting, sending and recieving personalized, handwritten new year cards! I still look forward to writing mine, as with every individual message I write, there is joy and nostalgia intertwined with fond memories. I look forward to posting my New Year card on this blog on January 1st. 2014. Happy Holidays!!