Sunday 14 January 2018

Nengajō New Year Greeting Cards and Otoshidama

New Year's greeting cards - known as nengajō (年賀状) - are something of an institution in Japan and after coming back from the first shrine visit of the year (hatsumōde) on January 1st it's exciting to open one's mailbox and check the pile of cards that have (hopefully) arrived. Even after this date cards continued to arrive in dribs and drabs; the latest date they are supposed to arrive is January 7th. Much like sending Christmas cards in the West, the custom of sending cards to people who have helped you throughout the previous year - or just people you want to keep in touch with - is a key part of the New Year holiday. It's a tricky business though working out who to send cards to - and anticipating who you might receive cards from - and inevitably you'll receive cards from people you didn't send one to: cue a mad rush to find spare cards and get them sent off post-haste! Apparently, 2,599 million cards were issued for 2018 which works out at about 20 cards for each man, woman, and child in Japan!

Like many Japanese, we usually buy blank postcards specially made for ink-jet printing and create our own customised cards: since this year is the year of the dog, our own dog, Jaz (, was featured on the 2018 card (pictured). This is fairly common, and most people add pictures of family and pets as a way of updating friends on what happened during the previous year. Our cards contained the standard new year greeting in red at the top: akemashite omedetō gozaimasu (明けましておめでとうございます) followed by the ubiquitous but untranslatable Japanese phrase asking for indulgence in the coming year (kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu =今年もよろしくお願いします). For a great explanation on how and what to write on a nengajō see here.

The excitement of nengajō is not yet over though: each card has a special unique number at the bottom (pictured) and January 14th (today!) is chūsenbi (抽選日) or raffle drawing day. The lucky winners will get a New Year's gift or otoshidama (お年玉) a word which typically refers to money given in small envelopes to children by relatives and visitors. You can see the winning prizes and numbers here: did I get anything?