What is Nengajo? History and How to Write Japanese New Year Card




In North America, people send Christmas cards in December if they are Christian. What about Japan?

Do they have some sort of Christmas cards?


The answer is yes. Japanese send greetings cards for New Year’s Day.

It’s not for Christmas and not religious practice. This greeting card is called Nengajo (年賀状, sounds like Nenga-Joe) or Nenga Hagaki (年賀はがき) and it means New Year Card or New Year Post Card.





What is Nengajo?

Do you know how Japanese spend time on New Year’s Eve? → Party on Omisoka (New Year’s Eve)?



The purpose of Nengajo is to appreciate your relatives, friends and colleagues. The usual message would be something like this:


Happy Guy A

Happy new year.

Thank you very much for caring me last year. Keep in touch and I hope you will have a wonderful year. 


There are certain messages you could use, or you can use your own.

There is no specific rules on how to write Nengajo.


Those whose family member has passed away within a year wouldn’t write Nengajo. Instead, they would send greeting cards (喪中はがき:mochu post card) to let people know someone from their family has passed away so that they won’t write Nengajo.



History of Nengajo

It’s said that people used to go neighbours and exchange words of New Year during Nara period (71-794). During Heian period (794-1185), nobility and Kuge (公家: Japanese aristocratic class) started to write greeting letters to people who lived far from them.

By 1887, writing greeting cards has become popular among Japanese citizens. The number of Nengajo increased every year and Japan Post couldn’t deliver on time.

They even encouraged people to reduce number of Nengajo, but it didn’t decrease.


To deal with a large volume of Nengajo, Japan Post set up designated Nengajo places in 1899. Some of post offices accept Nengajo between December 20th and 30th and those Nengajo were to deliver after January 1st.


Between 1920 and 1948, people stopped sending Nengajo at some point due to earthquake, economic crisis and war.


How to Write Nengajo




People used to use pens and write simple messages in 20th century. They started to print pictures, use stamps and colourful pens in 21st century.

They might buy empty Hagaki (post cards) or one with message or drawing. In 2000s, some people started to send greetings by email and text.



Nengajo Manners

Manner 1: Send on Time



Japan Post recommends to send all the Nengajo by December 25th in order to deliver on January 1st.  Some people try to submit all by December 25th, while others submit after December 25th.


It’s not mandatory to send by December 25th, but if you are sending to business clients or your bosses, you better send on time. Otherwise, they would get after January 1st.

As businesspersons, it is one of the important rules they need to follow.


Manner 2: Reply Quickly if You Haven’t Sent

It happens that you didn’t send Nengajo to this person but she did send you. What should you do?


Simply get a Nengajo, write message and send it to her. Again, it is very crucial to reply if you want keep good relationships with bosses, colleagues and clients.




As a child, I used to be pretty excited to get Nengajo on January 1st. I would go check mailbox in the morning and distribute all the cards to my family.

If I get cards from someone I didn’t send to, I would write a new one for them and send it right away.


The number of Nengajo has been decreasing every year. To be honest, it’s hassle if you have to write a lot of them. However, it’s a part of Japanese culture to greet others on New Year’s Day.


You are not required to write Nengajo as you can send message by cell phone or email. Yet, it’s important to appreciate meaning of Nengajo.

I think it’s totally fine not to send Nengajo as long as you understand meaning of Nengajo.


If you need to write, prepare advance and complete and send by December 25th!



These are what Japanese do on New Year’s Day → What do Japanese do on New Year’s Day?



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 - New Year's Day/Eve