What is Nengajo? History and How to Write Japanese New Year Card
This post introduces what a New Year Card is like in Japan.
Learn its history and how to write!
English Tour in Tokyo Area! → What is Hato Bus Tour?
Learn 5 games that the Japanese play during New Year’s week → What are the Japanese New Year’s Games?
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?
The purpose of Nengajo is to appreciate your relatives, friends and colleagues. The usual message would be something like this:
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.
If any of family members has passed away within a year, no need to write Nengajo. Instead, send greeting cards (喪中はがき:mochu post card) to let people know someone from your family has passed away so that you wouldn’t write Nengajo.
How Much and Where to Get the Nengajo?
Regular sized post cards cost 63 yen and so is Nengajo.
(FYI, regular letters cost 84 yen)
If you plan to send more than 20, it is better to buy at post office (Japan Post).
It should be open December 28th to December 30th and will reopen on January 4th.
Some offices might be open during December 31st and January 3rd.
You can check the details for 2020-2021 here (it is in Japanese though)
If you don’t need a lot, you can buy at convenience stores or supermarket.
History of Nengajo
Here I summarize brief history of Japanese New Year Card.
Beginning: How Did Nengajo Start?
It’s said that people used to go neighbours and exchange words of New Year during Nara period (710-794).
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.
1800s-2000s: Nengajo was Pretty Popular
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.
As of 2020, people do write Nengajo but the number has been significantly dropped compared to before. For instance, about 3.5 billion of Nengajo was issued in 2003 (35 per person) compared to 1.9 billion in 2020 (15 per person). 1.9 billion is still a lot 🙄 but the number of Nengajo is decreasing each year. People rather send email, text or instant message.
I used to write Nengajo when I was a child, but maybe younger generation has never written Nengajo. It is changing.
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.
Although some people still send Nengajo for New Year’s Day, the number has been decreasing.
The younger generation tend to send message via email or text instead of Nengajo.
There are 2 important rule people should know in regards to New Year Cards.
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 boss, you better send on time. Otherwise, they would get after January 1st.
As a businessperson, it is one of the important rules one needs 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 to keep good relationships with your boss, 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 post cards to my family.
If I get New Year 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 the meaning of Nengajo.
If you need to write, prepare in advance, complete and send by December 25th!
If you need someone to take a look at your Nengajo or edit it, let me know! I’ll help you 🙂
English Tour in Tokyo Area! → What is Hato Bus Tour Like?
Learn 5 games that the Japanese play during New Year’s week → What are the Traditional Japanese New Year’s Games?
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