（Photo by the author）
Have you ever written a New Year’s card in Japan?
It’s a typical New Year’s tradition in Japan to write New Year’s cards; we call it “Nengajo” in Japanese.
For those who have seen or heard about Nengajo somewhere in Japan, and are curious or you want to write it to some of your Japanese friends or families, you can learn “how to write Nengajo step by step” in this article.
1. Step by Step guide: Writing Nengajo for New Year
Before we start talking about how to write Nengajo, let’s first see why many Japanese people write Nengajo in Japan during the New Year.
The tradition of writing Nengajo in Japan started during the Heian Period (794-). Japanese people used to visit their neighbors and relatives, greeting them to express their appreciation for their support. This custom has gradually changed into writing Nengajo instead of visiting their neighbors and relatives since the Edo Period (1603-). This happened because many relatives were living far away, and it became physically difficult to visit all the time.
To save peoples’ time, Japanese people started writing Nengajo instead of visiting their relatives and neighbors everywhere. The following style is what Nengajo in Japan is right now.
I would say it’s like a Christmas card to your families, friends, or for those who are close to you. To write Nengajo the Japanese way, why not follow the certain steps and rules to write Nengajo, so let’s see the step-by-step process.
2. Who to Send your Nengajo to
Before you start writing Nengajo, you first need to decide who to send it to. You don’t need to write for every person you know, but you should pick out the main people who have helped you out a lot throughout the year in a certain way or another. Here are some examples:
1. Your boss and colleagues
This depends on what kinds of company you’re working for in Japan, but normally Japanese people write Nengajo to their direct boss and colleagues every year. However, some companies are abolishing empty formalities for certain purposes, and it is not allowed to send any Nengajo to any employees. Hence, it is important to check your company first to see if you’re allowed to send Nengajo to your boss or colleagues. If you follow your company’s rule, in this case, they will see you have and think of the Japanese style of good manners.
2. Your family
If your family is living in Japan, it’s appropriate to write Nengajo to your family. However, if your family is living in other countries, rather than writing Nengajo to them, maybe write a Christmas card instead because the Nengajo postcard also includes the postage fee (and it only sent in Japan).
3. Your close Japanese friends
Pick up a Nengajo for your close Japanese friends who also live in Japan. Do you see each other often? Do you share your secrets? Do you feel you can get together after 10 years? Do they help you out a lot, and do you help them out a lot? Even if you know many Japanese people in Japan (including just drinking buddies), it is important to pick up only your REALLY close and trustworthy Japanese friends.
4. Your close neighbors
Do you have close neighbors who you can trust? Not only those that you exchange greetings every day on the street with but those you’re close with. This means neighbors you often exchange souvenirs with or the neighbor that you are often visiting each other’s houses; this could be the person you can send a Nengajo to.
Can you count now how many people you would like to send Nengajo? One Nengajo cost 62 yen at least (original Nengajo without any designed prints), now calculate how much it will be from this. If you prefer to buy Nengajo with designed prints, it is, of course, higher than 62 yen, and you can try to estimate the amount from that.
3. Prepare Your Card
Do you know when Japanese people start preparing their Nengajo? Normally the post office, convenience stores, supermarkets, stationery shops, or major appliance stores start selling the Nengajo from November 1st until the next year, January 6th.
Like in many other things, when preparing a Nengajo, the sooner, the better. If you write Nengajo for only 3 or 4 people, you may not need so much time for writing Nengajo. Still, if you have many close friends, boss, colleague, relatives, etc., and or you need/decide to write like 20 or more people, it is better to prepare Nengajo very soon and start writing little by little whenever you have time.
Writing Nengajo takes more time than you think when you add in the time, it takes to find and write the address and comments to each people.
4. Buy or Create Your Own Cards
There are 2 ways to get the type of Nengajo you want; you can either buy a Nengajo or create your own design Nengajo:
<Where to buy a ready-to-go Nengajo>
1. The Post office
2. At a nearby convenience store
3. You can go to a stationary store like Muji or LOFT
4. There are also some major appliance stores such as Big Camera, Yodobashi Camera, etc.
5. At a department store
If you prefer to buy only the original plain type, you can buy it at a post office. However, if you prefer to buy Nengajo with a printed design, it would be best that you go and buy it at convenience stores or the other shops mentioned above.
<Create Your Own Design>
1. Many online shops sell Nengajo at a lower price than is sold by the post office in Japan. You can order Nengajo and create your own style or design online. After you receive the Nengajo from the online shop, you can start writing each message. Sometimes these online shops offer free printing of the address you would like on the card. However, many Japanese people are concerned about leaking personal private information (address and names) through online shops. Hence, they avoid asking for free printing of addresses but prefer to write the address and names at home.
It’s not yet common to find an online store selling Nengajo in English. So if you want to order and make a design from an online shop, ask your Japanese friends to help you out to order a Nengajo from an online shop.
2. If you are a creative person and love to design things, you can also create your own designed Nengajo at your home. All you need is to buy a plain Nengajo first, and if you have a printer at home, you can print your own design. In this case, you can add your favorite pictures to whatever style you want. However, if you want to prepare your Nengajo this way, you should keep in mind that it might take a longer time than buying the completed designed Nengajo from the shops.
5. What Phrases Should You Use?
If you can’t write Japanese or read Japanese but want to try writing Nengajo, don’t worry, there are some phrases you can use in English when writing Nengajo like these below:
1. Opening greeting
・Happy New Year 20–
・With best wishes, Happy New Year 20–
2. Sub greeting
・Wishing you a Happy New Year 20–
・May this year 20– be another best year ever
・I hope you will have a great year 20–
・Let me express the greetings of the season
・Thank you for your all help and warm-hearted support last year
・Stay safe over your holidays
・I’m looking forward to your continued goodwill in this coming new year
When you write Nengajo, it’s essential to write your original comment to each person. If you write a comment expressing how close to that person you are and show the time you share with that person, the receiver will be very happy and it will touch their heart.
Some Japanese people write Nengajo automatically and think sending them is an obligation. However, if you write your own original comment especially just for that person, it can become a warm-hearted greeting card that makes people around you HAPPY.
6. How to Mail Your Nengajo?
Do you know how to mail your Nengajo? After you’ve finished writing all addresses and comments on Nengajo, all you have to do is follow these steps:
1. Post your Nengajo into the post box located near your house by December 25th!! If you post into the post box after December 25th, your Nengajo won’t deliver on January 1st. Normally, it’s good manners to deliver Nengajo on January 1st in Japan. If received after January 1st, some people might think you are a bit unprepared…
Everybody is very busy at the end of the year, but Japanese people care how much people care for each other. Nengajo is one of the symbols expressing, “I CARE ABOUT YOU SO MUCH.”
2. Make sure to post your Nengajo into the mailing slot named “POST ONLY NENGAJO,” not the normal mailing entrance. The Japanese post office makes mailing entrance only for Nengajo limited-term from December. If you mail into this “POST ONLY NENGAJO” entrance, post office staff will prepare your Nengajo efficiently and try to deliver it on time. If you accidentally post it in the normal slot it will still arrive, but might not be on time.
7. Now You Can Write your New Year’s Nengajo
We hope this helped! Remember that thinking of the message for each person may take more time than you think. If you rush on this, the comment might not say/show what you really want to say.
What do you think of this Nengajo culture in Japan?
Note: This article has been edited for 2020.