How to Write Nengajo in Japanese New Year: Step by Step Guide

Dec 28, 2018

(Photo by the author)


Have you ever written a New Year’s card in Japan? or Do you know about writing one?

It’s typical New Year’s tradition in Japan to write New Year’s card, it is what we call “Nengajo” in Japanese.

For those who have seen or heard about Nengajo somewhere in Japan, and are curious and interested, and/or you want to write it to some of your Japanese friends or families, please learn “how to write Nengajo step by step” by this article.


1. Step by Step guide: Have a problem in writing Nengajo in New Year??



Before we start 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 had started during the Heian Period (794-). Japanese people used to go around visiting 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.


In an effort 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.


To make you understand it better, I would say it’s like Christmas card to your families, friends or for those who are close to you. However, there are certain steps and rules you must follow to write Nengajo so let’s see the step by step process.


2. Who to send your Nengajo?



Before you start writing Nengajo, you first need to decide who you need to send the Nengajo. You don’t need to write for every people you know but you need to 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 therefore not allowed to send any Nengajo to any employees so 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, write a Christmas card instead; this is because Nengajo works only in Japan due to the New Year’s card stamps that are included in Nengajo and it’s available only in Japan.


3. Your relatives

When it comes to your relatives, the same actions taken for the family, usually applies to them. If your relatives (only close relatives would be fine) are living in Japan, you can send Nengajo to your close relatives. If your relatives are living in other countries, sending Christmas card is adequate in this case.


4. Your close Japanese friends

Pick up a Nengajo for your close Japanese friends who also live in Japan. Think of how close they are to you carefully. Do you see each other often? Do you share your secrets with each other? 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 a lot of Japanese people in Japan (including just drinking buddies), it is important to just pick up only your REALLY close and trustworthy Japanese friends.


5. 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 just 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 a card




Do you know when Japanese people can start getting 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 but 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:


<To Buy a completed Nengajo>

1. The Post office

2. At a nearby convenience store

3. You can go to a stationary store like Muji

4. There are also some at major appliance store such as Big Camera, Yodobashi Camera, etc.

5. Finally, 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 printed design, it would be best that you go and buy it at convenience stores or the other shops mentioned above.


<Buy Nengajo but create your own favorite design>


1. There are many online shops that sell Nengajo at a cheaper price than the original price sold by the post office in Japan. You can order Nengajo and also create your own style or design online. After you receive the Nengajo from that online shop, you can start writing the comment for each person. Sometimes these online shops offer free printing the address you would like on the card. However, many Japanese people concerned about leaking personal private information (address and names) through that online shops so they avoid asking for free printing of address but prefer to write the address and names by themselves 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 designed Nengajo. 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 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 major phrases you can use in English when writing Nengajo like these ones below (samples for 2019):


1. Beginning title

・Happy New Year 2019

・With best wishes Happy New Year 2019


2. Subtitle

・Wishing you a Happy New Year 2019

・May this year 2019 be another best year ever

・I hope you will have a great year 2019

・Let me express the greetings of the season

3. Your comments

・Thank you for your all help and warm-hearted support last year

・Stay safe over your holidays

・I’m looking forward to your continued good will in this coming new year


When you write Nengajo, it’s very important to write your brief original comment to each person. Not just using the typical phrase but if you write some comment expressing how close to that person and showing the time you share with that person, the person who receives your Nengajo would feel very happy and touch their heart.

Some Japanese people write Nengajo as public stance and think sending over Nengajo is an obligation thing. However, if you write your own original comment thinking just for that person, your Nengajo would turn out to be an original warm-hearted greeting card which 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 2019. Normally, it’s a good manner to deliver Nengajo on January 1st in Japan. If people receive your Nengajo after January 1st, some people might think you haven’t prepared well enough for the Nengajo so please be careful with this point. In other words, many Japanese people feel the person who delivered their Nengajo on a timely manner by January 1st, they believe that this means that person cares a lot about the receiver and the receiver feel your effort to prepare Nengajo.


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 symbol expressing “I CARE ABOUT YOU SO MUCH”


2. Make sure to post your Nengajo into mailing entrance mentioned “POST ONLY NENGAJO” not normal mailing entrance. The Japanese post office makes mailing entrance only for Nengajo as a limited term from December. If you mail into this “POST ONLY NENGAJO” entrance, post office staff will prepare your Nengajo rationally and try to make on-time delivery of your Nengajo to each destination on January 1st. If you accidentally mail into the normal entrance, post office staff will also send over your Nengajo to each destination but this might make their working process inefficient and it may have the possibility of not delivering on time.

To help post office staff out and increase their work efficiency, make sure to post into the correct mailing entrance.


7. Step by Step guide: Now you can write your Nengajo for the New Year



Hope you all now know how to write Nengajo in Japan and approximately how long will it take to write Nengajo. Remember that thinking of some comments 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 tell.

If you don’t want to rush, the best way is buying Nengajo early in November and start writing little by little whenever you have time. If you follow this plan, you still have more than 1 month to prepare Nengajo, so you have plenty of time to post your Nengajo into post box by December 25th.

What do you think of this Nengajo culture in Japan?






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