Nengajyou are cards sent as greetings for the new year, similar to Western style christmas cards. They are used to express gratitude in the previous year, or to maintain friendships. Nengajyou are mailed in late December and the post offices deliver them all on New Years day as it is not customary for them to arrive before. When sending New Year’s cards from overseas, due to the fact they are in an envelope the word “nenga (年賀)” should be written in red at the front (side with stamp and address). This way the post office knows to hold it and deliver it on January 1st with the rest of the cards.
-History of Nengajyou
Nengajyou origins are unkown as it already existed in the heian dynasty period. Unnsyuusyousoku (雲州消息) a textbook that was printed in that period detailed how to write nengajyou and is the first recording of nengajyou discovered. The unnsyuusyousoku also know as meigo orai is the oldest existing textbook written by scholar FUJIWARA no Akihira, a professor of literature and director of education. The book contains examples of sentences or phrases relating to the 12 months of the year and their events; nengjayou being related to January and New Year. In the heian period sending nengajyou was something that was usually only sent between those from dominant or aristocratic class such as sumarai or those with money. During the edo period it started to become more common and most people were sending them. Although it wasn’t as common to deliver specifically on January 1st until years later. As nengajyou became more popular, it lead to an introduction of reading and writing calligraphy in private schools and the nengajyou evolving to become the popular wide spread practice that it is today. In 1948 after the end of World War II, nengajyou was implemented with lottery numbers to encourage people to continue to send cards to friends and family. Numbers are drawn usually mid January, prizes were not money and usually things such as television, GPS, and everyday items.
-Design of Nengajyou
Nenjaygou have different designs every year based on the zodiac animal for that year, which are based on the Chinese and Japanese zodiac. The twelve zodiacs are: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and boar. The design on the card will usually have a picture of the animal with the year and a greeting in Japanese Kanji. It is also possible to get blank cards and decorate them yourself with your own pictures and greetings if you wish.
There is a posting period in Japan to ensure that all Nengajyou are sorted and ready for delivery on January 1st. The general posting dates are between December 15 and 24. When sending from overseas it is best to allow an extra week due to Christmas postings, and ensure you mark with 年賀 in red on the front.
When there has been a close relative pass away in a family during the year it is customary not to send a nengajyou out of respect for the deceased and to acknowledge the family being in mourning. Most people in mourning will send out a notification in November to say they are in mourning and will not be sending or accepting nengajyou that year.
If someone receives a nengajyou from somebody that they have not sent one to, they are expected to send a response as soon as possible after receiving. It is impolite to acknowledge that the card is late, simply say thankyou for their card and send blessings to them for the new year.