If there’s one thing running an ecommerce store has taught us: there’s no busier season for postmen (and women) than the holiday season. Hundreds of gifts, greeting cards, and packages make their way through their hands in the last weeks of the year. In the days leading up to the new year, though, a special tradition drives a spike in letter and postcard deliveries throughout Japan. It’s called nengajo.
A staple on the checklist of New Year’s preparations, nengajo is a Japanese custom whereby people all over Japan send New Year’s Day cards to their friends and relatives. Beginning in early December, you can buy or make your own nengajo for friends and relatives, and drop them off at the post station to be delivered on January 1st. All cards are bundled up by receiving household at the post office, and held until their delivery date.
In 2017, we started a tradition of creating special limited-edition nengajo cards for our friends and family utilizing some of our favorite images from the previous year. Everyday between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, we will be giving away free nengajo cards with all online or in-store orders.
Here are five things you may not know about this cheerful new years custom:
The custom is based on nsnhi-mawari, or New Year’s visits, where people would spend New Year’s Day paying visits to their families, friends, and neighbors to on the first day of the new year. Though some families still continue this custom, many choose to send their best wishes via postcard.
The Japanese post begins prepping for nengajo in early December, with general collection ending around the 25th. Much like a retail store hires some extra seasonal help for the hectic holiday hours, local post offices hire part-time workers to help deliver the estimated 4 billion cards sent every year on the first of January.
Nengajo can come in hundreds of designs, but most stores sell a version of the upcoming new year’s zodiac sign (2018 is the year of the Dog). Some people like to include photos of their family, or tuck in an annual New Year Jumbo Lottery number for good luck. Winners are typically announced on January 15th, with prizes including everything from a television to a home spa kit.
Nengajo are so prevalent that the Japanese post changes post boxes to include a separate opening for incoming nengajo, labeling each card to ensure they are held for delivery before January 1st.
Those who have had a recent death in the family won’t receive any nengajo. Instead, their loved ones send a mourning postcard to express their condolences.
There’s no better way to begin the new year than by choosing to stay in touch with each other. Let’s start 2019 on a good note.