Get To Know The Japanese New Year's Poscards Tradition

December and January are the busiest times for the Japanese post offices and it all come to one reason: the tradition of New Year‘s Poscards (nengajo). And yes, it’s probably the biggest item on the calendar of annual events!

New Year wishes postcard: 年賀状

年賀状 is composed of year 年,  congratulations 賀 and 状, meaning circumstances. With the New Year approaching, thoughts wanders towards families, relatives and close ones. The tradition is rooted in history, when people needed to let others, whom they did not often meet, that they were alright.

In spite of Japanese people’s love for smartphones, tablets, and computers, hand written 年賀状 remains a strong tradition. Of course, people can also buy the cards at stationaries or post offices, but making your own is a real pleasure and show how much you’ve thought about the person. Most of the printed postcards will have Chinese zodiac sign of the new year, along with conventional greetings.

Handling postcards the Japanese Way

年賀状 are a yearly challenge for Japanese post office. Indeed, they guarantee the delivery on January 1st for all postcards posted before the end of December. To accomplish such enormous task, special postboxes are installed. Afterwards, workers hired specially for the season will sort all the 年賀状. Postcards will be stored until New Year.

What to write on your New Year’s postcard?

You’re thinking of sending a 年賀状 to your Japanese friends? Doing your own 年賀状 is the perfect way to demonstrate your handwriting skills. Here a few greetings you could use.

  • 今年もよろしくお願いします。I hope for your favor again in the coming year. This is also one of the ways in which you can Wish others a Happy New Year!
  • (新年)あけましておめでとうございます。 Happiness to you on the dawn [of a New Year]
  • 旧年中はお世話になりました。Thank you for everything you did last year.
  • ご健勝とご多幸をお祈り申し上げます。Wishing your family good health and happiness.
  • 年始のご挨拶を申し上げます。A New Year’s greeting to you.

We’ve compiled a few greetings words, called 賀詞, suitable for friendly relations. Keep in mind not to use them when you’re writing to your boss or elder.

  • 謹賀新年 Happy New Year
  • 賀正 Happy New Year
  • 初春 Early spring
  • 迎春 Welcome spring

A Last Word

Traditions don’t come without rules. Japanese have better be careful with their address book as one should never send a 年賀状 to someone who lost a family member over the past year. To avoid an impair, the family of the deceased will have to send a mourning card, 喪中葉 to let friends and relatives know not to send a greetings card.


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