Today, I wrote a few nengajo – New Year’s postcards – to Japanese friends. Nengajo are rather unspectacular postcards, and just like Christmas cards in the West, there are thousands of variations, from the ones with Disney motives and other cartoons, to nengajo with elaborate calligraphy and paintings of the year’s animal from the Chinese zodiac (2014 is the Year of the Horse, by the way).

New Year's Card 2014I went to the Loft a few days ago to buy my cards; it seems that there are literally thousands of them sold every day, as the procedure was a bit … unusual. First of all, the real cards are not on display, meaning you can’t just take them. What you get is a large display wall showing the different designs, each one wrapped in a heavy plastic envelope. When you have made your choice(s), you pick up one of those envelopes and go to the cashier, where you are asked how many you want. In the case of the Loft, you can’t buy a single card – you buy them per package, each containing four cards.

I paid 540 yen for them and was rather happy with it, after all this is Japan, and prices are steep. The nice cashier explained that because it says “New Year’s Card” on the back, the post office will deliver them on January 1st automatically, and I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to explain this at the post office… This is one of the nice things about those New Year’s cards, if you mail them between December 15th and New Year’s, the post office will deliver them on the right day – in Japan, of course, it won’t work abroad unfortunately. It must be an extremely busy time, I have heard that students and other part time workers are hired just to get all the mail out on January 1st.

You are supposed to send out New Year’s cards to essentially everybody: family, colleagues, teachers of any kind, people you did business with in the last year,… The only people you are not allowed to send a New Year’s card to is those who had a death in the family – the idea is “how can they have a Happy New Year if there is somebody missing?” and it would be rude to wish them one. How do you know that? Well, the bereaved are supposed to send out cards – well before the deadline of course – apologizing that they won’t send any New Year’s cards because of a recent death in the family… Japanese etiquette – truly a minefield…

Anyway, I wrote my cards today and I hope people won’t be offended by the fact that my handwriting in Japanese resembles that of a 5 year old – another one of those etiquette things – nengajo are at least addressed in handwriting to show off your skills in calligraphy – and posted them immediately. The big surprise came at the post office: Apparently the price of the stamp was included in the price of the cards! That means I only had to pay the extra 20 yen for the cards going abroad – what a pleasant surprise!