Welcome to the last post in the series of Weekly Shiritori! Last week’s post was about Shimane (しまね / 島根), so this week I need to start with ね (ne). A big thank you to everyone who joined in this week (and all year!) - UK Seikatsu who suggested Nebuta-matsuri (ねぶた祭り), neon (ネオン), which is not an original Japanese word but sums up Tokyo pretty well, and neta (ネタ), which has several meanings including an ingredient (especially for sushi and sashimi), story, or material; and JayDee who suggested Nerima (練馬) in Tokyo, Nezu jinja (根津神社) in Tokyo, or nengajo (年賀状). As it’s a very seasonal suggestion, I decided to write about…
Nengajo (ねんがじょう / 年賀状)
Nengajo are New Year’s postcards, which are traditionally sent in Japan to arrive on January 1st. Sending nengajo is more common than sending Christmas cards in Japan, and it’s a tradition I really enjoyed participating in while I lived there. Although these days some people send e-cards on their mobile phones, a lot of people still send actual postcards, and there are hundreds of designs available in the shops. A lot of people also make their own cards, often with family photos on them, like this:
Nengajo are sent in the period leading up to New Year, but the post office does an amazing job of keeping them all back and delivering them on New Year’s Day (not before). Students are usually hired as part-time staff to do this, as the amount of post is much higher at this time of year and it must be really hard work to get them all delivered on one day.
As a big fan of stationery, I got particularly excited about nengajo when I lived in Japan and visited shops like Loft and Tokyu Hands which sell all sorts of nengajo goodies, as well as the postcards themselves.
(Image source: Loft)
You can buy ink stamps, stickers, tape, craft materials… anything you could possibly imagine that might help you to make your nengajo or personalise a shop-bought one.
In the picture above you will see that there are some snake images – that’s because 2013 is the year of the snake in the Chinese zodiac (‘snake’ is ‘hebi’ (蛇) in Japanese). Japanese New Year cards often feature the animal for the coming year, based on the Chinese zodiac. often that means well-known characters like Hello Kitty dressed up as the animal, which can be very cute. Here’s one I got last year, with Hello Kitty dressed as a dragon:
The only time when families do not usually send nengajo is when there has been a death in the family that year. Then, instead of a nengajo, a mochu hagaki (喪中葉書 / mourning postcard) can be sent. This is much simpler in design, and informs people of the family’s loss. Other than at times of loss, most people in Japan send nengajo, and they send loads! I remember asking my students every year how many cards they had written, and it would often be in the hundreds. As with many things in Japan, there’s a certain sense of duty attached to nengajo, meaning you feel obliged to send them to not just family and close friends, but also colleagues, classmates, clients, and of course your boss! You will no doubt receive a lot of cards too, and the effort feels worthwhile when they all drop through your door on New Year’s Day.
Nengajo are often printed rather than entirely handmade these days, but addressing is usually still done by hand (and sometimes in beautiful calligraphy). The front of the card which usually has a picture on it is also where a message is usually written, and on the back of the card the ‘to’ and ‘from’ addresses are written. Many things can be written on nengajo, but typically a message will focus on giving best wishes for the coming year. One of the most popular phrases for this is “[shinnen] akemashite o-medetō-gozaimasu” ([新年] あけましておめでとうございます) which basically means “happiness to you on the dawn [of a New Year]“. As a slight aside, although it is perfectly acceptable to use this phrase in spoken Japanese, one should not use it until January 1st, unlike here in the UK where we have been wishing people a “Happy New Year” since Christmas. Here’s a great guide to writing New Year’s cards in Japanese - if you send cards to your Japanese friends and write them in Japanese they will be delighted, and it’s great practice for your written Japanese.
So, I won’t wish you a Happy New Year just yet, but I will wish you happy nengajo writing if you are in Japan – you might just get them delivered on time if you post them quickly!
Well that’s it folks! Thank you for following Weekly Shiritori all year and a massive thank you to everyone who has contributed! I’ll be posting a recap of the year’s posts soon, plus news about next year’s new weekly series…