The New Year (oshōgatsu) in Japan is the most important holiday. The Western countries are usually more focused on Christmas, but for Japanese people, New Year is the one when the family gather, and spend time together. There are several traditions, one of them is sending nengajō (年賀状) to friends and family. But, for a foreigner, this can be a little tricky. So, make sure, you make it right, so no one feels offended or laughs at you. If you have some Japanese co-workers, penpals, or friends, don’t forget to send them a card. Let your friends know that you are thinking of them.
1 – Choose the right card
Japanese people often use a card with the Chinese zodiac animal that represents the upcoming year. So, you will definitely surprise your friend if you draw the card by yourself or buy a themed card. Just to let you know, the Chinese zodiac animal for the year 2018 is a dog. It is fine to buy a card and draw the dog on it. And one last tip; avoid using red cards or envelopes, because they are used in case of death.
2 – Write New Year’s greeting
Now, you have the card, but what to write on it? It is not that complicated. Start by writing a New Year greeting. To make it easier for you, here are some common phrases to help you. All mean Happy New Year.
- 明けましておめでとうございます｡ Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu.
- 新年おめでとうございます｡ Shinnen omedetou gozaimasu.
- 謹賀新年 Kinga Shinnen.
Don’t send nengajou to people who experienced death in the family in the last year.
3 – Add wishes
After the New Year greeting, add a phrase with wishes for the upcoming year. Just one phrase is enough. Don’t overdo it. For example:
- 昨年は大変お世話になりありがとうございました｡ Sakunen wa taihen osewa ni nari arigatou gozaimashita. (Thank you for all your kind help during the past year.)
- 今年もお世話になりました｡ Kotoshi mo osewa ni narimashita. (Thank you for your help this year.)
- 皆様のご健康をお祈り申し上げます｡ Minasama no gokenkou o oinori moushiagemasu. (Wishing everyone good health.)
- 来年もどうぞよろしく｡ Rainen mo dōzo yoroshiku. (I’m looking forward for your cooperation next year.)
4 – Include a small gift
In Japan, children receive pocket money as a gift (otoshidama) in a decorated envelope. But, you might give your Japanese friends or penpals something related to your country. For example, local food, decorations, or something representing local traditions. It will make them happy, trust me.
5 – Mark the envelope
Post offices in Japan prepare special boxes and store all the greeting cards until the New Year. Then, the post office usually hires a bunch of temporary workers to help deliver the cards. So that the post office knows that you sent a New Year wish in the sealed envelope, it is important to write in red nenga 年賀 on it. This way, the post office have to hold it until the New Year comes. That means the card won’t be delivered before the 1st of January.
Reply to nengajō
If you received a card from someone you didn’t send one, it is expected you to reply. So, get a card, write a wish and hurry to the post office so that the card reach the recipient before the 7th of January. It is not polite to ignore the traditions. Right?
Greetings before January 1st
If you want to wish everyone a Happy New Year before the 1st of January, there are other phrases you have to use. Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu is used only in January. So, if you are leaving the office for a winter vacation or just leaving the country in the middle of December, you can say:
- With your relatives or friends, use casual それじゃあ, よいお年を (sore jaa, yoi otoshi o – have a good year)
- In a more formal environment, say よいおとしをお迎え下さい (yoi otoshi o omukae kudasai – please have a good new year)
- In business situations, use 一年間、ご苦労様。それじゃ、良いお年を (Ichinenkan, gokurō-sama. Sore ja, yoi otoshi o – thank you for your hard work during this year. Have a good New Year)
When wishing people a happy new year before January, say you know you are a bit early.
- 少し早いですが、よいお年をお迎え下さい。Sukoshi hayai desu ga, yoi otoshi o omukae kudasai. (It is a bit early, but please have a good year)
Well, are you gonna send a card to someone? 🙂