Nengajo: What’s up with these Japanese New Year Post Cards?

Understanding Japanese New Year Celebration

New Year celebrations are among the most meaningful and elaborate occasions in the entire world. They usually involve massive spreads of dishes and delicacies, fireworks, and gift giving. In Japan, there are social customs which are observed during this important event.


This special holiday in Japan is enveloped with a variety of traditions, ceremonies, and rituals as well. Special dishes are served by tradition, food items which are placed on the dinner table for the past hundreds of years. Bell ringing is also another important tradition in Japan, it is believed to shoo away evil spirits and bad omens. Gifts and mementos in forms of Nengajo (or postcards) and pochibukuro bags or otoshidama (money giving pouches) are very common during this time of the year.

What is a Nengajo?

A nengajo is a simple holiday postcard given between friends, family, and acquaintances as a means of well-wishing and thanksgiving during the New Year. Usually, they write down words of thanks and kindness towards the receiver of the card. They also write down some new year resolutions as well. The Nengajo is an interesting social custom in Japan that is not observed in other parts of the world.

For those who want to create a personal touch to their Nengajo, they can start writing their postcards as early as September or October. Why not start writing as early as the fall season before the holiday rush comes in?

Nengajo Designs

There are different kinds of cards and in history they were handmade and hand painted. However, through the years as people lack the time to write words of thanks and well-wishing for so many people, they opt to buy ready-made cards available in post offices all over Japan.


Simple designs of Nengajo cards can include famous cartoon characters like Scooby-Doo, Batman, and the like. Others have nature themes in them, where the page is designed with hand-painted sakura or bamboo. There are also Nengajo cards which are themed according to the Zodiac year, as a means of wishing prosperity and luck towards a person. It could be an image of a dog, a dragon, a cow, or whatever zodiac year is being celebrated.

Common Nengajo Phrases

There are a number of common postcard phrases used in these New Year cards. Some of them may be ‘I look forward to the special memories we will share this coming year’. Another common phrase would be ‘Thank you for all the friendship, and support you have given us last year’. Most common phrases would sound somewhere like ‘Wishing you happiness and prosperity for the coming year’. Of course, nothing will beat the classing ‘Happy New Year’ in the card.

How to write a Nengajo Card

At the back of the card, there are boxes at the top right corner where the receiver’s zip code must be written. On the right-hand side of the card should be the receiver’s address. On the left-hand side should be the giver’s address. In the middle of the card should be the name of the receiver. Usually, it could be a family name to pertain to all members of that family or an individual’s name.

By Japan Post (小冊子「郵便切手の歩み」日本国郵政省1998年より転載) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Duty of Sending out a Nengajo

This particular social custom is unique only to the Japanese. Its theme is quite similar to that of White Day and Valentine’s day, where a postcard is given not just to one’s significant other. These New Year’s card is given to anyone who serves an important purpose to the life of a person. Of course, it is more common to give out these cards to members of the family. However, it can also be given to someone’s boss, neighbor, officemate, classmate, friend, and the like.

What is interesting is that giving out a Nengajo almost becomes a duty to many. Other than the fact that it should be given out of love and respect, Nengajo cards are given to remind someone that they are in each other’s thoughts and well-wishes. Interestingly as well, people who receive a Nengajo card automatically have a card ready to be given in return, like a duty of returning someone an important favor or request.

Knowing When and When not to send out a Nengajo

Just like many social customs in Japan, there are a number of rules and limitations to take note of when sending out Nengajo postcards. One of the most important, but unwritten, the rule about nengajo giving would be the fact that receiving a New Year card from someone poses a somewhat forced duty to respond to a New Year card.

Another important rule to learn about Nengajo card giving is knowing when to send them out. It is a must that these cards are received and opened exactly on New Year’s, which is why post offices all over Japan has a special system for New Year cards. All cards which are marked Nenga shall be sent between January 1 and January 3. Those which are not marked as nenga cards can be received until the 7th of January.

Since New Year cards are equated to celebration and happiness, it is also important to remember that sending nengajo postcards to bereaved families are not advisable. It is usually best to send mourning postcards instead of New Year Cards. This shows how much a person is connected and updated with someone’s life.

The Lottery and Nengajo

What makes the Nengajo even more special is that there is an annual draw of thousands of lottery winners based on the Nengajo lottery number. At the bottom right-hand corner of every nengajo card is a set of six-digit numbers. These are known to be the Nengajo lottery number which is drawn every Lunar New Year.

First place winners are those who have all six digits from the draw. Usually, in every lottery, there are two to three thousand first place winners. Second place winners are those who got the last four digits of the draw. There are hundreds of thousands who usually win second place

The more Nengajo cards a person has, the more chances of winning. This is why it is important not to throw away the cards and always share the luck by giving (and receiving) lots of postcards from friends, colleagues, and family. First place winners usually receive amazing prices like 100,000 yen in cash, travel tickets, and other impressive gifts. Second place winners usually receive special packages from their hometown.

Some tips on Nengajo Writing

Where to buy nengajo

Nengajo is usually available in post offices all over Japan. They are available in convenience stores, printing shops, and stationery stores for those who wish to buy this item in bulks. These are also available in courier offices like FedEx, Kinko’s, and Japan Post. These are cards which are pre-printed and are purchased to be immediately sent to the receiver.

For those who wish to write and design their own cards, stationery stores and convenience stores offer blank cards. The problem with this, on the other hand, is that these kinds of blank cards are usually much more expensive than those pre-made cards. They are roughly around 50 yen per piece.

By Halowand [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

Sending Nengajo Abroad

For nengajo cards sent to the post office before December 25, all post offices in Japan ASSURES a 100% delivery of New Year postcards between January 1 and January 3. However, sending these cards out of the country is another story. Although this particular event is unique only to Japan, it does not mean that a postcard cannot be sent overseas. When sending a card overseas, an ample amount of time must be given ahead to make sure that the card will arrive on time. Also, an additional 18 yen stamp is needed for international mail.

Nengajo Writing Contests

Nengajo contest 2017

In the recent years, the world has become more accepting of different customs and cultures coming in from different corners of the globe. This is why Nengajo contests are common in other countries outside of Japan. For instance, the American Association of Teachers of Japanese (or AATJ) holds annual contests to different schools all over America. This association provides summer conferences, language programs, and workshops to provide students from both high school and college to have avenues for learning Japanese as a foreign language. They provide activities and programs to encourage students to study the language. The Nengajo contest is one way for these kids to exhibit their capabilities in writing, speaking and reading the language.

Nengajo contest 2018

For this year, they provided four different categories for the contest. These categories include Artistic, Original, Comical, and Computer Graphics. All in all, around 800 cards were submitted on a national level and only a few would be the winner. Year in year out, the AATJ sees different pieces and artistry from non-Japanese children. And it is a fulfilling experience to be in the position of bridging two different ethos into one unified globalized culture.

Not to be confused with Ninja Go of Lego

Ninja Go Movie and Seasons

Despite a Japanese background, the Ninjago show is actually a Danish produced series. It is available on the big screen and on TV. It was distributed by the famous channel Cartoon Network. Originally, the story surrounds a group of teenage Ninja who is a band together to fight the evil forces trying to destroy their world.

There are a total of eight seasons so far, where the pilot episode was aired in January of 2011. The latest series would run from January 2018 to March 2018 of this year. Through the seven years that it was aired, there are a number of movies produced as well. It has become a sensational show worldwide capturing the hearts and interests of young boys and girls all over the world.

Ninja Go Games

Other than the show itself, Halloween costumes, toys, Lego sets, action figures, and the like, the Ninjago franchise also has games available for a variety of consoles. There are Ninjago inspired RPGs online. There are also games for Xbox, PS4, and even PC. There are even mini mobile games available. One of the most popular game is the Spin Ninja and the Shadow of Ronin Mobile.

Ninja Go Costumes

The Ninja costumes depended on the Elemental that they are master of. Kai is the Elemental Master of Fire and is known as the Red Ninja. Because of that, his costume is a red ninja costume. The same is true with other Ninjas like Lloyd who is color green, Cole who is color black, and more.

Ninja Go Characters

Lloyd Garmadon – The first and only Energy elemental and is known widely as the green ninja. He is one of the Ninjas of Ninjago and is hailed as the leader of the Ninjas. He is the main character of the Ninjago series. He is the son of Master Garmadon who was originally a Ninja teacher. He is later on the main nemesis known as the dark Lord Garmadon also known as the Master of Destruction.

Kai – Known as the Red Ninja, he is the Ninja of Fire and a brother to one of the characters named Nya. He is one of the main characters of the Ninjago installments. He is known as the Elemental Master of Fire.

Zane – Known as the Titanium Ninja, he is the Elemental Master of Ice. He bravely fought evil nemesis like Lord Garmadon, the Overlord, and Serpentine. He is known to sacrifice himself to defeat the Golden Master.  

Cole – He is known as the Black Ninja or the Elemental Master of Earth.

Jay – He is known as the Blue Ninja or the Elemental Master of Lightning

Nya – Known as the Water Ninja or the Elemental Master of Water. Opposite to her brother, Kai who is the Elemental Master of Fire.

Master Wu – The opposite of Master Garmadon, he is known as the Master of Creation. He is a wise mentor to the Ninja. He is Master Garmadon’s younger brother. He helped the young Ninja protect the realm.