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年賀状 (New Year’s cards)


Much like the Western concept of Christmas cards, Japan has a tradition of sending New Year’s cards to close friends/family and others who have taken care of you during the past year.
How many New Year’s cards are sent out each year?



The link listed above shows in its first graph shows how many New Year’s cards have been sent per year since 1949.
Compared to the peak year 2003, when 4,459,360,000 cards were sent, 3,142,070,000 cards were sent in 2017. The reason for this decline is of course, due to the advent of the internet and smartphones. Younger generations send less New Year’s cards, and send their New Year’s greetings via email or chat. For example, my own children in their teens and 20’s don’t send cards at all.


The third graph in the link shows the average number of cards sent per person.
In 2017 the average number of cards sent by a single person was 23.5 cards. This number takes the average by dividing the total number of cards sent by the population of Japan. Despite the overall decline, if the average person is sending 23.5 cards, that’s still quite a lot. In fact, my wife and I send a total of around 100 New Year’s cards every year (though every year we send less and less…).

Interesting ‘New Year’s postcards’ arrangements

The New Year’s postcards sold by the postal service have some interesting arrangements.


1)No matter when you send the New Year’s card, it will arrive on New Year’s Day
On postcards sold by the postal service, ‘New Years’ is printed below the 52-yen stamp spot. even if the postcard is sent in the middle of December (New Year’s cards are accepted 12/15), the postcard will always be delivered on/after New Year’s Day.
If the postcard is not one sold by the postal service, never fear! Simply write ‘New Years’ below the stamp, and it will also arrive on/after 1 January.

New Year's cards addressed to the company president

(「お年玉」は、日本でお正月に大人から子供にあげるお小遣い(pocket money)を意味します。)

2) Postcards that include New Year’s gifts
There is a special kind of New Year’s postcard sold by the postal service that include a lottery number.

New Year's cards lottery numbers



The winning lottery numbers were announced last Sunday (14 January). The winning numbers, prizes, etc. are listed in the link above.
The top prize is a choice between ‘a 120,000 yen listed item or vacation’ or ’10,000 yen in cash’. In the past I have won a sheet of stamps from this lottery.

Why not send Japanese New Year’s cards to overseas family and friends?



New Year’s cards can be sent overseas for an additional 18 yen. (New Year’s postcards include the 52 yen (as of 2018) postage.) See the link above for details.
Why not share this Japanese tradition with overseas friends and family next year?
- T.M.(日本在住日本人) (Japan)


I find the month of December to be culturally very interesting, as the Western celebration of Christmas is advertised alongside traditional New Year’s cards, foods, and decorations. I even noticed postal service representatives selling New Year’s postcards in subway stations, to allow busy workers the opportunity to pick some up on their way home.

Despite having Japanese family, and living for a few years in Japan, the tradition of New Year’s cards has always eluded me. After asking other non-Japanese employees and friends if they sent New Year’s cards, it seems that this tradition is not as easy to participate in: some expressed confusion on who they were obligated to send cards to, and many do not receive cards at all. There is a sense of formality surrounding this tradition, which perhaps makes it mildly inaccessible to non-Japanese living in Japan. It is also not especially ‘exciting’ or ‘flashy’ to send postcards, and most of the work of addressing them and buying them occurs on a personal level, making it a nearly invisible tradition to those not already aware.

That being said, as with any kind of greeting card, it is nice to be thought of and to think of others, to respect the people who have taken care of you over the past year, and to express these feelings in concrete form. As the number of non-Japanese people increase yearly, perhaps it is time to draw more attention to this tradition, and encourage non-Japanese residents to send cards both in Japan and overseas.

Translation/editorial: N.M. (U.S.A.)