At New Year just about anyone with friends or family in Japan will receive a colourful postcard, adorned with a cheerful representation of the appropriate Chinese zodiac sign, and a message from the sender. Businesses in Japan also send out the cards – nengajoo. By custom the card should land in the postbox slap bang on January 1.
Along with a number of Asian countries, Japan follows the Chinese zodiac system but over the centuries has developed its own set of customs to celebrate the new year’s arrival, one of which is the sending of nengajoo. The tradition is said to go back to the Heian Period from 794-1192 but the modernisation of Japan in the Meiji-era entrenched the practice when cards began being printed in the 1870s. A master stroke in guaranteeing their popularity, taken after the devastation of the Second World War, was including lottery numbers .
New Year cards account for almost 20 percent of all annual postal revenues in Japan. Eat your heart out Australia Post! To make sure all those cards – an estimated 35 billion – arrive on the dot the Japanese post office recruits an army of part-time workers, often students.
This is the Year of the Horse – or umadoshi. Horse people are said to be skilled communicators, clever, kind to others, and although they sometimes talk too much, cheerful, perceptive, earthy but stubborn. On the downside they not good at constraint, their interest may lack real substance and they can be impatient and hot blooded. The only horse person I can identify in my family is my father, born in 1906. He was a keen horse racing enthusiast although I not sure if that’s the same as having the zodiac characteristics.
This year I received nengajoo from my daughter-in-law’s parents, my elder daughter who was in Japan at the time, and from my Japanese teacher. An artistically inclined fellow student also created an eye-catching water colour nengajoo. 明けましておめでとうございま. Akemashite omedetoo gozaimasu! Happy New Year!
Original nengajoo created by an artistically talented fellow student.