A nengajo (年賀状) is a new year's postcard that is the Japanese equivalent of a Christmas card - but usually simpler in that it is a postcard, rarely, if ever, sent in an envelope. And it is usually sent to way more people than you would usually send a Christmas card to.
In a country like Japan where "not what you know, but who you know" is taken to extremes, staying in touch with people the traditional way is very important - thus the survival of this very labor intensive and not that cheap a custom.
If you post your nengajo by December 25, the post office will ensure that they are delivered right on New Year's Day.If you have received a pre-New Year's Day card - a very simple, somber one - from someone telling you that there has been a death in the family that year, you should not wish them a "happy New Year" out of respect for their bereavement.
When posting your nengago, you should keep the whole bundle together with a rubber band. The shot at the top is of a postbox in Tokyo's Kojimachi district where the post office has actually left a pile of rubber bands on top of the post box for that very purpose. Also, the slot on the left has been designated as for nengajo only.
Finally, nengajo bought from the post office come with a unique lottery number printed on them. If you're lucky, and have the time and energy to go through the (often) hundreds that you receive, you may win money.
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Wednesday, December 23, 2009