Monday, December 29, 2008

Happy Moo Year Nengajo

New Year's is a very special time in Japan—a time for people to return to their ancestral homes, spend time with their families and get in touch with their roots. Perhaps the most honored and celebrated of the Japanese holidays, New Year’s (Oshogatsu) is a three-day event beginning with New Year's Eve and lasting through the first three days of the year. Preparations begin long in advance as people clean their homes from top to bottom, prepare traditional New Year's foods, and write nengajo, or New Year's greetings.
Nengajo are pretty postcards, either preprinted, or handmade that are sent to friends and family, in a similar fashion as a Christmas card, to wish them happiness in the New Year.
What is amazing to me is that the post office guarantees to deliver the greeting postcards by the first of January!
Prepaid New Year's postcards with lottery numbers are commonly used by Japanese people. The lottery's winning numbers are picked in mid-January. The prizes aren't money but are various household goods, such as electronics, stamps, and so on. Those prepaid postcards are basically plain, so people print photos or images, draw pictures, and write messages on their own.
Most of the postcards have the Chinese zodiac sign of the New Year as their design. Japanese people have a cycle of 12 years. Each year is represented by an animal. The animals are, in order:
Mouse, Cow, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Bird, Dog, Boar
The order cannot be moved. For example, 2009 is Cow (sometimes referred to as Ox) and 2010 will be Tiger. Those animals are traditionally incorporated into the New Year's Card design.
Though one can buy a card premade, the stationery stores are chock-full of cow stamps and stickers, colorful glitter pens and stamp pads, and pretty paper accents so that one can make their own nengajo. I can spend hours in any stationery store as I love office supplies ... notebooks, pens, sticky papers … but still, it’s the Japanese stuff that really make my heart sing. They’re practical, but they’re also cute and whimsical. I could not resist buying these delightful stamps to make my nengajo.
As a card-carrying gaijin (foreigner), I am theoretically exempt from the rules of sending nengajo. But I’ve decided to surprise my friends with my astounding nengajo knowledge and skill. The same gracious people that praise my ability to use chopsticks and poor attempts at speaking Japanese will be thrilled – I hope - with the consideration and effort of my handmade nengajo.
I wish all who receive one and all who read this blog a glorious New Year that rewards all your future endeavors with success. Happy Moo Year!

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