Sunday, December 30, 2007

New Year's Cards

Tetsu had a rare Saturday off yesterday so we spent the morning writing New Year's cards. My Japanese friends reading this are going to say, "Hey, those needed to be off 5 days ago if you expect them to arrive for New Year's!" but better written late then not at all.

New Year's cards in Japan are uniform size post cards. I mean, that is what New Year's cards are! You don't choose patterns and sizes like you do Christmas cards in the rest of the world. In Japan, around the middle of November the post offices will start selling New Year's cards. Basically you can buy blank post cards at the post office that already have printed stamps on them and write your own message. These cards also have a row of numbers at the bottom and sometime in January there will be a nationwide raffle and everyone checks the New Year's post cards that they have received to see if they have won anything. I think the grand prizes are tickets for traveling somewhere and maybe electrical appliances but in all the years I've lived here I've only won two or three stamps and once a letter set! Even so, it is fun to check the post cards every January to see if you have any of the winning numbers.

2008 will be the Year of the Mouse (Chinese Horoscope calendar) so all the New Year's greetings revolve around mouse characters. One can buy ink stamps, stickers, software etc. for making your own designs on the blank post cards or of course you can buy ready printed cards featuring mice of all different patterns. Some people do silk screening, some do wood block printing, some paint pictures by hand. Japan becomes very creative when it comes to New Year's post cards!

Some differences between Christmas cards and New Year's cards besides the size are the fact that not too much in the way of information is related on the New Year's cards. You can't really fit a year's worth of family activities onto a post card so unlike the American custom of sending a Christmas letter letting friends know what the family has accomplished over the year, the Japanese New Year's card basically says, "We're thinking of you and wish you the best in the New Year." period.

Another interesting thing about Japanese New Year's cards is that no matter when they are sent out in the month of December, all cards arrive at their respective addresses on January 1st! Yes, all New Year's cards are held at the post office until New Year's Day and then loads and loads of students are hired part time by the post office to deliver a packet of New Year's cards to each house's post box! Can you imagine the mad house the post office must be in right now, trying to sort all the New Year's cards into piles house by house for the whole month of December!

Something I've never really understood about the custom of sending New Year's cards in Japan is that if a family member has passed away in the previous year, the family always sends out a similar post card (black and white) in early December asking friends to not send New Year's greetings. This is a custom that has to do with mourning and not expressing joy or celebration in the New Year. It seems to American me that if you've lost someone you love, then this is especially the time when you need people writing to you and saying that they are thinking of you in your sorrow but that's the way it is in Japan.

Tetsu has beautiful handwriting and every year he seems to enjoy addressing our New Year's cards by brush. It takes him quite awhile to write each address and then our return address so he rarely has time to write a message (which to me is the whole point of sending the cards). When he is finished though I always think he has made them look like a work of art by themselves. Anyway, our New Year's cards have been plopped in the mailbox and hopefully they'll arrive at friends' homes sometime during the first three or four days of the New Year.

And yes, I'll be posting a New Year's greeting to my blogging friends too, but you'll have to wait til New Year's Day like the rest of Japan!


CONNIE W said...

Tanya, This is such an interesting custom. My friend here who is from Japan has explained some of the Japanese customs to me but I don't remember about this one. I want to wish you and Tetsu a very happy & healthy new year. It has been my pleasure to have met you here in the blog world during 2007. Take care!

tami said...

I always enjoy reading about Japanese customs from you. Thank you so much for sharing.
Hope you have a happy, healthy new year.

andsewitis Holly said...

That's a neat custom!! How fun. Wishing the two of you a wonderful new year.

Shelina said...

That sounds like a wonderful custom. Maybe sending the mourning cards are just to make sure that everybody who hasn't already heard, knows that the person has passed away. If someone in the family dies, you are being asked not to send the greeting to the deceased, does this mean you also asked not to send a card to the other family members?

meggie said...

Thankyou for sharing another custom, in a land so different to ours.
Strangely, a lot of the scenery I see, reminds me of New Zealand.

dordognequilter said...

Happy New Year!

When we first came out to France they had the same sort of tradition. In the last 10 years things are changing and we're seeing more and more Christmas cards.

I've never been one to send out a round robin letter with my Christmas cards. I prefer to send an email with a nice photo - no carbon footprints in this house at Christmas time!