In case you didn't know, you can get mail delivered on New Year's Day in Japan.
(Not just any mail, only special New Year's Day postcards.)
Nengajyou are new year cards (postcards) in Japan. In late fall until the new year, there are cards being sold everywhere. You'll also see art supplies because a lot of people make their own new year cards. This is a traditional exchange, maybe like mailing Christmas cards with photos in western culture.
In fact, lots of New Year cards have family photos printed on them. Any store that does photo prints onto products is likely to be selling photo new year cards as well. Most people like this option when they're showing off their kids or a new family member (although I haven't seen nontraditional photo shoots for these, yet).
There is usually a theme of the Chinese zodiac correlated animal on new year cards. In 2016, the animal is monkey, but 2017 will be a rooster year, so a lot of the designs will have chickens or roosters on them. There are usually lots of gold and red colored images, as these are the traditional lucky colors for the new year in Asia, but sometimes we see colors associated with the new Chinese zodiac animal for the new year. (2017 lucky colors are gold, yellow, and brown.) You might see a lot of small figures and charms with the Chinese zodiac animals on them being sold, because some people like to collect the animal for the year they were born in or display the year's animal.
We can buy the nengajyo postcards just about anywhere during the season. The best deal might be at the post office, which sells postcards decorated for new year use with postage already printed on them, at the cost of the postage. There are special post boxes to put these postcards in, which is to let the post office know it's a new year card, so they will be delivered on new year's day. Great service, but I feel bad for postal employees who have to work a lot on a holiday. The tiny local post office near my house also has a little new year card station complete with rubber stamps with a variety of greetings and images for the rooster year. In a world where everything is becoming digital, it makes sense that they want to make it easy and affordable to use their new year postcards.
I almost forgot! If you buy your postcards for nengajyo at the post office, they also include a lottery number. Anyone you send them to might win a prize, from postage stamps to cash. Be sure to check the postcards you might receive for these lottery numbers – after a specific date, you can check online to see if you're a winner.
The post office is also selling special Kit Kat Otoshidama this year. (Otoshidama is another fun new year tradition that kids look forward to, because they get cute envelopes with money in them from parents and older family members. You've probably noticed these, even at 100 yen stores. I call them “lucky envelopes,” for lack of another proper English translation.)
If we buy new year cards at the local stationary shops or make our own, we can hand write or use rubber stamps and stickers to decorate the cards. 100 yen stores usually sell some items like stickers and stamps for the new year cards, in addition to plenty of blank postcard packs (to watercolor paint onto, for example) if you make your own cards.
( Some of my own homemade cards for this winter)
Most people write 元旦 (gantan) on the cards, meaning 'New Year's Day,' as a new year greeting.
Other common greetings for the new year are:
明けましておめでとうございます! Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu (Happy New Year!)
今年も宜しくお願い致します。 Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegai itashimasu (I'm counting on you this year as well.)
If you send new year's cards to someone, they will usually feel some obligation to return the favor. If you and your acquaintances are the type that like to send and receive mail, it might be a fun holiday tradition for you. This is a tradition a lot of young people don't enjoy as much, plus some people can't really be bothered to do it. It's a nice way to stay in touch with old friends, but maybe not necessary for those you see all the time.
In the event that a family member has passed away, that family should not give or receive new year cards on the next new year day. Instead, around November or December, they will usually send 'mochu hagaki' which is to let friends know that they will not be sending a new year card and should not get one.
It might be a fading tradition, but if you enjoy sending and getting handwritten postcards, why not?
Have you ever given or received nengajyou? Do you want to give it a try this year?