I'm not sure about other countries, but, in my home country, we have a custom of sending Christmas cards to our dear ones.


In my family, we like to DIY our Christmas greetings as it makes everything so much more special, and it has become our tradition and a fun activity to enjoy during the holidays.

In Japan, there is a similar custom when people show their appreciation and gratitude by sending out a Nengajō (年賀状) for New Year's. 

What is Nengajō?

"Nengajō" are New Year’s greeting cards that many people send to show their appreciation to their dear ones, friends, and family, as well as business associates and acquaintances, and also wish them well for the year to come.

Nengajō designs

2021 is the Ox year in Japan, and lots of places such as Don Quijote, supermarkets, post offices, stationery stores, and many other shops, have them on sale as early as late November-beginning of December.

You can also find them in January, and if you go to the post office, there is a whole corner dedicated to New Year greeting cards (although the season for sending them ended on January 7th).

Some people prefer to make their cards. As someone who loves drawing and taking photographs, I sometimes like creating unique cards for the holidays to send out to my family and friends, too.

Nowadays, you can also create them online, and some websites allow you to create designs in digital format.

Many of my Japanese friends are very skilled and usually use a memorable moment of the year and turn it into a nengajō card to send to everyone.

As an example of that type of year-end card, we have the Japanese TV personality and actor 石原良純 Yoshizumi Ishihara who, at the end of every year, announces his nengajō card design on the show Getsuyō Kara Yofukashi (Monday Late Show /月曜から夜ふかし).

He usually uses photographs that he feels represent the year to pass the most. He takes photos during the year and picks out the most unforgettable moment captured on camera to turn it into a nengajō.

You can find more information about the Getsuyō Kara Yofukashi show and other Japanese shows recommendations here.

The photo below is Yoshizumi Ishihara’s year-end card for 2019 that he also posted on his official Instagram page:

In the previous years, he had many funny photos, and he always got teased by the two hosts of the show: Matsuko Deluxe and Murakami Shingo from Kanjani Eight.

This year, he brought two designs, and the two hosts and Yofukashi’s staff helped him choose which one to go for.

The design with Yoshizumi in the pool that broke his hand (it seems that one of the most memorable things that happened to him last year was fracturing his hand) was very popular among the youngsters in the audience and the female staff. However, at the end of the show, they went with the other design.

The female staff especially seemed to think that the pool one was cuter, and actually, so did I.

The two finalists of Yoshizumi’s Nengajō for 2020

As for original nengajō with illustrations, here is an example of what my friend’s husband, 尾崎圭志 Keishi Ozaki (a manga artist in Japan) drew this year:

(Copyrights belong to Keishi Ozaki)

Even though there are a lot of cute and cool designs, and you can also create your own by either doing an illustration or using photography, the most common ones have the zodiac sign of the year to come on them.

Here is an idea of how this year’s nengajō designs look like:

Yogul | © PIXTA

In the stationery shop, you can find sets of year-end greeting packages that have three, five, or even more cards included.

You can also buy standard cards and hand-write (or stamp) the kanji characters 年賀 nenga on them, as well.

What to write?

Even though most of the bought end-year greetings have little space to write something, it is better to write a couple of words to your friends, associates, or dear ones and include some phrases such as:

  • 明けましておめでとうございます / akemashite omedetō gozaimasu / Happy New Year
  • 今年も良い一年になりますように / kotoshi mo yoi ichinen ni narimasu yō ni / To another good year
  • 今年もよろしくお願いします / kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu / I look forward to another year of connecting/working together

I like writing more and express my feelings of gratitude, and also make a small illustration in case I had no time to create the design myself.

Traditionally, people also go back home during New Years' and spend time with their family, eat osechi, visit a temple/shrine, and so on.

This year, however, many were not able to do so, but thanks to the tradition of nengajō, we can still deliver our feelings to our dear ones regardless of the distance.

Remember that if someone sends you a greeting card (and you haven’t sent any), it is appropriate to respond to them by sending a nengajō back.

I also did that this year as I received a couple of greeting cards on the 1st of January from friends that I didn’t send my greetings to (as I didn’t know their addresses), so I sent back a reply right away.

Also, if the recipient isn't likely to receive your nengajō by January 7th, you should send them a kanchū mimai 寒中見舞い (winter greetings) card instead.


If someone had a death in their family during the year, you shouldn’t send a nengajō to them. The families who had a death in their family send mochū hagaki 喪中はがき (mourning cards) sometime between November and very early December to let people know they won’t be celebrating.

When to send them?

New Year’s greeting cards with the kanji characters 年賀 nenga are accepted by post offices in Japan starting from December 15, and it is better to send them before December 25.

The post office will keep the cards and get them delivered on the 1st of January. For those replying afterward, don’t worry, as you can send them with the latest date of delivery of January 7th. I replied on January 2nd and as the Japanese post office is very punctual, the nengajō arrived very quickly at my friends’ houses.

Nengajō Otoshidama

The otoshidama お年玉 is an annual custom in Japan by which children receive money from adults in the family (usually parents and grandparents) during New Years'.

However, nengajō otoshidama is a lottery that happens annually. The lottery results are usually out in mid-January. If you got a nengajō, you can check the number in the lower corner online to see if you won any prizes. For example, here is one of mine:

Photo by © cinnamonellie

The results for the lottery this year will be out on January 17th (Sunday), and you can either be lucky number one, two, or three.

These are the prizes for 2021:

  • 1st prize: Either 300,000 yen or a money gift "EJOICA Select Gift" (for 310,000 yen).
  • 2nd Prize: For the second prize, the lucky winners will get packages with local food and ingredients, and so on.
  • 3rd prize: The third prize is a New Year’s stamp sheet.

For each prize, several people have a chance to win any of the three prizes. You can check for more information here.

Happy New Year!

By - cinnamonellie.