Waking up on Jan. 1 is a little like waking up on Christmas morning — there’s a palpable sense of excitement in the air as you reach into your post box to discover who has (and who hasn’t) sent you a New Year’s card.
However, these greetings aren’t distributed by a mythical Santa Claus-like figure in a sleigh, they’re delivered to each home by the hard-working personnel at Japan Post Co.
With New Year’s cards accounting for about 13.4 percent of all mail at the end of the year (in addition to the oseibo year-end gifts that are also sent in early December), post offices nationwide are frantic.
Twenty-four thousand post offices are scattered all over the country, of which 1,100 are relatively large with mail distribution stations.
Given that December is the busiest time for post offices nationwide, a number of temporary part-time workers are hired every year, says Shunsuke Kobayashi, a spokesperson for Japan Post. As each post office hires directly, there is no central data on the actual number of short-term workers employed, but Kobayashi believes the bigger offices would hire about 100 at a time.
“Back in the day, part-time work (at a post office) at the end of the year was often the first job for many high school students who were on vacation,” Kobayashi says. “In fact, some eventually ended up working as full-time post office employees because of that experience.”
New Year’s cards typically go on sale at the end of October each year. Last year, they went on sale on Oct. 29 and will be sold through Jan. 8.
To avoid a flood of New Year’s cards arriving at the same time, the post office asks people to drop cards in specially labeled post boxes between Dec. 15 and 25 to ensure that they are delivered on Jan. 1. To differentiate these cards from other New Year’s cards received after Dec. 26, a little red mark is attached to show top priority.
Kobayashi says that even if people fail to meet the Christmas deadline, post offices will do whatever they can to deliver them on Jan. 1, or as close to that date as possible. He notes that people seem to be sending out New Year’s cards later and later every year.
Unlike the majority of companies in Japan who are on vacation for the New Year’s holidays, many people at Japan Post and the post office branches must work on Jan. 1. Kobayashi, who also worked on the first day of the year, says the staff members don’t appear to mind working while the rest of Japan sleeps.
Delivery personnel throughout Japan began their odyssey in the early hours of Jan. 1, typically finishing their routes around 8 a.m. Unusually, they also make two separate deliveries on the same day.
“We have a strong sense of purpose to deliver New Year’s cards in time on Jan. 1,” Kobayashi says. “We know many people look forward to checking their mailboxes that morning and we are all thinking how to get as many cards delivered as soon as we can.”