This week’s featured article


Once a tradition firmly entrenched in the national consciousness, the nengajō (new year card) is facing extinction.

If myriad media reports are to be believed, an increasing number of Japanese are deciding not to send any new year cards to family, friends or acquaintances.

Online magazine Easier Tomorrow says many people are being put off sending cards at the end of the year because they are increasingly finding that they don’t get cards in return.

It’s also a fairly labor-intensive task, especially if messages and addresses are handwritten.

Easier Tomorrow says people sent an average of 35 cards per person in 2003, a figure that dropped to 19 cards per person last year.

Online women’s magazine Cancam says digital technology is partly responsible for the declining figure.

“Writing and sending new year cards can easily take an entire day,” the article says. “Everyone’s busy during this time, so it’s easier to send a greeting out by email or via a message app.”

An online article in the Asahi Shimbun on Nov. 15 addressed the issue, arguing that many were trying to give up the tradition, especially the elderly.

The ritual can be stressful for elderly folk and the Asahi article suggests that many would rather end the practice altogether. This, however, could cause other issues.

“If you are the type of person who has always sent out new year cards and then you suddenly stop one year, others will worry about what had happened,” one person notes.

To get around this problem, the Asahi Shimbun encourages people to send a shūkatsu nengajō — a “nengajō to end all nengajō” — explaining why this year’s is to be the last.

Still, nengajō do offer a few treats for those looking for a bit of luck in the new year: a lottery ticket.

Japan Post (formerly the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications) started including lottery numbers on its new year cards in 1949. A sewing machine was awarded as a special prize in the inaugural draw; in 1984, first prize had been upgraded to a microwave.

First prize in this year’s installment is ¥300,000 in cash or its equivalent in appliances.

The odds of winning this draw are much greater than ordinary lotteries, with each card having a 1 in a million chance.

Fuji Film, which has promoted new year cards featuring a family photo for the past 30 years, says a new year card with a lottery number offers the perfect combination of the warmth of a new year card and the thrill of winning the lottery.

For those wanting to stick with the tradition a little longer, the deadline for sending cards this year is Dec. 15.

First published in The Japan Times on Dec. 9.

Warm up

One-minute chat about New Year’s Day.


Collect words related to “message,” e.g., communicate, SNS, card.

New words

1) myriad: a countless number of things, e.g., “She looked up at the myriad stars in the night sky.”

2) ritual: a series of actions done in a specific order, e.g., “His morning ritual includes walking the dog before having a shower and eating breakfast.”

Guess the headline

Enthusiasm over n_ _ y_ _ _ c_ _ _ _ wanes as o_ _ _ _ _ options grow


1) According to the article, why are people not sending new year cards anymore?

2) What does the Asahi Shimbun suggest doing?

3) What kinds of prizes have been awarded to winners of the new year lottery?

Let’s discuss the article

1) Do you send new year cards?

2) Compare the good and bad points of sending online new years greetings?

3) What do you think about the tradition of sending new year cards?






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