Once a tradition firmly entrenched in the national consciousness, the nengajō (new year cards) 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.
It’s also a fairly labor-intensive task, especially if messages and addresses are handwritten, often with a calligraphy pen.
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 said. “Everyone’s busy during this time, so it’s easier to send a greeting out by email or via a message app.”
Not all is lost, however.
According to a survey conducted by pen manufacturer Pilot, nearly 80 percent of respondents had planned to send new year cards in late 2017.
“It seems that new year cards are becoming more personal and private,” a woman in her late 20s told Cancam. “We all know that handwritten new year cards require effort, but it’s nice to go that extra mile for family and friends. For acquaintances and people from work, however, an online greeting is probably sufficient.”
A person quoted in Joshi Spa! agrees.
“Online new year cards are easy and convenient for business purposes, but if you’re going to send one to family and friends, it’s better to take the handwritten route.”
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.
The article even included samples of such cards, offering reasons such as infirmity, old age and failing eyesight.
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.