New Years Cards

Known as hagaki in Japanese, post cards are even bigger in Japan than they are elsewhere in the world.  Post cards are used for different events, such as catching up with old colleagues after moving, or to make announcements, but the most popular use is for new years greetings.  While people do call or visit, in Japan New Years is generally spent with the immediate family so cards are a useful way to keep in touch with friends and extended family.

The Japanese post office facilitates New Years delivery by holding the specially designed New Years hagaki until New Years Day.  Japanese patrons can give their hagaki to the post office through December and be sure that the recipients will receive them after the first.

Hagaki come in many designs, from simple blank cards for custom designs to be printed on, to unique artwork ordered months in advance.  The post office has a catalog of new designs ever year that can be ordered and customized to make preparation easier.  Labeling 30, 40, 50 or more cards can be tricky, even with computers so the designed and customized options can be a huge time saver.  Of course many people simply print their own to ensure unique and meaningful cards.  Even those that are ordered usually have a few specific words for the recipient hand written in.

Often the designs will flow around the zodiac animal for the New Year.  2012 is the year of the dragon, so many in this year’s catalog feature variations on dragons or sea-horses, a Japanese variant on the zodiac.

***For 2013 check out my post on custom nengajo***

If you live in Japan, you’ll definitely want to consider sending hagaki to help build closer relationships with your friends, family, and co-workers.  It’s not a requirement, but getting hagaki can be a pleasant surprise.  Its a good way to show you understand a bit of Japanese culture.

How to Fill Out a Hagaki


One side of the hagaki will be metered with a red stamp, serial numbers (blurred below) and boxes for the postal codes.  If you buy them from the post office, the “stamp” price is included in the cost when you order them.  If you buy them from elsewhere, you might have to apply your own stamp.

The destination address goes vertically to the far right, followed by the recipient’s name.  Put one number of the postal code in the red boxes above.  This helps ensure fast delivery since the numbers are computer-read.  The return address can be printed in smaller font to the left under the stamp.  Again your postal code should go in the boxes.


The other side of the hagaki is for your greeting and messages.  If you order a designed card they will come printed with your information on the front as well as the design.  Most have some combination of “Happy New Year” or the traditional Japanese “oshougatsu omedetou” お正月おめでとう or “akemashite omedetougozaimasu” 明けましておめでとうございます。

The rest of the space you can fill in a personal message.  If you buy blank cards, you can fill the area in with pictures of yourself, or family so that friends can see how you’re doing.  The messages are usually a mix of good wishes for the coming year, and updates on the past.

If good will isn’t enough to get you to your local post office, each card doubles as an entry in a yearly sweepstakes.  Every year the post office gives prizes away based on the serial numbers in on the card.  You might end up giving your boss or friend a tv, trip, or cash.