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Nengajo are postcards sent as a greeting for the New Year. The Japanese send many nengajo every year. It is similar to Christmas cards in the West, though there is no religious significance for nengajo. The New Year holidays (oshougatsu) are very important to the Japanese. Nengajo are used to express gratitude, or maintain friendships on this special occasion.
Nengajo often use the present year's zodiacal animal (eto) as the design. The animal of the year 2010 is the tigar (tora). The post office stocks nengajo mailed in late December, and delivers them on January 1st all at once. Unlike Christmas cards, nengajo shouldn't arrive before New Year's Day.
Many people use special nengajo with lottery numbers (otoshidama-tsuki nenga hagaki) issued by the Post and Telecommunication Ministry (yuuseishou). On January 15th, the winning numbers are picked and the results are announced the following day on television and in newspapers. The holders of winning numbers receive prizes. The prizes are not money. The first prize in a past lottery was a wide screen TV set, a car navigation system, and a washer/dryer. The second prize was a camera, a radio and a CD player. The third prize was a regional products gift pack, and the fourth prize was a collection of commemorative stamps.
The New Year's card postal system was set up as early as 1899, and otoshidama-tsuki nenga hagaki went on sale in 1949. Today more than 4.1 billion otoshidama-tsuki nenga hagaki are printed every year.
Click here to learn how to write nengajo.
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