Nengajou are postcards sent out to all your friends, family members, business associates, I even get one from the guy who cleans my septic tank once a year.
Oh. You thought I was into obento. Nengajo have also got me by the throat. I send out over a hundred each year. And the best part? I get over a hundred back.
This is how it works: You make and address your cards the months, sometimes weeks, sometimes days before the end of the year and then drop them off at the post office. The last week of of the year men walk up and down the streets near the post office with enormous red bags (ho! ho! ho!). Because it is so crowded that you'll never find a place to park, they just mosey on up to your car, you roll down your window and toss your rubber banded cards into the bag (not unlike the drug deals I use to watch as a kid in Florida). Now what is truly amazing is that nearly every single one of these postcards gets delivered on January first. There are a few stragglers but not many. You wake up to the New Year with an enormous bundle of love in your mailbox.
The purpose is to wish the receiver a happy new year, to thank him or her for the previous year, or to just touch base with someone you haven't seen in many, many years. We still send and get them from J's kindergarten teachers, exchange students I knew in America that have since returned home and whom I have not met in over 18 years, and well, the guy who cleans my septic tank once a year.
The fun part is you can do whatever you want with the postcards. Almost every store sells hundreds of different types of premade nengajo with a design of the animal from the Chinese zodiac, felicitous wishes and a space where you can add your own little words of greeting. But the majority of cards I receive are hand made. We're talking favorite pictures, calligraphy, water colors, stickers, clip art, some people even carve designs into potatoes and use them to stamp blank postcards.
And the excitement doesn't stop there. Oh, no. On the bottom of each card is a lottery number where you can win everything from commemorative stamps to a wide screen, high definition television set -- which I've yet to win, although I do get tons of the stamps.
Some cards are funny:
We have a friend who plays guitar and always paints his own nengajo. His are always a treat:
I use to experiment with carving wooden stamps and such but soon settled for pictures. This one was for the year of the rabbit when J was a baby. I made him lay down in a baby bed full of stuffed bunnies.
I must show you my favorite card I've ever sent. The piece de resistance, the year of the tiger. I spent two months making a paper mache' tiger and then experimented with various poses. This is what I ended up with.
Next year is the year of the rat, btw. And no, I haven't rendered a giant mouse out of mud and paper clips. Although I have considered it. I've become a tad more efficient and now use my Christmas card picture for the New Year's card as well. Besides I don't think I could talk everyone into wearing those cow suits I bought a couple years ago again.
Boy, do I have a lot to tell you about the New Year's holidays!