Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Day

Happy New Year from ????
 There's a custom in Japan that I enjoyed, but never actually participated in.

There's an old custom in Japan (and I'm sure elsewhere in the world) for people to go out on New Year's Day to visit friends, acquaintances, former teachers and relatives - to catch up on new times while re-hashing old times. It was to stay connected - to say thanks. It's a cool custom.
But, back in the 1899 or so, after Japan opened up its borders to foreigners and postcards and postage became the fashionable thing to do, that quaint custom of visitation slowly faded away.
Instead, old acquaintances were brought to mind via a New Year's greeting card called the nengajo.
The Japanese seem to take great pride in sending out these New Year's Day greetings. I have to say that 99.9 per cent of the ones I received (maybe about 150 per year) were written in Japanese with little to no English on them. As a result, I have a very difficult time in knowing just who the hell they are from.
I'm sorry.
I'm just not that smart or good at reading Japanese.
The cards come in various formats - but are always done in a postcard style - IE a front and backside.
Format-wise, the front will have a greeting written in Kanji or Hiragana - or if I'm lucky enough Katakana alphabet (see left photo at very top). Sometimes, it is all writing, others have a drawing ink-stamped onto it.
Still others, they have a photo placed onto. Some have them professionally done - and by that I mean they had a card maker actually print a photo as the front of the card. The non-professional card (and this is not a knock against anyone!), the photo is glued to the front.
Other times, the picture on the front matches the animal of the applicable Japanese/Chinese zodiac calendar.
For example... I was born in 1964. That's the year of the Dragon. Today in 2011, it is the year of the Rabbit.
Want to know what YOUR astrological sign is?: ANNUAL
1991 was the Year of The Sheep
As well, the cards have on the backside a set of lottery numbers (Otoshidama-tsuki nenga hagaki). Take a look at the photo on the right at the very top - I purposely did NOT choose a lottery number for you that had the number 47 in it, even though I have . On January 15, the wining numbers are picked, with the results delivered the next day on television. The prizes are not monetary, ranging nowadays from televisions to washing machines, to cameras to commemorative stamps.
In all honestly, I have no idea if I ever won anything, as I know that both Matthew and I never knew to check the results!
The cards would actually be delivered by the Post and Telecommunications Ministry (Yuuseishou) to arrive on January 1, as deliver or reception of such cards before that date is considered bad form... it's like visiting people (pre-1899) before this auspicious date.
When they say that it's the thought that counts - here in Japan it really does.
Sure they might send out 50 or 100 cards... but honestly, no one had to send the stupid gaijin (foreigner) a card. But they did.
And it means a lot to me that they spent the time and effort to write out my name and address (where the heck are people getting my address from?!!) . Some did write it out in English, too... which must have confused the heck out of the postal service.
Actually, I'm betting the post office folks weren't that confused. When it came to receiving mail with English writing on the card or envelope, it either went to me, or to Matthew. And, from what I was told by my bosses at the OBOE (Ohtawara Board of Education), the post office actually had our two addresses on file in English and in Japanese so that they could easily deliver mail to us.
There was only one problem.
Nice family shot from the Yashiro family.
Ohtawara had more gaijin than just the two of us. And, there certainly were more Japanese receiving mail from people outside of Japan, too.
Other gaijin include the : foreign exchange company workers at some of the major electronics companies; the bartending staff at local watering holes; the Asian Farming Institute that taught Japanese farming techniques to people from a plethora of Asian countries; and of course, the Catholic Priest who lived in the church two doors away from me. I always got mail for him (stuff from the Vatican - new candles and chalices), and he always got stuff for me (my box of condoms, and subscription to Juggs).
I know I always send the stuff I received to him unused. I can only hope he did the same for me.
Anyhow... as mentioned at the very top... I never participated in this tradition - more the pity. I never had a card made and sent out and damn it I always felt bad about it whenever a card would arrive in the mail for me.
If you are in Japan during the Winter season, do yourself a favour and look into having a nengajo made up for yourself to send out. You'll be happy you did.
Oh... and happy new year!
Unless you follow the Chinese calendar - you'll have to wait six more weeks, but the feeling is still meant!

Somewhere wondering if I had won a washing machine,
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is by U2... and appropriately named band for this blog topic: HAPPYNEWYEAR
PS: Upon further review of the New Year's cards I received back in January of 1991, it appears that I DID send out greetings. I apparently wrote things out in Kanji (the Chinese-style Japanese alphabet) and mailed them out. I feel better now. So forget about my opening line to this blog. I'm not a complete loser.

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