Monday, December 31, 2007

Japanese New Year cards

Here we see the Delightful Miss E, hard at work preparing her New Year cards, an important tradition here in Japan. The cards should be sent to all one's friends and acquaintances, to thank them for being good to one in the year past and wish the continuation of their favour in the new year. The cards usually take the animal of the new year as their theme, so the cards you can see the Delightful Miss E writing have mice, the first syllable of the word for mouse ("ne") and lucky symbols galore spread over them. Since the Delightful Miss E is delightfully obssessed with stationary, there are also many mouse-y and happy stamps and seals sprayed haphazardly across the face of the card. (The writing paper you see in the pile of materials Miss E is using, is probably for the purpose of checking the writing of unusual address kanji).

Common slogans include "thank you for showing me favour in the year gone by, and please also treat me kindly in the year to come", "please enjoy an honourable new year", and such like. We chose our level of formality according to the person receiving the card, with I think one card using the super-formal passive voice: "much honourable assistance was received in the year which has passed; I humbly wish that you would deign to pass down to me similar favour in the coming year".

New Year is a time of many such crazy formalities here: we sent "osebo", gifts of practical use, to three individuals who have helped us over the previous year. They have already received these gifts, but by some miracle of organisation have not yet received their cards. This is because, although New Year's Day is a public holiday, the post office somehow conspire to deliver the entire nation's cards on that day. There is even a special kanji ("Nenga") written on the card to guarantee it is delivered on the day, and a separate post box at the post office for these cards. And people take this stuff seriously - when posting ours I saw some people bringing in wads of cards the thickness of decks of playing cards. That is hard work! We, however, being new to Matsue and new to this tradition, only had 14 cards to send. Though of course, they felt like the work of 50, because we had to learn and write the kanji for 14 addresses (which kanji we have promptly forgotten). For card writers and postal workers alike, this time of year is truly a challenging and complex period!


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