Nengajo: Japanese New Years Lotto Post Cards

Not to be confused with Ninjago, NENgajo are a curious tradition around the New Year that the Mrs and I have not really gotten into. This year, however, we found ourselves receiving some of these wonderful well-wishes from friends, coworkers, and even companies we made purchases from this year, prompting us to really see what these little cards were all about.

Origins of Nengajo

Like most paper-related items and administrative busywork, the Nengajo (年賀状, or Nengajo-Hagaki – 年賀はがき) has its origins in the Heian Period (794-1185 AD). The nobility started writing simple New Year’s greetings to those they could not meet in-person to show that they were thinking about them (and to play politics, to be certain). Later, in the Meiji Period (1868-1929), specifically in 1871 when postcards became a thing in Japan, the Nengajo really came into its own since there was now a nation-wide distribution system for these well-wishes. They’ve remained pretty popular over the years, despite dropping in numbers steadily from year to year. But don’t count them out yet! At the start of 2020, the Japanese Postal Service delivered 2 Billion nengajo. That’s billion. With a B. Let that sink in as you read on.

Our Nengajo Journey and Nengajo Etiquette

In year’s past, we really haven’t received nengajo, but this year, we got three! One was from a friend, one was from a business I purchased some items from, and the last was a random advertisement for a local company. The numbers are on the back of the card on the bottom strip. It’s tradition to send one back if you receive one. This is why they delay revealing the winning numbers for a few weeks in January so you can fulfil your obligation to friends and family you may not have sent one to but received one from.

There is an exception: You won’t send one to families who have recently lost a loved one. They will let you know by sending you a mourning card, mochuu hagaki (喪中はがき), so that you don’t accidentally send them a nengajo.

These numbers help dictate whether or not you’ve won. You need to match the numbers with the official announcement in order to see if you’ve won first, second, or third place prizes. As you move down the price tier, the requirements for matching numbers becomes less stringent, but the price of the prize also goes down. For example, this year, first place is either 300,000 (about $2,900) yen cash or 310,000 (about $3,000) yen in electronic funds, second place is a hometown gift bundle (value of 10,000 yen, or $96), and third place is a new year’s stamp sheet with two stamps (maybe 150 yen value, or $1.45, give or take).

When and How Do I Find Out if I Won?

Excellent question! Just head over to the JP Post website and you’ll be able to see the winning numbers and the prizes for each tier. They also give you the odds of winning each prize, which is very nice of them to do.

While our luck wasn’t with us this year, who knows? Maybe next year we’ll keep up the tradition and send out a few more to see if we can win some nice stamps or a cash prize!

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