Q Why are New Year's cards sent in Japan?

A Sending New Year's cards can be regarded as being similar to the custom of sending Christmas cards in the West, but with no religious significance in Japan.

The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications incites enthusiasm for sending these cards by printing a lottery number on each card. This may perhaps be a phenomenon reflecting the penchant of the Japanese quick to pick up on group-oriented activities because of the security offered by the group.

The custom of paying courtesy calls at New Year to one's lord, parents, relatives, acquaintances, teachers, people in the neighborhood, one's superiors, etc. began during the Heian period (794-1185).

During the Edo period ( 1600-1868), not only was it expected of the warriors, but also of the merchants to make their round of calls at New Year bringing items such as folding fans, hand towels and ukiyoe prints (sometimes pornographic!). This custom took firm root and continued until the early Meiji period (1868-1912) and is still practiced today in areas where patriarchy is firmly entrenched.

Sending by mail became expedient during the Meiji period and man people capitalized on this convenient means of sending New Year's cards to fulfill their obligation of making New Year's calls. The New Year's card postal system was set up as early as 1899 and cards with lottery numbers came into being in 1948 after the end of World War II.

Year's Day in 1996 throughout Japan reached an astonishing 2.65 billion. New Year's cards were formerly written on January 2, but many people nowadays begin to write the receiver's address in December. Also, many resort to printed messages, evidence that this custom has become but a mere formality.

The designs of the different zodiacs every year are incorporated onto the cards. The designs are truly diverse and original utilizing wood block prints and other artistic devices. These are indeed a pleasure to see.

There are many different word processors and computer software that contain images and photos that can be utilized to create a personalized card. New Year's cards have also come to fulfill a great role in society; a part of the proceeds is used for welfare work in Japan.