Nengajo Design Contest

Presented by JICC, Embassy of Japan

About the Contest

The Nengajo contest is now closed, so get on our Facebook page to see all the great submissions - be sure to share your thoughts with us! You can also see all the entries on our Picasa Web gallery.

Oshogatsu, or the New Year’s holiday, is a very special time in Japan. Perhaps the most honored and celebrated of the Japanese holidays, preparations begin long in advance as people clean their homes from top to bottom (osouji), prepare traditional food to be eaten during the first three days of the new year (osechi ryori), and write New Year's greeting cards, or nengajo.

Much like the Christmas and holiday greeting cards exchanged in the West, nengajo are an important part of Japan's New Year festivities. They serve as an expression of gratitude to friends, family and colleagues and help to maintain strong relations from year to year.

This year, why not spread a little holiday cheer by participating in the JICC’s first nengajo design contest? The winning design will be sent as the JICC’s official New Year’s greeting and appear in the official embassy newsletter, Japan Now. The winner will also get the chance to experience another beloved Japanese New Year’s tradition when they receive a fukubukuro—a goodie bag full of surprises!

Official Rules

  • Open to people of all ages.
  • The design must fit the traditional postcard size of 4x6 inches.
  • The design must incorporate the year 2011 (or Heisei 23 in the Japanese calendar) and a rabbit, the zodiac animal of 2011.
  • The design must be the contestant’s original artwork, not taken directly from a manga, an anime, a website, or other image which is protected by copyright.
  • Submissions must be received in digital format. High resolution photographs and scans of non-digital artwork can be uploaded to the JICC’s Facebook page or sent by email to jicc@ws.mofa.go.jp.
  • Be sure to include your name, age and location in the caption!
  • Designs must be received by email or submitted to the JICC’s Facebook page by 5:00 pm Eastern Standard Time on December 21st, 2010.

About Nengajo

Oshogatsu, or the New Year’s holiday, is a very special time in Japan—a time for people to return to their ancestral homes, spend time with their families and get in touch with their roots. Perhaps the most honored and celebrated of the Japanese holidays, preparations begin long in advance as people clean their homes from top to bottom (osouji), prepare traditional food to be eaten during the first three days of the new year (osechi ryori), and write New Year's greeting cards, or nengajo.

Much like the Christmas cards and holiday greetings exchanged in the West, nengajo are an important part of Japan's New Year festivities. Now an established tradition, this relatively modern custom can be traced back to the tradition of nenshimawari, or New Year’s visits. During the first few days of the New Year, people would call on friends, family, neighbors, and others who had helped or shown kindness to them during the previous year to express their gratitude in the hopes of preserving their good relations in the year ahead.

When the post office began issuing postcards during the Meiji period (1868-1929), the more convenient trend of sending nengajo spread like wildfire. Today the average family sends over a hundred nengajo to relatives, friends and colleagues. Even businesses are sure to mail one to all their customers. In fact, more than 4 billion New Year’s postcards are sold in Japan each year.

The most popular nengajo designs often incorporate the eto, or zodiac animal, for the new year, traditional Japanese motifs like Mount Fuji or the rising sun, and popular characters like Hello Kitty and Mickey Mouse. To add to the excitement, the Japanese postal service also conducts a nengajo lottery, marking each of its specially produced cards with a number. Lucky numbers are announced in the newspapers, with winners receiving everything from free postal services to TV sets and kitchen appliances.

Like many Japanese traditions, there is a very specific nengajo etiquette code that has no equal in Western culture. While Christmas cards may arrive anytime from Thanksgiving to New Year's, nengajo are expected to be delivered precisely on January 1st, not a day before or after. The post office begins accepting nengajo on December 15th, giving each a special mark to ensure it will be delivered promptly on New Year' Day. Waiting for your bundle of postal love (they literally arrive bound together) and wading through the flood of New Year’s wishes on January 1st is a cherished holiday tradition, similar to anticipating and opening presents.

When a surprise nengajo arrives from someone may have been forgotten, the accepted practice is to return the kindness on January 6th, reminding the sender to take care of their health in the cold weather. It is also important to remember that if someone has recently lost a loved one, a nengajo should not be sent out of respect for the family's mourning.

This season, why not spread a little New Year cheer with your own nengajo? Or better yet, help the JICC celebrate by submitting a design to our very first nengajo design contest! The winning designs will be sent out to the JICC’s mailing list as the official New Year’s greeting and be included in the embassy’s official newsletter, Japan Now. One winner will even get the chance to experience another beloved Japanese tradition when they receive a fukubukuro—a goodie bag full of surprises!




Contest Winners

Adult Division:

Lasha Tamae

Adult Division Winner

Junior Division:

Karen Umeda

Junior Division Winner

Runners-Up

Adult Division:

Melody Poland

Adult Division Runner-Up

Junior Division:

Ayala Albert

Junior Division Runner-Up

The 2011 Nengajo Design Contest


(click the image for a larger version)

Photo & Video Policy

The Japan Information Culture Center (JICC), Embassy of Japan reserves the right to use any photograph/video taken at any event sponsored by JICC, without the expressed written permission of those included within the photograph/video. JICC may use the photograph/video in publications or other media material produced, used or contracted by JICC including but not limited to: brochures, invitations, newspapers, magazines, television, social media, websites, etc. To ensure the privacy of individuals and children, images will not be identified using full names or personal identifying information without written approval from the photographed subject, parent or legal guardian. A person attending a JICC event who does not wish to have their image recorded for distribution should make their wishes known to the photographer/videographer, and/or the event organizers.