In Japan, postcards are sent with the intended arrival date of January 1st. The postcards wish the receiver a happy and prosperous new year. These cards, known as nengajo, are sent to friends and relatives. The mail delivery service is guaranteed for January 1st if the postcards are mailed before a certain date and are clearly marked as nengajo.
I love this tradition and would happily participate, but I suppose I would have trouble finding anyone who would deliver my postcards in the USA on January 1st.
There are several traditional ways to wish someone a happy new year in Japan.
"kotoshi mo yoroshiku o-negai-shimasu" (今年もよろしくお願いします), which means "I hope for your favour again in the coming year"
"(shinnen) akemashite o-medetō-gozaimasu" (新年)あけましておめでとうございます), which means "Happiness to you on the dawn (of a New Year)"
"kinga shinnen" (謹賀新年), which means "Happy New Year"
"shoshun" (初春), which is literally "early spring"
Apparently this time of year can be lucrative for a kid in Japan. Otoshidama is the custom of giving money to children at the new year. Small decorated pouches, known as pochibukuro, are used to hold the money. My family lived in Japan for 10 years. I was there for years 6-10. I don't recall getting any pouches of money!!! I figure my parents (when they read this) should immediately acquire some pochibukuro and send me my money!!!
Finally, my favorite Japanese new year tradition is hatsuyume, which is the first dream of the new year. There is a tradition of attempting to interpret the first dream of the new year, with the hope that the dream will be particularly auspicious. The best dream to have would be one that included Mt. Fuji, a hawk (taka) and an eggplant (nasubi). There are a number of theories about where this particular combination came from. Upon hearing this, I wondered if it was simply the appearance of the three items that would be very auspicious, or if the context would be important.
So, if I dream I am a hawk sitting at the top of Mt. Fuji and I soar down on the prevailing winds to a field where I begin eating an incredibly delicious eggplant, would that be more auspicious than if I dream that I am innocently eating a mediocre eggplant and am suddenly picked up in the talons of a marauding hawk who carries me to his nest on Mt. Fuji and feeds me to the baby hawks?
I'm just not sure. I don't remember what I dreamed about last night. But I will be paying attention tonight!!!!!
To all of my friends and family (and even the random reader who happens to drop by as if by accident), I hope you have a wonderful 2009. (Dad & Mom - let's get those pochibukuro in the mail right away!)