As the new year approaches, it’s time to begin preparing your nengajo. Along with your family and friends, your new boss and colleagues are also good to include in your recipient list in order to thank them for their support and the opportunity provided to you with your new job offer.

Unsure of what to write to them? Here’s a short guide to nengajo for your work colleagues.

What is nengajo?

If you are new to Japan, you’ve probably seen these little cards around, particularly around the new year. Nengajo typically fill the role of Christmas and New Years cards in many Western countries. It’s a custom that dates back to at least the Heian Era (794-1185 AD). It is one of Japan’s most enduring customs, and come November, stores will begin stocking these special cards in unique designs. Each card will also have a lottery number that is announced in mid-January each year.

So important are nengajo that the Japanese post has been known to do whatever it takes to deliver these cards on 1 January each year.

When is the best time to send nengajo?

Each year, the Japanese post opens designated mail boxes specifically for nengajo from 15 December. As long as you post them by 25 December, they will arrive on time to their recipients. The post keeps them aside for special delivery on the morning of 1 January.

If you’ve forgotten to send your nengajo on time, it’s preferable for them to arrive before the last day of the New Year holiday on 3 January, and at the very latest, 7 January. Any later than that, and you risk your nengajo looking as if they were an afterthought; this should be avoided.

How to write nengajo for your new colleagues

First, it’s important to remember that you should not send any nengajo to colleagues who have experienced the death of someone close to them. Around November, those affected will send out a white mourning card, called a mochuu hagaki (喪中はがき), that will explain that they will not be celebrating the new year.

Another thing to confirm before you begin sending out your nengajo is if your company has prohibited the sending of these cards to colleagues. It’s not very common, but it’s a good idea to check first.

If you’re unsure, and don’t know anyone that you can ask, it is better to send one than risk offending. As it’s an enduring Japanese custom, people will accept the gesture in the spirit in which it was sent.

There are some standard, typical phrases that you can include in your nengajo, and you should personalise these depending on who you are sending it to.

What to write to your new boss

Begin by wishing them a happy new year, and that you wish them well. It is a good idea to use this card to convey your thanks for their support in providing you with this opportunity, and to reiterate your goals and determination for the year to come.

What to write to your new colleagues

If you have met your new colleagues, use this opportunity to wish them a happy new year and thank them for their support. Include a short sentence expressing your enthusiasm to work alongside them in the new year.

Many people decorate their cards with photos of big life events, and some people even create their own cards. Until you know your colleagues well, and understand what is or is not acceptable, it’s best to buy premade cards.

Nengajo are a great way to begin building your new relationships if you happen to begin your new job over the new year. Keep your card brief, professional, and make sure it is sent on time! Upon your commencement, your new colleagues will appreciate the kind gesture.

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