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How do we celebrate the new year?  - New Year’s cards “Nengajo”

Like the New Year’s Eve Bell and Year End Party mentioned on the next page, New Year’s Greeting Cards are another example of the traditions surrounding the New Year in Japan.

In Japan, the coming new year is celebrated by sending greeting cards called “Nengajo” so that they arrive right around New Year’s Day.  It’s a tradition to exchange these, which include a message expressing gratitude to the recipient for kindness during the year.  This tradition began during the Heian period*1.  During the Edo period*2, people began to send these cards to people living far away.  With the development of the postal system during the Meiji period*3, this custom became widespread.  It was in 1899 that delivery service*4 was first provided on January 1st for the purpose of delivering these cards. In 1949, a lottery was held to win a greeting card which included “Otoshidama”, gift for the new year.  With this, nengajo became even more popular.

These days, nengajo include various illustrations representing holiday festivities, and due to environmental concerns, cards made of recycled paper are available.  There are also blank cards available that can be used in regular ink-jet printers, allowing people to create their own designs.  These are just a few examples which indicate the importance of these cards in Japanese New Year’s festivities.

However, there are Japanese who have trouble writing New Year’s cards. I'm one of them!  Were you able to do your New Year’s cards? It’s something you’ll hear often in December.  Every year, making my New Year’s cards is a headache for me, and that question is one I don’t want to hear.  But really, it’s a lot of fun to make New Year’s cards which are personalized.  They are distinctly different from typical mail, and the recipient can feel that.  Although New Year’s cards can be a source of worry, they’re also a lot of fun.  With just one card, you can express gratitude and New Year’s greetings to neighbors, friends, and family.

Handmade New Year’s Cards (by Ms. Sekino)

Handmade New Year’s Cards

Handmade New Year’s Cards

This season, some department stores will have a Nengajo Corner. Starting with basic materials, they’ll demonstrate how to make a card. They’ll also have various related goods on display.

Required materials: a plain card, colored paper (red and gold), stamps representing the year according to the Chinese calendar and bamboo, Japanese water colors (especially rouge), a stamp pad (especially vermilion), an inkstone, an India ink stick, and a calligraphy brush.

New Year’s Cards by personal computer  (by Mr. Hayakawa)

In most bookstores, one can buy a CD-ROM which includes many card designs which can be printed out.  Using images from such CD-ROMs and image editing software, one can make New Year’s cards at home.  Also, one can find New Year’s card illustrations online, for free.  It’s possible to make attractive New Year’s cards at home with ease.

Before making your cards, you might feel that it’s a hassle, but once you start and think about the approaching newyear, it’s great fun. What do you think?  If you have a good idea about New Year’s cards, let us know!  You can even drop in at the office to tell us.

Finally, thank you for reading Life in Kyoto during 2007!  In 2008, we will strive to bring you new ways to make your life in Kyoto fun!

Happy New Year!

*1 Heian Period : A.D. 794 through 1185
*2 Edo Period : 1603 through 1868
*3 Meiji Period : A.D. 1868 through 1912
*4 This year’s posting deadline is Dec. 28th. “Nengajo”,
which is posted after Dec. 28th, will be delivered after Jan. 2nd.


-translated by SCHIMOLER, Chris

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The Temple Bells on New Year’s Eve in Kyoto

new year's eve bells

There is an old saying that the Japanese don’t sleep on New Year’s Eve and that the ringing of the bells is to remove this last night of the year.  Nowadays, on New Year’s Eve, many people visit temples after listening to the bells ring 108 times.

Why 108 times?  One of the reasons is because our six senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch and mind) create attachment, and from this our *earthly desires.  Each sense is divided into “like”, “hate”, and “indifference” (3 x 6=18), then divided into “pure” and “impure” (18 x 2 = 36), and then related to the “present”, “past” and “future” (36 x 3 = 108).  These 108 earthly desires are thought to be removed by 108 Buddhas. That’s why we ring the bells 108 times on New Year’s Eve.

There are many temples where you can ring the bells on New Year’s Eve.  Why don’t you go out there to remove our earthly desires and pay gratitude to Buddha?  It’s a good opportunity to look back on the whole year and to receive the New Year in peace.

*Earthly desires -・one of Buddha’s principles that says that our mental actions make our body and mind suffer.   Example: “Greed”, “Complaint”

Some popular temples where you can ring the bells on New Year’s Eve

1. BYODOIN-------World Heritage site located in Uji-city. 4 or 5 persons can ring the bell at a time. (It can only be rung 108 times!)  It’s open until 1:30 am.

2. EIKANDO --------Famous for its autumn leaves. 2 or 3 persons can ring the bell at a time.  There is a service of sweet alcoholic amazake.

3. KIYOMIZU-DERA---World Heritage site. 2 persons can ring the bell at a time. Reservations can be made from Dec. 25th. Admission to the temple is 300 yen.

- MIKAMI, Chiako

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Bonenkai -Let’s party!!

“Bonenkai” the forget-the-year party is a dinner party which is held mainly in December. A reason why we call the party “forget-the-year party” is we try to forget hard times over one year. At the same time, we appreciate each other.

Normally, one person goes to such parties more than once. Therefore, people spend a lot of money and then their wallets become thinner instead of getting bigger stomachs caused by too much drinking and eating.

By the way, in January, people hold “New Year’s Parties”. They encourage each other in the time to come. So, December and January, this is a season people drink and eat a lot.

-TANAKA, Tomoya

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Influenza prevention

Influenza (flu) differs from “common” cold and is mainly prevalent from December to March. The symptoms and complications of both can be severe and lead to hospitalization.  The viruses which transmit influenza viruses A and B can infect us easily in the dry winter weather.

The treatments are both symptomatic and chemical treatments. The former is the medication of antipyretic such as acetaminophen for fever and pain. The latter is the medication of antiviral drugs such as Relenza and Tamiflu. These are all prescription drugs.

But prevention against flu for us is much more important than treatment. Influenza immunization as well as habits such as washing your hands and gargling reduces your risk of the infection.  In fact, I had contracted flu, but the immunization has prevented me from flu for three years.

We recommend influenza immunization.

The difference between influenza (flu) and “common” cold



“Common” cold

Period of prevalence

Mainly prevalent in winter (from December to March)

Prevalent all the year round

Primary symptoms

Fever, chills, and headache

Dry nasopharynx (nasal passages and upper throat) and sneezing

Major symptoms

Fever, muscular pain and joint pain

Runny and stuffy nose



Slight, in very short period

Fever and type of fever (period)

38 to 40℃(3 to 4 days)

Not found or slight

Systemic , muscular and joint pains


Not found

General malaise


Hardly found

Runny and stuffy nose

Obvious at the last stage

Obvious from the early stage


Bronchitis, influenza pneumonia, bacterial encephalitis, and influenza-associated encephalopathy



Influenza virus A,B

Parainfluenza virus
Influenza virus C

  1. Period: November to January
  2. Influenza vaccination is available at most clinics in Kyoto
  3. Costs: About 2,500 yen
  4. For further information please consult your doctor.
Reference websites

-WATANABE, Takeshi

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Series-My favorite Kyoto

HSU, Yi-Ru

HSU, Yi-Ru

I came to study in Japan in April 2007. Coming from Taiwan, April in Japan to me was as cold as winter. At the time, I was not yet accustomed to living in Kyoto; the curriculum at school was difficult and I had no friend, so it was a really unhappy and disappointing time for me. One day, while wondering around Kyoto on a bicycle, I saw the Sakura flowers blooming along Kamo River (Kamogawa). Pink flowers floating in the air like a masterpiece, overflowing with poetic sentiments. It was very beautiful. I felt comforted, and a little happier living in a foreign country. Even now, that beautiful scenery often appears in my memory. Kamo River, being Kyoto’s landmark river, has the Sakura trees, and many willows planted along the riversides, which makes it the beautiful place that it is. Although Kyoto has many historical buildings and temples, among them my number one favorite place is still Kamo River. I look forward to seeing the beautiful and pleasurable scenes of Kamo River particularly when the four season change.

- HSU, Yi-Ru
- translated by Shi P’ng Ch’ng

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Event information

Kyoto City Hall Flea Market   If you don’t need it give it to someone who does!

When: Jan 13 (Sun) FEB. 10 (Sun), 10AM-4PM     
Where: On the corner of Kawaramachi Dori and Oikeseihoku,in front of City Hall
Check for the future schedule.
Sponsor: Plus One Network  Tel 075-229-7713

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Designed by Yukie Mizoi (HP Volunteer)