...do as they do. I have tried my best to subscribe to this way of living. I go to the bookstore and read fashion magazines without buying them. I layer unnecessarily and I stand in long ridiculous lines for sweets. (There are some things that I will just never do, no matter how long I live here: wear a face mask when I'm sick, gurgle in public or drink coffee with my burgers while smoking just to name a few)
The holidays in Japan are visually similar to that of the US, but the way they celebrate couldn't be more different. This not being Christian nation, Christmas in Japan is basically another Valentine's Day. From what I can tell, it is ruled by 3 industries:
1. Kentucky Fried Chicken
2. Department Stores
3. The Japan Post
By the end of the year, I will have written about all three, but today I'm focusing on the Japan Post. Japan Post Holdings is 100% owned by the government, but it is run more like private corporation. Unlike the US Postal System, the Japan Post makes money. A lot of it. One of the main reasons for this is that it also operates a the largest bank in the world (Japan Post Bank) and a life insurance company (Japan Post Insurance). In their spare time, they also deliver the mail. If that makes it sound like they slack on their postal duties...you'd be mistaken. They work around the clock to assure that you receive your mail. If I'm not home to sign for a package, they leave a note, I call them and tell them to come back...they'll deliver until 9pm 6 days a week.
How do they tie into the holidays? One of the traditions in Japan is to make and send New Year's cards (nengajou). It's not that groundbreaking...we do that in America with Christmas cards, but my co-worker shed some light on why Japanese people are SO into sending the cards. Basically, to increase the mail volume during the holidays, JP pours a ton of money reminding people to send their cards, guaranteeing that they will be delivered on January 1st. They are currently running huge billboards in the subway, reminding people to get their cards ready. To further entice potential card senders, JP runs a raffle/lottery. Huh?
You can buy postcards (blank or designed) at the post office and on each card, there is a lotto number at the bottom. The person you send the card to can check the winning numbers in the local paper on January 1st to see if they won a prize. Apparently, the chances of winning are actually pretty high since there are different prize levels. My co-worker said she won the 3rd place prize a few years back...she won some "really nice meat". Prizes apparently vary from meat to stamps to flat screen TVs and trips to Hawaii. I think this is a really cool idea. Getting real mail is exciting enough...adding the potential to win something makes it 100 times cooler.
Getting into the spirit, I trekked to the local stationary store to stock up on my post card making instruments. Stamp, ink, pens, wagashi stickers... There are apparently some rules about card design. They must depict the new year's lunar animal...so you can't reuse cards from the year before. Some people, like my coworker, carve their own stamps, or get special stamps made each year. I'm a beginner, so I stuck to the standard fare. I'm still perfecting my design, so the picture here is just a preliminary mock up....it needs work, but it's getting there. Now aren't you excited for my postcard?!