In many Western cultures, there is a custom of sending Christmas cards to friends and family. In Japan, there is a custom of sending New Year's cards, usually in the form of an "official" post card from the post office.
The post cards that are sent at New Year's are called nengajo (年賀状) or nengahagaki (年賀はがき). They are often quite colourful and decorated, and usually feature an image of the animal that represents the Chinese zodiac symbol for that year. 2007 is the year of the wild boar, or pig. In Japanese, the wild boar is known as "inoshishi" (猪). People send these cards to friends, family, and business colleagues. Companies sometimes send them to clients.
Around this time of year, the post office starts collecting all post cards that look like "nengajo" and saves them up to be delivered on January 1. I think there is an official opening and closing date for this service (perhaps December 15 to 24), but I will have to confirm that later when I have access to the internet in Japanese. Usually the post cards arrive all at once on that day, and if you receive more than one, they may be bound with an elastic. If you receive such a post card, it is polite to send one in reply immediately if you have not already sent one to that person.
If you look at the bottom of official nengajo (ones that are issued by the post office), you will see a series of numbers. These numbers are your ticket to a lottery that is held in January. The prizes range from commemorative stamps to major household appliances. The lottery will be held on January 14, 2007, so remember to check for the winning numbers at the post office or online.
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