A Cool Japanese Gift

お年賀 2011, A 2011 New Year's Gift

Last Saturday, my student Keiko came to class for a private lesson. Although it’s the last week of January, this was my first time teaching Keiko this year. It was your typical Saturday, private lesson, and we did a bit of small talk at the beginning of class. As we were talking, she paused…the kind of pause when it looks like you’ve forgotten something. Out of her bag she pulled out this very stylish-looking enveloped and gave it to me.

Even the envelope looked cool!

She told me that it was called onenga, おねんが, お年賀. I had never heard the term before, and Keiko did her best to explain to me (she’s one of my high-level-beginner students). I don’t know if I completely understand what onenga is, but I have some idea.

Onenga translates to mean “New Year’s gift” or “New Year’s greeting” and can be any number of things from sake to cakes to cards. In Japan, nenga hagaki (ねんがはがき, 年賀葉書) or New Year’s postcards are extremely common. Just before New Year’s most people spend a lot of time writing these for employees and friends. If you’ve ever been to a post office during normal business hours at the end of the year, you know exactly what I mean ;).

Keiko was trying to explain the onenga customs for businesses, and I didn’t quite catch it. I think she meant that businesses will often give onenga at the start of the year. I don’t know if this meant businesses give onenga to their employees, clients, partnering business or a combination of the three.

The onenga that Keiko gave me was from Kansai, Japan…a simple, traditional cloth patterned with a Kyoto temple, Sakura trees and black pines. I thought it was a nice gesture from a very thoughtful student, not to mention it was just hella cool looking. You know what it reminded of? Do you remember scene from the Karate Kid movie when Mr. Miyagi is celebrating Daniel-san’s birthday? He gives Daniel the karate dougi, どうぎ, with the bansai tree sunset patch that Miyagi’s wife made emblazoned on the back. Uh, yep, that’s definitely going right on my wall!

Thank you, Keiko!

Donald Ash

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