The Japanese nengajō (New Year’s cards)

Every year in December in Japan people are preparing for the New-Year’s-card rush – the nengajō. Most people select a design from one of the various apps on their laptops, or more recently their smart devices, and print them up on their printers. It is a survival skill that rivals, if not top, that of word processor skills. A nengajō is a postcard designed especially for the year’s end. It has the year it with a lottery included. The omote (front side) has the names and addresses of the addressee and addresser. The ura has the design.

There are various styles, but the most basic ura design is one without photos. The Japanese follow the Chinese zodiac calendar which is in a cycle of twelve years with each year having an animal (apart from the Year of the Dragon) to represent it. 2019 happens to be The Year of the Boar. So most people incorporate a boar in the design. Those which include photos ones which show the entire family.

The apps generally have an address list function to help you keep track and print up both sides of your card.

Here are some tips (in no particular order) for being a “nengajō warrior”:

  1. give yourself a couple of days to the nengajō
  2. keep the cards received from the previous year as reference (and burn the old ones at a new years event at a shrine as a sign of respect to the sender)
  3. keep your address list up-to-date
  4. backup your address list
  5. take at least one photo with the entire family in it sometime in the year (if you choose to include a photo)
  6. print the omote side first (it uses less ink in case of a mistake)
  7. check everything before printing bulk
  8. stock up on printer ink
  9. if you worried about privacy don’t use a photo (all cards show name and address)

This should get you started if you are new to this Japanese custom. Enjoy.

If you want more detailed information check out these pages by Fukuoka Now and Savvy Tokyo.


Interpretation and Prediction

The past is now part of my future. The present is well out of hand. (Ian Curtis, Joy Division, Heart and Soul)

Even this is projection in both directions. The past is interpreted while the future is predicted. In projecting the link between past and future, control is lost in the present. Dejection and pointlessness sets in. The point is there is no “link” without the present. And that there is always control in the form of projection.

Id/superego/ego, Japanese culture, Schopenhauer 

If there is one thing useful that I would have to pick that Freud gave us, it is the idea of id, superego and ego. The id is what you want to do. The superego is what society wants you to do, and the ego is what you do in light of your id and superego. Something is wrong if you let either the id or superego do all the thinking. It is best to take the balance with the ego.

Japanese culture has this built-in to their thinking with the concept of in-group/out-group. We must always think of ourselves not as just mere individuals but also in relation to society.

Or this is similar to Schopenhauer’s idea of will and representation. We are individuals in charge and control of our self (will) to be contrasted to things outside beyond our control (representation).

While abstraction is something we humans are good at it is dangerous to let it take over without a return to the real world or reality. No matter what the world is, there we exist and only exist. Any other thought is wrong.

It’s not money that grows on trees anymore

Children draw conclusions from what they can see.

I remember asking myself I was young where did ham come from, and not being able to give an answer. Processed food look so far removed from what they are made from that it is impossible to deduce what it is simply by looking at it.

So I am not surprized to read that Australian children (I grew up there) think cotton sock are from animals and yogurt come from plants. The logic could be mixing up cotton (from plants) for wool (from animals). Perhaps the logic for yogurt too is that it is from plants because the flavours are mostly fruit (strawberry, mango, apple, etc) or plants (aloe, which is a popular flavour in Australia).

Television, in a way, is a good window for information. The other source of information for me back then is books and public libraries. At least ithese were for me when I was a child in an age without the internet. Today’s children have no excuse for ignorance and laziness. The democracization of knowledge is one of the great achievements of our time now.

But the ease of obtaining knowledge in this age of information superhighway is also perhaps a loss of the ability to find out things for oneself in a genuine form of discovery and intimate understanding. Today’s children perhaps therefore rely on packaged information as much as packaged food that is, what I call, our supermarket culture.

But I think it is not only children who have trouble drawing logical conclusions about the world but also adults. Our world is complex. In this day and age learning to filter out the noise from the music is by no means easy. Nonetheless we must learn to filter it.

The link between the environment and war

Did you know that 40% of world’s civil or internal wars in the last half century have been fought over for natural resources?

Today is International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict. We should remember the (illogical) reasons why we are fighting in the first place. Then, may be, we will put down our weapons and make peace instead.

Affluence, the individual and society

About two months ago I was diagnosed with gout. Gout, for those who do not know what it is, is a disease caused by high levels of uric acid in the blood. This acid is caused mainly by the imbalance of food intake which causes the they build up of crystals in joints. And this build up in turn causes severe pain in these joints.

Over-consumption of liver, meat, fish and alcohol (especially beer) are the main causes of gout. But what over-consumption means to each person is of course different. For me it seems to be a low-tolerance case.

Last Friday night I went to yakiniku. Yakiniku is the Japanese version of a Korean BBQ. And like all BBQs meat is the main dish to be consumed. While I am on medication to reduce my uric acid levels (the cause of my gout) I was not instructed to change my diet too drastically. My doctor had probably wanted to find out just how much my diet is the cause of it. And as I write this at four o’clock in the morning, being woken up by the pain in my left knee, I would say the yakiniku plunder last Friday night was not a good idea.

In Japanese, gout is called tsuufuu which means pain-wind or pain-breeze. And I can assure you a slight breeze is enough to cause great pain. Perhaps the English word for it is a kind of exclamation of pain (gouuut!). It is also called in Japan the disease of the affluent in reference to an individuals dietary habits which is its main cause. Yes, I am most guilty of affluence.

While my body tells me that there is a problem in fairly short notice (in my case four days) the environment is not so quick. It could take decades before we see any symptoms of the problem. The case of CFCs – the chemical used to make our fridge and air conditioner work – is a good example. CFCs release into the atmosphere is the direct cause of the Ozone hole, a problem we recognized only after twenty or thirty years we introduced it as safe. Another example is deforestation. The accumulative effects of clearing land for farming and other purposes is becoming more noticeable now.

But even though I say the environmental signs are slow to show up it is only relative. In my short life of seventy, eighty years, fours days is quick. In the course of four billion years of Earth’s life 30 years is almost instantaneous. Thirty years only seems long in our time scale.

So maybe it is time to rethink our way of seeing time and the environment. Maybe it is a wake up call, a call we should be listening to. Planning for our (planet’s) future should not be about this year, five years or even our lifetime. People like David Suzuki say planning for the future should be about planning for seven generations. And not just forward in time but backwards to the past. You might say how do we plan for the past? Well, it all depends on how you look at time. The Western concept of time is not always the best. The same is true of affluence also.

Personal Note: I will be offline for about two weeks finishing up end of year term papers (seven to be exact). Hope to see you back here then. My apologies.