Japanese stationery items have a well-deserved reputation for quality and variety. Most department stores and bookstores have sections for paper goods, and among the journals, stickers, and letter sets, you’ll find areas devoted to seasonal greetings.
You’ll recognize spring-themed cards by their cherry blossom theme, and the early summer cards by their hydrangeas and rain images for tsuyu, the rainy season. Besides the connection to seasonal weather, what might be surprising are the cultural references in these illustrations. You might see traditional doll depictions for Girls' Day, a holiday held in March, or a drawing of a small ghost swaying from a door or window. That little ghost-like object, called teru teru bozu, is a popular talisman used to prevent rainy weather. Although it looks like a ghost, it actually has nothing to do with Halloween.
The oppressive heat and humidity of summer arrive after the rainy season, and you’ll find racks of cards depicting cooling foods, such as shaved ice, watermelon, and ice-cold cans of beer. Look for blooming morning glory flowers, wind chimes, and water images, or cards with recorded audio of exploding summer fireworks or the thunk-thunk of a bamboo water pipe in a pond. Or you might find pop-ups with drawings of people at a summer festival, visiting food stalls while traditional music plays. One of my favorite cards depicts a summer garden at night, with twinkling firefly lights and a recording of cricket sounds.
As summer winds down, you’ll start to see cards showing colorful fall foliage, pampas grasses blowing in the moonlight, and white mochi dango for the moon-viewing festival held in the autumn.
As winter approaches, you’ll find holiday cards with an interesting cultural note- like the one above of Santa soaking in a hot spring! You’ll also find New Year’s cards with images of the next year’s lunar animal. The 12 animals rotate, so if you see a card with a certain animal this year, keep in mind that you won't find those cards for another whole cycle.
So whether you still send cards through the post office or you simply appreciate seasonal Japanese imagery, these cards will keep bringing you memories long after you’ve left the country. They’re examples of the culture of seasonality in Japan- and one of the reasons why the cards make unique souvenirs for friends back home.