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Advanced Japanese Lesson:賀正(gashō)









Everyone,  Happy New Year!

This is the standard New Year greeting in Japan. We also send and receive postcards with New Year greetings written on them. Did you all know that these are called 年賀状 (ねんがじょう, New Year cards)?

And so today, I’m going to introduce the set phrases which are written on these New Year cards.
The 明けましておめでとうございます (Happy New Year!)  which I mentioned at the outset is the most commonly used phrase.  Aside from this, you’ll also frequently see 賀正(がしょう, gashō) or 謹賀新年 (きんがしんねん),  both of which mean “Happy New Year!” written on New Year cards.

The kanji which is common to both of these phrases is 賀 (が, ‘congratulation’).  If we break down this character into its separate components, we find that above we have 加  (か, ‘addition, increase’) and below we have 貝 (かい, ‘shellfish’).

If we then in turn break down 加, you’ll see that it’s 力(ちから, power)+口 (くち, mouth). This character evolved to symbolize ‘putting the hand along the mouth to encourage someone or oneself’. From this the meaning changed to ‘putting something on top of something else’.

The 貝 which you can see in the lower half of the character expresses the fact that in ancient times beautiful shells were gathered and used for ornaments, prizes or trophies, and were even used instead of money.

If you join these meanings together, you see how the character 賀 came to mean ‘to pile up gifts high in a heap’.  It then developed into the meaning ‘sending gifts and celebrating’.
Because the 正 (しょう、せい, ‘regular, true’) in 賀正 (がしょう, ‘Happy New Year!’) comes from 正月 (しょうがつ, ‘New Year’),  賀正 means ‘to celebrate New Year’.
謹賀新年 (きんがしんねん, Happy New Year!) means ‘in order not to make a slip in etiquette, I offer you courteous congratulations on the New Year’.
In 年賀状 there’s also the character 賀, isn’t there? It means ‘a letter celebrating the New Year’.