Japan is indeed a land of ritual – not only in actions, but also in words. There are ritualized expressions for daily greetings, first time meetings, and New Year’s salutations. But there are also ritualized seasonal greetings, varying by the four seasons.
In summer, however, there is a special custom of postcard greetings. Cold winter months can take a toll on one’s health, but the hot, humid summer months in Japan can be physically exhausting, and consequently, it is another time of year when people feel particularly susceptible to ailments.
About the middle of July, the rainy season begins to wind down, the temperature goes up and the humidity lingers. The outdoors, and indoors without air conditioning, can feel downright unbearable.
To show concern for one's family, friends, and customers, it’s been traditional to send shochuu-mimai, mid-summer greeting postcards at this time of year. These cards inquire after the person's health and depict a cool or calming scene to give the receiver a sense of relief from the heat. They often begin with a comment about how hot it is and how the sender hopes the receiver is staying healthy despite the oppressive heat and humidity. Examples are at the end of this article.
Around August 7th or 8th, according to the old calendar, autumn begins, so midsummer is considered over. If one hasn’t sent a shochuu-mimai, then a late summer greeting, or zansho-mimai, can be sent until mid-September. It basically says, “Sending you late summer greetings. It appears that the heat of the summer continues. Please take good care of yourself.”
You can buy attractive shochu-mimai and zansho-mimai at a stationery or department store. Special issue cards, called kamomeru, can be purchased from the post office. These have lottery numbers at the bottom, with the drawing taking place in September. There are, of course, numerous e-cards available as well.
If you would like to participate in this custom, but aren’t quite up to sending out cards, you can begin your email with the appropriate greeting or you can send an email with the greeting as the sole purpose. The nice thing about this is that it shows you are thinking about the person even when you are not pressured to write for business purposes. Sometimes it is the thoughtful little gesture that helps smooth the way through the next crisis, or that energizes a sleeping relationship. And best of all, these make people feel better in an oppressively hot summer that seems to never end!
Standard versions of Shochu Mimai and Zansho mimai are shown below. Your computer may not show the Japanese kanji characters, but you can also use the Roman letters (Romaji).
Formal version the midsummer greeting: 暑中お見舞い申し上げます。暑さ厳しき折ですが、くれぐれもご自愛くださいますよう、お祈り致しております。 Shochu omimai mooshiagemasu. Atsusa kibishikiori desuga, kureguremo gojiai kudasaimasuyoo, oinori itashite orimasu.
Less formal version of the midsummer greeting: 暑中お見舞い申し上げます。毎日暑い日が続いておりますが、ぞうぞお体を大切にお過ごしください。Shochu omimai mooshiagemasu. Mainichi atsuihiga tsuzuiteorimasuga, doozo okarada o taisetsuni osugoshikudasai.
Formal version of the Late Summer Greeting: 残暑お見舞い申し上げます。まだまだ暑さも厳しい折、くれぐれもご自愛くださいますよう、お祈り致しております。 Zansho omimai mooshiagemasu. Madamada atsusa mo kibishii ori, kureguremo gojiai kudasaimasuyoo, oinori itashite orimasu.
Less formal version of the Late Summer Greeting: 残暑お見舞い申し上げます。まだまだ暑さも続きそうです。どうぞお体を大切に。Zansho omimai mooshiagemasu. Madamada atsusa mo tsuzuki soo desu. Doozo okarada o taisetsuni.