Nengajo Contest 2023

Nengajo Contest 2023

Alexia Cramer

This past January, Japanese teacher Corey Zukeran presented all students enrolled in Japanese classes with an opportunity to have their art work submitted in the annual nengajo contest held by the Hawaii Association of Teachers of Japanese. A “nengajo” is a New Years greeting card and a large part of New Year traditions in Japan. In the contest, there are four categories in which students can have their work put under. For the 2023 competition, the first in the three years since the pandemic, Mililani 

High School students managed to place first in every single category, along with holding some second and third place titles. Students were able to express uniqueness and creative visions that fell under Comical, Family, Hawaiian, and Artistic categories. The winners of the Hawaii, Comical, Artistic and Family categories respectively include Alana Reyes, Liam Yuasa, Sara Tanioka and Kamryn Lapinid.

“At first I wasn’t sure how I should draw the bunny. But after combining a bunch of ideas, I decided to make it standing in a cute little overall, and I matched that with the orange, and then the bamboo, and kabuki mask inspired by a daruma,” said junior Chloe Zentkovich, a third year Japanese student.

With 2023 being the year of the rabbit according to the lunar calendar, much of the artwork featured the zodiac animal. During the creation process, students were also required to abide by certain rules. Regulations included that the nengajos must be hand drawn with original content. Along with this, culturally appropriate format is necessary, as it is intended to teach students about traditional Japanese practices. 

Mililani High School’s Japanese program has multiple teachers and classes. All students within this program from Japanese 1 to AP Japanese classes were required to create a nengajo. From there, teachers were given the opportunity to submit a set number of cards, usually two each they can submit. To make the decision, the students in the Japanese classes were able to vote for which one of their classmates’ drawings they liked the most.

“A lot of teachers select the cards themselves,” said Zukeran. “But I’ve actually had an in class contest.”

This provides the students with the chance to view their peers’ work and select a class card for the running. However, that leaves one selection to be made by Zukeran.  Winner of the artistic category, Sara Tanioka, was not voted first in her class, but Zukeran’s selection allowed her to place first overall in her category. 

“Honestly, with the process, the hardest part was coming up with an idea that I felt good about creating. I thought about the thing that I associate with New Years the most personally, which was New Year’s soup,” said Zentkovich. “At first I tried to incorporate that, but then I just found myself at an artist’s block trying to create a concept including the soup. So I scratched that.  Then I looked at general things associated with new years that I learned in my Japanese class.” 

To find out more information about the contest, or to simply view all the winning nengajo cards, visit