All About Japan

What is Otoshidama?

New Year's Holidays

Kids in Japan are making out like bandits and getting not presents but cold, hard cash on New Year’s Day in the form of otoshidama.

On January 1 in Japan, families traditionally get together to talk, laugh, drink, and eat large amounts of food that would give even the most gluttonous Christmas turkey gobbler a run for their money. For most kids, though, the big bowls of salmon roe, sweetened black soy beans and mikan oranges are merely an entertaining sideshow, with the main event being when parents, aunts, uncles, grandmas and grandpas produce tiny little envelopes containing money, or otoshidama.

The custom of giving gifts of money to children can be observed in numerous countries, including China and even Scotland, where small amounts of cash are traditionally given to children on the first Monday of every New Year.

The envelopes—often elaborate and available in numerous cute or traditional designs—given to kids in Japan may be small, but you’d be surprised at how much some kids receive, with some walking away from New Year’s get-togethers with a few hundred dollars’ worth of yen in their pocket.

Cash may be considered a somewhat impersonal gift in some countries, but there’s no denying that for the average kid, a neat wad of spend-it-as-you-like cash beats a sweater from Auntie Nora or sensible stationery set from a well-meaning relative.

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