Photo:John Nakamura Remy on Flickr

Otoshidama for the New Year

Otoshidama is a Japanese traditional custom where adults give money to the children in their family. It originated from a shrine ritual in which kagami-mochi (round rice cakes) are offered to the god of the New Year (Toushi-kamisama). After the ritual was over, the cakes were given to the people worshipping at the shrine. Over the centuries, otoshidama became the name for gifts offered during theNew Year period, though they were originally called onenshi or onenga (New Year’s greeting).

The Custom

Photo : Laura Tomàs Avellana on Flickr

Otoshidama is usually given by grand-parents, parents, as well as uncle and aunts. The amount given depends on the child’s age and it’s put in a small envelope before being given to the child. The amount varies from 500 up to 10,000 yen with older children receiving more. Many children will buy the toys they wanted with their otoshidama, but some parents will take half of the total to keep in the children savings. There are many kinds of envelopes to put otoshidama in, from simple ones to those with popular characters or cute patterns.

The Amount

There is a wide age range in which one will receive otoshidama and it depends on the household, but usually, people will receive it from either babyhood or toddlerhood to around 20 years old, which is the legal adult age in Japan. In large families, the otoshidama expenses are large for the adults, but for children it is an annual time to look forward to. Every year Japanese children dream about what they will buy with this year's otoshidama.


Otoshidama are received on the first up to third January every year but it can be sent afterwards if parents and children didn't meet each other. Otoshidama is similar to a Chinese New Year custom, to shugi-bukuro, and to Handsel Monday. The difference is that shugi-bukuro is for married couples and usually the money given is worth from 30,000 up to 50,000 yen. The difference with the Chinese New Year's money-giving tradition is that it always falls on a different date every year according to the Chinese calendar. Handsel Monday is a tradition from Europe and the money gift is always done on third Mondays.

At Last

Photo : tecking on Flickr

The meaning of giving otoshidama to children is to give some appreciation to them, and give them some new hopes for the New Year. Not only that, but their parents also want to teach about savings! Although they get some money, they must keep some of it, not use all of it at once. If they use it all at once, they will not be able to buy other things later if they want something in that year. No wonder that some of the children want to use it all at once, and at that time, their parents only give them some advice, and let them to choose their own way. Well, learn from experience! So, there are many lessons behind this simple custom in Japan. How about your country? Does your country have these kinds of customs too? Let us know in the comments section!

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