Otoshidama: The Japanese Take On Holiday Giving!

  • Christmas and New Year’s mean many things in many different countries. While many western children are excited for Santa, leaving cookies and milk out for their portly patriarch, praying for the latest and greatest toy and gadget, Japanese children are waiting in the wings, biding their time for the greatest event of the year – New Year money time! Cold hard cash beats socks anyway.


    Of course, many Japanese children get some Christmas gifts as well, usually one or two. A small thing they have been wanting, or a newly released game, but the real haul comes at the New Year – Ototshidama (New Year Money) time. The cash is given to kids in special envelopes when visiting relatives over the New Year holiday.

    Traditionally, all older relatives give money to younger children. Of course, the amount ranges from family to family, age to age, but generally follows a similar scale. A couple thousand yen for younger kids, which is usually put into a savings account, up to five thousand yen for elementary school kids, and more for junior high or high school aged kids.


    Depending on the family, the children are free to do as they please with the cash. Stock up on sweets, order that toy they have been coveting, or use the money for school trips. The majority of kids, however, are responsible and pop most of the money into their savings account at the bank. It is, after all, the one time of year to get a bunch of cash.

    While most people stop getting money as they leave high school, one exception is for university students. Studies are expensive, and so is rent. It is not uncommon for kids to receive the extra influx of cash until they have graduated. Especially if their relatives have a few bills to spare. A friend of mine cashed in big in his last year of uni – 350,000 Yen from various loved ones. That is a lot of beer.

    On the giving end, New Year Money can be a slight drain. Family, friend’s kids, it all adds up. Last year I burnt through 50,000 yen on cash for my nephews, a few kids of friends, and a kid I help with homework. Although slightly saddened by the financial loss, the look on the kid’s face is worth it. My youngest nephew is getting more this year, as he had the best response about what do to with it.

    “Are you going to save it like your brothers?” I asked him over some ice cream. “No, I have enough savings, I am going to spend it on what is important. Coca-Cola for my friends and me, and buy some cool sneakers.”.

    Way to go little buddy. Just don’t tell the older monsters how much I gave you!