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February 2010
Flavor of the Month:

Otoshidama お年玉

Every Japanese child looks forward to Otoshidama! Otoshidama is the single biggest revenue source for Japanese children. Seasonal festivals, birthdays, and other occasions finds the relatives coming around to give gifts of money to children. But these cannot come close to the ‘cash revenue’ that otoshidama can have.
The Japan Guidebook explains otoshidama as follows:

"otoshidama is a Japanese custom in which adults give children money over the New Year’s holiday. Bills are folded into three sections and put into small envelopes, then handed to the children of close friends and relatives. otoshidama is given when people visit friends, neighbors, and relatives between January 1st and 3rd…. The money can be given after the holidays if you don’t meet the child over the break, but never before the New Year begins. Children usually receive otoshidama until they finish high school, though it is not uncommon for university students to get money these days."

How much otoshidama to give to children?
Sample guidelines by kirei40 for adults giving otoshidama

1st & 2nd grader 1000 to 3000 yen ($11 to $33)
3rd & 4th grader 3000 yen to 5000 yen ($33 to $55)
5th & 6th grader 5000 yen to 10000 yen ($55 to $110)

[Exchange rate: $1.00 = 90 yen]
Naturally, suggested amounts go up with age.

How much did children get in 2010?
According to Oricon Life, Bandai Works reported on Janaury 20, 2010 how much otoshidama an average child received this year.

1st & 2nd grader 22983 yen ($255)
3rd & 4th grader 25329 yen ($281)
5th & 6th grader 30769 yen ($342)
7th to 10th grader 44249 yen ($492)

What do the children spend this money on?
Most of the reports I’ve read agreed that about 70% of the money gift is saved, and the rest is used for purchases of relatively expensive computer games, clothes, and CDs.

My otoshidama
I don’t remember much about my otoshidama . The only otoshidama I remember clearly is the 5000 yen ($55) I received from my brother-in-law when I was in the middle school. I took it for granted that my uncles and aunts gave me some cash, without realizing that my parents reciprocated the custom by giving their nephews and nieces money. In other words, the money came from my parents—albeit indirectly—via my relatives.

My relatives didn’t use mini envelopes to put the otoshidama gift in. Either it was not a common thing in my region, or using enveloped became popular later, I don’t know. The way the money changed hands among my relatives was somewhat awkward. My aunts and uncles folded bills small so that they would fit in the palm, and clumsily shoved them into my hand. I showed a faint smile on my face as a sign of appreciation. I then left them, and peeked into my palm to check how much I had received. We repeated this process until all the relatives had given me otoshidama . Revealing the contents of a gift in front of the giver was—and still is—considered rude in Japan.

Where did I spend all my otoshidama money on? In my days, video games or CDs didn’t exist. There was very little peer pressure about clothes, either. No matter how hard I try to remember what I did with the money, I am unable to remember. This leads me to believe that receiving the gift was the high point of the otodoshida custom rather than spending the money. In fact, filling my tummy with tasty food made me happier than receiving money when I was in elementary school. A local parent’s group would invited us kids who participated in athletic meets, and who had brought home a winning trophy, to an Oshiruko (sweet red bean soup) feast. We ate and ate until we could hardly walk. It was a piece of happiness.

More about Japanese money at Wikipedia.


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