The origin of otoshidama, Japan New Year gift

Author: Yukadon

What is the origin of “Otoshidama”?

Why do Japanese give money to children in the New Year? What is the origin of “Otoshidama”?
For the New Year in Japan, there is a custom called “Otoshidama”. Otoshidama
is a gift of money from adults to their children and relatives during the New Year. Otoshidama is enclosed in a small envelope called “Pochibukuro”. Pochibukuro have cute designs with famous characters and can be bought at a convenience store during the New Year. Otoshidama is one of the exciting traditions of the New Year. Children look forward to it very much. Why do adults give money to children for the New Year? I will explain in detail the meaning and origin of Otoshidama.

Origin of Otoshidama

A monetary gift is the mainstream for current Otoshidama, but originally it was rice cake. But not just any rice cake; the rice cake was a symbol of “soul”.

If you listen to the soul, you may be surprised, but please think that it is power to live and energy. In old times, at the beginning of the year it was thought that God would share the soul for the New Year to people, that is, God would give people power for one year, every year.

Originally, a series of New Year events were held for welcoming the God of the New Year, called “Toshigamisama,” to the house. God has been considered to share his soul to them along with happiness and grace of the New Year.

How does Toshigamisama divide his soul to Japanese people? In the New Year, Japanese people decorate Kagamimochi rice cakes and welcome our God. It was believed that God (Toshigamisama) stayed inside Kagamimochi rice cakes. For this reason, Kagamimochi rice cakes were also called Toshidama, which means “the spirit of Toshigamisama”. And this Toshidama was given to the family by the head of the house as “Otoshidama”. “Dama” has the meaning of a soul or a spirit.

Praying for good health of their families, Japanese people crush Kagamimochi rice cakes into pieces and eat them. The cuisine for eating this rice cake is “Ozoni”. By eating rice cake, they take in the soul to the body. So, rice cake is certainly included in the Ozoni serving as the New Year’s food. This custom still remains. However, over a long period, the customs have evolved to giving money as Otoshidama to Children.

When did Japanese come to give money to children?

There are various opinions on when the custom of money for Otoshidama started. However, it is said that the custom of the Otoshidama had already penetrated common people in the Edo era. In addition, people sometimes gave goods and money as well as rice cakes, so they came to call all these new gifts “Otoshidama”.

The custom of Otoshidama had been inherited from Meiji to Taisho and Showa Period. And since the period of high economic growth in the second half of the 1950s, the custom of money for Otoshidama became mainstream mainly in urban areas. Recipients of Otoshidama also became children mainly.
Otoshidama small envelope with money gift for Japanese children

How to give Otoshidama

In Japan, people gather at a family member’s home every New Year. Otoshidama is given to children by adult relatives such as uncles, aunts and grandparents. Because of this habit, adults spend a lot of money every year.
When a child receives Otoshidama from someone other than their parents, that family reciprocates by also giving it to children in the other family.

How much is Otoshidama?

The amount of Otoshidama changes according to the child’s age. The amount of Otoshidama increases as the child becomes older, for example, one thousand yen for children under 10 years old, and three thousand yen for children over 10 years old.

Until what age can children receive Otoshidama?

In general, adults give Otoshidama as long as children are students. Even some university students still receive Otoshidama.

What do you use Otoshidama for?

Many children buy some new toys with Otoshidama. Parents save up the rest of Otoshidama for future tuition and advancement.


Japanese children are looking forward to New Year as much as Christmas every year. Was it a big surprise for you that the origin of Otoshidama was rice cake? Actually, in the present age, Otoshidama has become a mere custom and there are not many people who can properly explain the origins of Otoshidama, even among Japanese people. So, please explain to Japanese who do not know the origins of the Otoshidama. I hope that you will be more interested in Japan by this article.

By Yukadon

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