With Christmas being just a regular day and the exchanging of gifts something of a rarity, we often feel that kids in Japan are missing out somewhat. Of course, not every Westerner is fortunate enough to know the joy of waking up on December 25 and finding presents–brought by a benevolent bearded man, no less–under the Christmas tree or at the foot of their bed, but those who are would most likely agree that it’s a pretty spectacular feeling for a kid to have.

But while the rest of the world is coming to realise that the toys they asked for aren’t quite as cool as they’d expected and dreading going back to school or work, 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 disgusting 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 お年玉 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.

otoshidama cute

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Although not always practised, some money givers write the amount they’re gifting on the inside of the envelope. As we shall see, however, this sometimes leads to a phenomenon known the world over as “jokester uncle syndrome”, wherein the giver gets creative for the sake of a good laugh. On opening his otoshidama envelope, for example, the Japanese netizen who shared the following photo was greeting by the figure “3,000,000 yen” (US$28,000) written on the flap. Inside, however, were simply three cleverly folded 1,000 ($10) bills to make up the missing zeros…

otoshidamaImage: Nikita Sokuhou

Still, you can’t put a price on good uncle comedy, can you?

Featured image Oiwaigoto