It turns out these envelopes of money can be quite controversial.

Otoshidama are gifts of money that children in Japan get from their parents, grandparents, and other relatives on New Year’s.

I’d always thought that otoshidama were only given to little kids, maybe up to high school. But the first year I spent New Year’s with a Japanese family, I was surprised to see the grandparents gave otoshidama not only to their young grandchildren, but their adult children as well (who were 40 or 50 years old).

So at what age should kids stop expecting to get otoshidama from their family? The question was recently asked on the Japanese question and answer site Oshiete! goo, with Japanese netizen tom_world_312 asking this:

“I’m 23 now and I still get otoshidama from my relatives. What age do you normally stop getting them? And those who stopped getting them, what happened to make it stop?” (i.e.: you reached a certain age, graduated, etc.)

▼ Translated further: “So how long can I keep counting
otoshidama as part of my yearly budget?”

Here’s some of the answers translated into English, of which there was a surprising amount of variety:

“I stopped getting them after graduating elementary school. Nothing happened in particular to make them stop, I just stopped getting them once I was a middle school. I didn’t even ask for them lol.” (from rolfesann)

“For me, I had a part-time job in high school, so I stopped getting them as a freshman. In college a lot of my friends didn’t get them, so I think normally kids get them up to high school, then stop once they go away to college.” (from mkoda)

“I got them until high school. When I went away to college and lived alone, I stopped getting them. I mean, my parents were helping me with my expenses at that point, so they were already giving me way more than any otoshidama.” (from showeran)

For many netizens, it seems like school graduation also meant “graduation” from otoshidama as well. The youngest was elementary school, but high school and college graduations also brought the end of otoshidama for others.

“Typically the earliest is at 18 and the latest is 20, when you officially become an adult. When I turned 20 my parents told me, ‘Well I guess that’s the end of your otoshidama, huh?'” (from warumon3)

“I got them until age 22. Once I graduated college and starting earning money myself, I didn’t get them anymore. I thought I’d stop getting them at 20, but since they still kept giving me them, I took them lol. I think stopping it around age 20 or when you get a real job is about the right timing. All the other adults around me just naturally stopped receiving them too. (from kanamamma)

“Once I got a job and a salary of my own I refused to take them anymore. Each person stops getting otoshidama at different ages, but I think when you become an adult with a career, you should naturally start having reservations about getting them.” (from cart2013)

This group seemed to feel that becoming an adult (age 20 in Japan) and getting a job signaled the end of otoshidama. Not too different from the last group, but the difference between losing otoshidama in middle school/high school and college graduation is several years. For a country that likes to have most everyone following the same cultural rules and guidelines, that’s quite a gap.

“I got them until I graduated from college at 22. I think it’s fine so long as you’re a student. Once I started working I gave my parents otoshidama instead.” (from tippingpoint785)

“I think once you become an adult and start earning money, that’s around when you stop getting otoshidama. But if any relatives decide to give you one anyway, you should just accept it.” (from sikio275)

“I got them until I was 20. Starting this year, I’m giving my 65-year-old parents otoshidama.” (from syota1127)

It seems that this group sees otoshidama more like presents. They’re something that kids can give to their parents too when they get old enough, and they’re something that you should still accept with a smile at any age, even if you think you’re too old.

▼ “Thanks, grandma. Yeah, I’ll use it
to ‘get myself something nice,’ for sure.”

In the end, it looks like most Japanese people agree that otoshidama stops around late teens/early twenties. Of course there are outliers, like those in the last group or the family I visited where the middle-aged “kids” still got them, but they seem to be the exception rather than the rule.

Maybe that makes otoshidama similar to Easter baskets in the U.S. — a little embarrassing to get when you’re older, and not something you particular miss when they go away. And then, later in life, maybe something you’d put together for your parents to make them happy and remember good times.

Unless, of course, your parents gave you otoshidama made up of one-yen coins. No good times ever came from that.

Source: Oshiete! goo
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert images: Pakutaso (12)

[ Read in Japanese ]