Otoshidama and other envelopes

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Otoshidama envelopes for the New Year
and other paper bags ...

Here is the question I got:
I am planning a lesson about the Japanese New Year, and I want to give my students a red envelope. I have found some for sale online here:
But, these envelopes are Chinese. Would the ones given by a Japanese person look similar? Would it be okay to use them? They look much fancier than the plain red ones I was planning to make!

© PHOTO : arai-ar.air-nifty.com

Now I would like to tell you about the special envelopes used in Japan for various purposes. We will look at the Chinese ones further down.

First look at some envelopes with Daruma san.

You see Daruma and the auspicious trio of the pine, bamboo and the plum (shoochikubai 松竹梅). The characters wish you a happy new year.


This little envelope also has many symbols for good luck at the beginning of a year. The characters in the middle read: otoshidama, Money for the New Year.

Look at more envelopes here from picture 09 to 16.

Otoshidama お年玉
is a Japanese traditional custom. It originated from a shrine ritual in which kagami mochi (round rice cakes) are offered to the god of the year (toshi kamisama). After the ritual was over the cakes were given to the people worshipping at the shrine. Some cakes, which are quite large, were then taken home by the master of the house and distributed to his family and household servants.

Kagamimochi were modeled on the shape of the Shinto mirror, a round disk of metal that can be seen on or near the shrine altar. This mirror, it is believed, can reflect our spirit. The reading of the Chinese character ''魂 (spirit)'' and ''玉 (round or ball)'' is same: tama. People connected kagamimochi with the idea of tama. So ''god of the year rice cakes'' became reduced to toshidama. The honorific 御 (o) is added to show respect. Over the centuries otoshidama became the name for gifts offered during the New Year period, though they were originally called onenshi or onenga (New Year's Greeting).

Today, otoshidama means something else. Traditionally children are given small envelopes by relatives and friends at the start of the New Year in which appropriate amounts of cash are places. As the child gets older the amount grows.

There is also an explanation of Otoso, the spiced ricewine drunk on the New Year.

Here is a picture with some samples:


With a Daruma Neko Cat だるま猫


Chinese Patterns for our envelope, a great collection !

Look at a lot more of them here:


Chinese Red Envelopes

Traditionally, the chinese red envelope holds lucky coins often called I ching coins or small precious gifts for gift giving. The red envelope is given to bring good luck, prosperity and happiness to the recipient. Red is the symbol of happiness and ultimate joy, thus the color red is used for all celebrations including weddings and Chinese new year.
These beautiful chinese red envelope measures 4" by 2 3/4" and graced with assorted metallic gold embossed designs symbolizing happiness, longevity and good fortune. Perfect for holding our chinese lucky coins, chinese charms and even double their use as place cards!


Shugibukuro, Shuugibukuro, 祝儀袋

envelopes for money gifts at weddings and other occasions

CLICK for more photos !

This is a link to a side where they show you how to make a special gift envelope for a wedding yourself. The technique is called mizuhiki, using small pieces of reinforced strings.

. Mizuhiki 水引 ceremonial paper strings .


To give a small gift of money to a geisha, artist or actor in the Kansai region, there is the

pochibukuro, pochi bukuro ポチ袋(ぽちぶくろ) "little envelope"
This derives from "kore pochi", just a little bit.

Take a look at many more
source : wakei-seijyaku

. . . CLICK here for Photos !


And envelopes according to the amount of money you put in.
This is the most common one:

There are many more.

Noshibukuro 熨斗袋 
is another common name for special envelopes.


For special birthdays
還暦の祝い・・・数え61歳 for your 61st kanreki birthday
米寿の祝い・・・数え88歳 for your 88st birthday
着寿の祝い・・・数え100歳以上 for any birthday over 100

For the New Year, a thin strip of dried abalone wrapped in folded red and white paper. Because the meat of the abalone tends to strech long, it is a symbol of the long and good human relations. Now even imitations of a noshi made from Japanese paper can be used. The below is a set, where you can cut out one at at time and add it to a paper envelope or a dish of New Year food.

CLICK for original link ... www.syo-taro.co.jp


Black and white noshi envelopes for a burial


Are the red envelopes not used any more? I didn't see any amongst your wonderful examples. If I get the Chinese envelopes, what should I tell my students? I'm trying to be very careful to truly teach Japanese culture and not be sloppy! Would anyone in Japan actually use envelopes that look like the Chinese ones I found, or would I just say that the Japanese use many different kinds and so these are okay to give out?

The Japanese do not use the pure red ones. If you want to use them, tell the children they are from China. Red is an auspicious color, in China and Japan. That is one reason why Daruma san is usually red.

Here is a scholarly article about the color red, smallpox and Daruma. http://darumasan.blogspot.com/2009/07/red-and-smallpox-essay.html

Read more about Lucky Items (engimono) for the New Year in this story:

Gabi Greve, December 2004


Envelops with Daruma, Fuutoo 封筒, 達磨封筒

© PHOTO : expotower.cocolog-nifty.com

© PHOTO : genkashop.com


Thank You Card !

© PHOTO : www.hopstep.tv


Paper bag for 10 kg of rice


© PHOTO : www.stumpwaterrock.com

Kamibukuro Paperbag for shopping


Have a nice New Year !

Kotoshi mo minna genki de iraremasu yoo ni !
CLICK for original LINK ... koubou-staff.cocolog-nifty.com


toshidama o inu ni mo nageru o-tera kana

New Year's money
is tossed even at the dog
at this temple . . .

Kobayashi Issa





Anonymous said...

WOW! I had no idea there were so many different kinds! Everything I've read so far has said that the envelopes are red, but you showed me many other kinds! It looks like the kids like the cartoon ones now. (Now that I think of it, I know that Daruma are also traditionally red, but they now come in other colors too because the children like that.)

Are the red envelopes not used any more? I didn't see any amongst your wonderful examples. If I get the Chinese envelopes, what should I tell my students? I'm trying to be very careful to truly teach Japanese culture and not be sloppy! Would anyone in Japan actually use envelopes that look like the Chinese ones I found, or would I just say that the Japanese use many different kinds and so these are okay to give out. Do you understand what I mean?

Again, I thank you 1,000 times for your help. You can't imagine how grateful I am!!! :) -Karen

Anonymous said...

Hello again my friend!
I am happy to say that I was able to order otoshidama envelopes from Japan to give to each of my 300 students! I was even able to include a 5-yen coin in each one. Our parent group gave us the money, and the students were very excited.
Thank you again for your help and information!

mariejapon said...

That's a nice blog you have with interesting and well-informed news about the money envelopes.
Thank you for all your links too.
It really helped me for my research.
I have a blog myself, but I'm still studying Japanese culture...

Anonymous said...

pochibukuro 「ポチ袋」
since it is only a little bit (kore pochi) of money
to a maiko dancer or actor in the Kansai region.


Gabi Greve - Issa said...

Kobayashi Issa

toshidama no ue ni mo neko no gurune kana

on top
of the New Year's gifts...
cat curled asleep

(Tr. David Lanoue)

Gabi Greve said...

Kobayashi Issa

iku meguri me da zo toshidama oogi mata modoru

how many times
a New Year's gift?
the fan returns

Tr. David Lanoue