Noshi Bukuro: those cards you see everywhere: what are they?

Posted on 18.05.2016


Noshi-bukuroOne of my favorite parts of my job is getting to ask about 10 students each day ‘Gaijin questions’. I’ve asked them so many things these past few years, and I think it’s a good way to get a general understanding of how Japanese people feel about some things.

Well, at least it’s a way to understand how the majority of businessmen (and a few businesswomen) feel about some things.

I’ve learned why Masakadozuka is haunted, how Japanese people feel about the changes to the Constitution, how they feel about women working after having babies  (big surprise, most of the women I’ve met are serious but closeted feminists), their thoughts on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and whether or not they like to cook. There have been so many things that I’ve just stopped talking about them.

But this one might be helpful to people in the future, so I should talk about it.

Something I should mention about Japanese weddings: the de facto gift is cash, and there are very specific amounts you should give. In general, it should always be an odd number (like $150), since it ‘can’t be split so easily’ and is therefore better for the longevity of a marriage. I guess that’s true, if you give it to them in $50 bills.

How nice that we all just cut the pretense and the general confusion of buying from a gift registry, and just give the new couple cash to get whatever they want. Or to pay off their wedding, whatever. I’ve been doing this for years, and will continue to do so until those damned registries can update in realtime.

Since cash is the gift you should give, there are special cards for that, each more ornate than the one next to it. You’ll see these in the picture above: usually colored red, gold, or both, with a traditional Japanese cord knot on it for companionship (or commitment, the accounts vary on this). So if someone is getting married, this is the card to get, and fill it with cash. Done!

HOWEVER: you’ll also find, nearby, some cards that are similar and are black, grey, silver, or a combination of the three. These are NOT for weddings, they are for funerals. And they are also for giving money.

The cards can be bought at convenience stores, book stores and stationery stores just about everywhere. The ones at the convenience stores are pretty basic, and the cards at some stationery stores are INSANE works of art, never to be thrown away.

So when in doubt: gold for weddings, black for funerals, and just give money. How simple!