New Year's Day the year's biggest in terms of monetary outlays

TOKYO —

Household consumption accounts for roughly 60% of Japan’s total GDP. The Statistics Bureau of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications compiles data on GDP and consumption on a day-to-day basis, and from this, as Katsutoshi Nagashima, head of the consumption statistics department, notes in Nikkei Business (Dec 23), it can be said with reasonable confidence that Japanese are one of the world’s most date-sensitive nationalities when it comes to their spending activities.

And out of the 365 days of the year, Nagashima asks, on which day do you think Japan’s consumers spend the most? Christmas perhaps? Or “Omisoka” (December 31)? The answer is New Year’s Day. That may come as something of a surprise to many, seeing how this day generally projects the image of people relaxing at home, with many businesses closed for the public holiday. But government statisticians also consider “monetary gifts” and “other incidental outlays” to be a form of spending, making Jan 1 the year’s top date for spending by far.

Looking back on 2012 for example, the average daily outlay by households in Japan was 6,566 yen (with monthly rental payments and the like not included). But on Jan 1, 2012, average outlays reached 14,380 yen—more than double the average day. And of that amount, “otoshidama” (mainly cash gifts to children) accounted for 8,748 yen, making it the single largest factor pushing up consumption.

Nagashima notes that Dec 30 and 31 are the next days on the annual calendar of high consumption, particularly for outlays of food—like “mochi” (glutenous rice, traditionally displayed and consumed during the New Year). A full 10% of all mochi sales during the year takes place on Dec 30 alone.

Consumption of other specific food items also relates to this time of year. Also on Dec 30, purchases of ingredients for “ozoni” and other traditional dishes, including fresh “shiitake” mushrooms, “kamaboko” (fish cakes) and shrimp, tend to peak. On Dec 31, outlays for udon and soba noodles tend to rise, and expenditures for tuna, sea bream and yellowtail fish, pre-cut mixed selections of sashimi and beef are at their highest for the year.

When the department stores reopen for business from Jan 2, a day on which they also customarily hold sales, there’s usually a spike in demand for children’s wear and adult women’s wear. Another target of the outlays are the so-called “fuku-bukoro” (lucky bags), which purchasers buy in the hope that the contents will be worth a bit more than their price tag—and possibly a windfall.

Of course, says Nagashima, Japan has other big spending days that take place during other times of the year, like the “Ushi-no-Hi” around July, when people traditionally consume grilled eel.

It’s possible that the higher consumption during the year-end and new year is tied to people’s generally bright outlook. What will be the size of the “otoshidama” presented to kids this year? And one more thing that seems to be on practically everybody’s mind for the year ahead: What sort of effect will the April 1 increase of the consumption tax, from 5% to 8%, have on consumer spending?

  • 1

    StormR

    Let 2014 be a good year, the year of the Horse !

  • 1

    sensei258

    I have 5 grandchildren, and that "otoshidama" is killin me, specially right after Christmas and two birthdays.

  • 2

    Tessa

    I have 5 grandchildren

    My paternal grandmother had thirteen grandchildren. I could never quite understand why my birthday money was so meagre. Now I get it.

  • 1

    TrevorPeace1

    Good one, Tessa! I only have one child, and she's now at university, which means BIG otoshidama. But not enough to impede me from returning to the land I love as much as my own. I believe the phrase is 'ake mashite omedetu', but if I've screwed it up, forgive me - 'Happy New Year!'

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