Small, decorative pochibukuro paper envelopes are used for children’s New Year’s monetary gifts, tips and other congratulatory purposes. The two kanji (Chinese characters) for pochibukuro represent the words “point” (meaning “small”) and “bag.”
Various theories exist about their origin, with some saying that geisha in the Kansai area called tips or gratuities “pochi,” so the name “pochibukuro” was a humble way to describe an envelope containing a small amount of money. Designed to hold folded bills to be given as gifts, pochibukuro envelopes are the kind of product that is full of consideration for others, and quintessentially Japanese, as people in this country consider it uncouth to present gifts of money to someone without covering them first.
Recently, the range of sizes for pochibukuro envelopes has diversified, with larger ones developed for bills folded in half (rather than the “proper” way of folding them into thirds), as well as smaller ones designed to hold coins. And they don’t have to be used just for money, but in various other ways as well, such as for conveniently organizing loose items in bags and pouches.
More than anything, the fact that an infinite number of designs can be drawn on these small washi envelopes makes them fun to share and own. The motifs include komongara (repeated patterns of small traditional symbols), kisshomonyo (motifs based on auspicious omens), fubutsushi (scenery typical of a certain season) and the seasons in general. They can also be quite witty and humorous.
The designs on pochibukuro envelopes can be painted on by hand, silk screen-printed, or printed with woodblocks. There are even some that can be described as full-fledged “miniature” shugibukuro envelopes for presenting gifts of money in celebratory occasions, complete with decorative mizuhiki cords made of twisted paper and noshi paper labels. Pochibukuro are fun to receive and to collect.
Shugi bukuro envelopes are for presenting gifts of money in celebratory occasions. Kinpū envelopes are used for presenting gifts of money as condolences. Most of the time, the washi covering such envelopes is made from sun-bleached mulberry. The whiteness of such washi reflects the heart of the giver, representing purity, sanctity and proper behavior, among other things.
The mizuhiki cord made of twisted paper is adorned by a shiny golden and silver “treasure boat,” making this as beautiful as a piece of art. The condolence money is placed within a sheer-white piece of washi paper, and the kinpū envelope is fastened with either a black-and-white, or white mizuhiki ribbon depending on religious affiliation or denomination. Some religions or denominations allow the usage of patterns such as lotuses or lilies. The half-yellow, half-white mizuhiki is standard in parts of the Kansai and Hokuriku regions of Japan, such as Kyoto.