A Primer On Fukubukuro, Japan’s Lucky Bag Shopping Spree | CoolJapan

The last quarter of the year is the most exciting time for shopaholics who have spent the year prepping their reflexes and wallets for annual shopping events like Black Friday, Cyber Monday and 11.11 Single's Day Sales. But in Japan, shoppers hang on to their cash till the dawn of a new year which marks the start of Winter Sales and a unique Japanese shopping tradition: Fukubukuro.

Two examples of a Fukubukuro

Hidden in these bags are different items from a store or restaurant. (Photo from: Nesnad via Wikicommons)

Fukubukuro translates to ‘Lucky Bag’ and succinctly describes what this tradition entails: stores around Japan typically sell these lucky bags on New Year’s festive period, usually for a discounted price. Each bag contains different items from the store’s catalogue, but the bags are sealed, so the fun is in not knowing what you pick up and hoping that you’ll pick up a coveted item that costs far more than what you paid for the Fukubukuro.

The specific origins of Fukubukuro are not clear, but most agree that it originated from department stores in Japan that hit upon a goldmine of a marketing stunt: not only is it one way to clear out unused stocks from shelves quickly, but the buzz generated by the chance of getting a rare item or two in the Fukubukuro often results in snaking queues out the door on 2nd of  January. (This year is a bit of an exception due to the current COVID situation.)

As a result, most major retailers in Japan today offer some sort of Fukubukuro during Japan’s Year End Sales, and even non-retail outlets like restaurants and services are cashing in on the popularity of Fukubukuro by creating their own mystery lucky bags and packages for sale. Some stores hype up their Fukubukuro by offering a preview of the potential items in the lead-up to the actual sale, while others offer clear bags so you can see what you’re getting.

People in a shopping district

Shoppers line up to test their luck in getting a Fukubukuro at the start of the year. (Photo from: Jezael Melgoza via Unsplash)

Shopping for Fukubukuro is a major event for the Japanese, so if you’re planning to bag a Fukubukuro in new years to come, make sure to do your due prep first. While the traditional sales day is 2nd January, check the actual dates for the stores you are interested in to be sure. The method of purchase also differs from store to store — you may need to queue for hours and wade through throngs of people snatching up bags around you, or it could be a more sedate pre-booking and queue system with vouchers.

And even if you rather not try your luck in the shops, keep a lookout on forums, social media and other online platforms as many Fukubukuro buyers often try to swap or sell off items from their Fukubukuro (in this case called Fukobukuro or an ‘unlucky bag’) that they don’t want to keep — you might be able to score some good deals even without having to brave the crowds.

(Cover photo from: meikyun via photoAC)