Celebrating New Year in Japan is quite different from what I’m used to. For one thing, there are no fireworks display or firecrackers used to welcome the New Year. But that doesn’t make it less interesting. There are many things that make the Japanese New Year celebrations special. There’s the famous O-sechi Ryouri (おせち料理): the Japanese traditional dish, Hatsumoude (初詣): visiting shrines on New Year, and so on. But for this post, I’ll write about the 福袋 (fukubukuro), or “lucky bags”.
The big winter sale in Japan usually starts on January 2 (or the 1st in some stores). Stores offer discounts and one deal they offer are the fukubukuros. How does it work? The stores prepare bags filled with an assortment of the store’s merchandise, and they are priced differently: some are as low as 3-5,000 yen where others can go as high as 10-30,000 yen per bag.Usually, the total cost of the items is more than the price of bag. The catch is: you don’t know what’s inside the bag.
Big retail outlets like Bicamera usually set-up a special corner in the store for the bags. They put up a board, displaying the range of prices for their fukubukuros and they tell you what kind of item you can get for the price you choose: camera lens, a smartphone, or a tablet. As for the exact make and model of the items, you won’t know until you open the bag. The Apple Store in Japan sells their lucky bags for 30,000 yen each and if you’re lucky, you can get a bag with a MacBook air inside (which is priced at around 98,000 yen).
Recently, some stores have dropped the “suspense” factor and display what customers get inside the bag. They also tell the customers how much they save if they choose to buy the bag rather than all the items separately. When I went out and checked the sales, I found that there are quite a handful of stores that offer these kind of bags. Some of them offer good deals, but I can’t say that for all of the bags I saw.
Personally, I have never bought a fukubukuro for myself: I’m not that much of a risk taker when it comes to shopping. If I am spending 5,000 yen or more, I would like to make sure that the item I am getting is something that I want and I can use. I have friends who felt very lucky with their purchases, and also some who weren’t entirely thrilled with what they got. But they tell me it’s all part of the experience. They feel excited choosing which fukubukuro to get. “It’s a fun and thrilling experience!” as one friend of mine puts it.
I guess it’s good to try it even just once, and who knows, you might end up getting a good deal in the end as well.