Trends in Japan > Lifestyle > Lucky Grab Bags
An Evolving New Year's Tradition
(January 24, 2007)

One of the highlights of the New Year's season for many people in Japan is shopping for grab bags, known as fukubukuro, or "lucky bags." Every year major department stores and other businesses offer unique lucky bags to grab the attention of the holiday-shopping public. Many of the lucky bags of 2007 are notable for containing dreams, as well as goods.


Shoppers at a department store in the New Year. (Jiji)

A Lucky Way to Begin the Year
The custom of selling fukubukuro is said to have begun in the Edo (1603-1868) and Meiji (1868-1912) periods. A lucky bag usually consists of several products packed in an opaque bag, and the contents are revealed only when a customer has bought and opened it. It may contain goods that are worth more than what one has paid, but one also risks buying a bag full of unwanted items.

The most popular lucky bags in recent years have been those containing women's clothing and accessories and selling for between a few thousand and tens of thousands of yen. As soon as department stores open their doors on the first day of business, they are flooded with shoppers who have been waiting in line outside to grab their share of New Year's luck. The frenzy has become a signature sight of the New Year season.

To attract customers, as well for publicity, some stores have recently started to announce or display the contents of their featured lucky bags. This would seem to contradict the very idea of fukubukuro, but it may be a sign of the times.

With baby boomers set to turn 60 in the next year or two, 2007 is expected to be a year of mass retirement. Accordingly, many lucky bags targeting the baby boomer generation, which is said to have a high ratio of relatively well-off people, were seen this year. Since baby boomers tend to be satisfied in material terms already, a common characteristic of these fukubukuro is that they offer "experiences," such as travel, and "dreams" that people were unable to realize in their younger days.


Young girls swap items from their lucky grab bags outside Shibuya 109. (Shibuya Keizai Shimbun)

Grabbing an Around-the-World Trip
The Mitsukoshi department store in Nihonbashi offered a fukubukuro dubbed the "baby boomers' graduation trip": a travel plan for two that goes twice around the world, with a price tag of ¥20.07 million ($168,655 at ¥119 to the US dollar) matching the year 2007. On the luxurious trip, travelers would fly first class and stay in deluxe suites.

There were offerings of more down-to-earth discount tours as well. The Seibu department store in Ikebukuro presented seven types of two-person packages for ¥2,007 ($16) each, including trips to beaches in Okinawa, to Hong Kong, and to Seoul. Each package went only to one couple, however, and the lucky purchasers were chosen by lottery.

The Takashimaya department store came out with plans collectively crowned yumebukuro, or "dream bags." The "band recording plan," sold by lottery to a single winner for ¥1 million ($8,403), gave the purchaser the right to a recording session under the direction of the renowned musician Uzaki Ryudo. A plan for touring traditional festivals across Japan, meanwhile, was offered by lottery to 10 winners for ¥2 million ($16,806). The made-to-order package involved four trips to festivals of the travelers' choice in each of the four seasons, complete with stays at top-quality traditional inns.

In another unique twist to the New Year's tradition, the Meitetsu department store in Nagoya came up with a fukubukuro consisting of the right to take part in a baseball lesson for elementary-school children by the manager of the local professional baseball team. The ¥10,000 ($84) "lucky bag" was limited to 100 people.

Another feature of grab bags in 2007 was the greater number of bags for men. Targeted mainly at those belonging to the baby boomer generation, they included a bag full of cooking utensils for new retirees with time on their hands.

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