Happy New Year! We love spending New Years in Japan. The cities are quiet, the food is good and just relaxing is so lovely! We hope you have a lovely holiday where ever you are celebrating in the world. Fukubukuro is an old Japanese shopping tradition that you can enjoy for a bit of surprise fun! After you have visited your favorite place of worship, eat your share of O-sechi and watch enough Japanese Red and White TV shows head out and explore. Here are some New Year recommendations on how to celebrate, and also our top 25 Tokyo family fun spots open over the New Year.
What are Fukubukuro?
Since its inception in the early 20th century, fukubukuro have become synonymous with New Year’s in Japan. Originally intended as a means for shops to sell off excess inventory, these lucky bags typically contain merchandise sold at a deep discount in order to attract customers.
Fukubukuro literally means “lucky bag,” derived from the Chinese chacrters 福/ふく/fuku (luck)+ 袋/ふくろ/bukuro (bag)= 福袋. Much as Black Friday shoppers in the US line up and eagerly await the opening of a store, it’s not uncommon to see long, orderly lines in front of department stores and shopping malls across Japan. Traditionally, sales begin on January 2, the day after the Japanese New Year. However, you can find fukubukuro on sale in the days after Christmas.
Nearly anything and everything can be sold in fukubukuro – kitchenware, electronics, stationary, cosmetics, clothing, tea and coffee, and more! Fukubukuro are sold at various price levels, going from “one coin” (the Japanese phrase used to refer to the 500 yen coin) all the way to hundreds to millions of yen. These high end fukubukuro contain high-end, luxury items like vacation packages, designer clothing, and jewelry.
Fukubukuro Lucky Bags in Japan - 10 Tips for Smooth Shopping
Buy from your favorite shops. This will minimize your disappointment.
- When in doubt, go for food. Check out neighborhood bakeries or famous patisseries for edible goodies.
- Know your size. Sizes vary greatly by store. Measure yourself and jot down your measurements in centimeters, especially if shopping online.
- Do your research. Are you looking for cosmetics? Coffee and tea products? Electronics? Clothing? Some shops now list their contents and price online. Simply search [brand name] + 福袋 + 2019. *For examples of Fukubukuro bags please see the end of this post.
- Shop for family and friends. Have any birthdays or other important events coming up? Consider purchasing fukubukuro to meet those needs.
- Plan accordingly. What’s the nearest train station, and what’s the closest exit? Pre-charge your Pasmo or Suica or buy a return ticket as soon as you arrive.
- Expect (courteous) crowds. If this is your first fukubukuro shopping experience, you can expect Black Friday crowds — without the violence and drama. If you manage to arrive early, you will see shoppers waiting patiently in line. When doors open people will speed walk, but running and shoving is rare.
- Buy only want you came for. Don’t let shopping frenzy take over. Do you really need that extra fukubukuro bag, even though it’s “only” 5,000 yen?
- Organize a post-shopping swap meet. Exchange unwanted items with friends. In the heyday of fukubukuro frenzy, trendy Japanese gyaru would exchange unwanted clothing right in front of Shibuya 109.
- Learn the lingo. These are a few useful Japanese words:
- 行列/ぎょうれつ / gyouretsu / line
- 先頭/せんとう / sentou / front of the line
- 最前列 / さいぜんれつ / saizenretsu / front of the line
- 最後尾 / さいこうび / saikoubi / end of the line
- 限定 / げんてい / gentei / limited (e.g. オンライン限定 おんらいんげんてい / onrain gentei / available exclusively online)
Examples of Fukubukuro
Here’s a look at a few fukubukuro released in previous years. Some shops package fukubukuro in clear bags or traditional shopping bags. Others, like skin care and cosmetics, are packaged in boxes.
*** Fukubukuro Lucky Bags in Japan – 10 Tips for Smooth Shopping***
Where to Shop for Fukubukuro
Aside from traditional retailers like Seibu, Hankyu, Takashimaya, Matsuya, and Isetan, you can also find great deals at your local Ario, Aeon, or Ito Yokado. Don’t forget LaLaport and outlet malls like Mitsui Outlet Park. For clothing for the entire family, you can’t go wrong with hitting up Uniqlo and MUJI. Specialty shops like Loft, Tokyu Hands, Kaldi, Sony Plaza, Yodobashi Camera, etc. are also great options.
It was customary for the contents of fukubukuro to remain a secret. However, fukubukuro have undergone several major changes in the past 10 years. Sometimes the contents of a “lucky” bag leaves customers disappointed. Therefore there has been a shift to revealing the contents beforehand. This way, customers will feel as if they’ve truly gotten their money’s worth. Additionally it is now customary to reserve popular fukubukuro online. This is done to prevent others from paying others to wait in line for them.
Furthermore, the prevalence of Yahoo Auction, shopping app Merikari, and other third party resale shops have resulted in unscrupulous persons buying in bulk and raking up a handsome profit. To combat this, highly prized fukubukuro such as from Starbucks and Bic Camera can only be purchased by persons chosen in a lottery.