To Buy a LUCKY BAG – Or Not To Buy ? – That is the FUKUBUKURO (福袋) question during the first week of the new year!
By Avi Landau
Its always the same quandary, every New Year`s Holiday I`ve spent in Japan. From January 2nd and on for the next few days, as I drift through the shopping malls and department stores (where else can you go when it`s so bitter cold), carried along as if I had no will of my own by the frenetic crowds out for HATSU URI (初売り)- The First Days of Business of the New Year – I find my eye drawn to the prominently displayed cases full of colorful shopping bags. In bold, usually red letters, things such as – KAIUN (開運ー Brings Good Fortune), OTANOSHIMI (お楽しみ – Looking Forward to What`s Inside) and most commonly just FUKUBUKURO (福袋- Lucky Bag), which is what these bags are known as.
Should I buy one?
They say that there are good bargains to be found inside them- sometimes great finds- but I can`t see what`s inside them
And he prices are there- also prominently displayed – 5,000 Yen, 10,000 Yen and sometimes more…. much more!
But I can`t see what`s inside- and I`m not a gambling man!
Apparently during the Edo Period, there was one kimono shop (Daimaru- the fore-runner of the Daimaru Department Store) which would fill bags with items which had gone unsold during the previous year and sold them at highly discounted prices (though the customers did not know exactly what she was getting till she got home and opened the bag.
The idea however, did not catch on at the time.
Later in 1907, the Matsuya Kimono Shop (now a department store) began selling FUKUBUKURO (Lucky Bags) at New Year`s and the Mtsuzakaya Department Store joined in on the action in 1911 calling their promotions TAKARABUKURO (Treasure Bags).
After that the concept really took off and the buying of FUKUBUKURO has become an important New Year`s tradition for many Japanese- some wait outside their favorite shops for HOURS on January 2nd or 3rd just to get one,
There is one shop in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture which has gotten a lot of publicity for being the earliest to start selling FUKUBUKURO- they begin at midnight of January first.
The sheer variety of FUKUBUKURO contents is amazing- with so many different types of shops and businesses offering them- even expensive jewelry stores (one bag can cost millions of Yen) and travel agencies sell them!
Another HATSU URI season has come and I still can`t make up my mind !
This year I will probably pass on FUKUBUKURO once again- and I will probably all the more FORTUNATE for having done so.
But if YOU happen to give in to temptation- let me know what you got and how you felt about the experience!