What are fukubukuro?
Fukubukuro, often referred to as “lucky bags” in English, are a New Year’s tradition that involves buying an assortment of mystery items at a set price, often at a steep discount. In Japanese superstition, it’s believed that one must not enter the new year with unwanted items. Fukubukuro was originally invented as a way for shops to sell excess inventory and empty shelves in order to start clean in the new year.
One of Japan’s most popular shopping events, fukubukuro sales attract large crowds. Similar to American Black Friday, shoppers line up early for their chance to snag one of the limited numbers of lucky bags available. In recent years, partially due to COVID-19, some stores have begun conducting online raffles to secure a chance to purchase a lucky bag in order to mitigate crowd sizes. Fukubukuro begin being sold following Christmas, though some retailers still wait until after the New Year to begin selling lucky bags.
Commonly priced around 1,000 yen to 10,000 yen, fukubukuro are themed according to the retailer putting them together. Almost anything can be sold fukubukuro-style, including apparel, accessories, electronics, snacks, food, and even vacation packages. Fukubukuro are a fun way to test your luck and occasionally snag an incredible deal.
5 Tips for Buying Fukubukuro
- Buy from your favorite stores: Since you don’t know what will be included inside a fukubukuro, it’s best to shop at stores where you already like the majority of items that they sell. This way, you can be confident that you’ll like most, if not all of the items.
- Food is the safest bet: Purchasing items such as clothes or electronics may result in a “loss” in the sense that the items you actually use might total less than what you paid for them. In comparison, it is a safe assumption that you can eat (or find someone else to eat!) a wide variety of foods.
- Know your size: If you decide to purchase apparel, research the brand’s size measurements in advance. Japanese sizes vary widely from brand to brand, so confirming your size beforehand can save you from buying a whole bag of ill-fitting clothes.
- Do your research: If you’re on the fence about a certain fukubukuro, try looking up the contents from years prior by googling the store name, “fukubukuro”, and the year. This will help you make a decision about whether or not it’s worth it to take the chance. Additionally, some stores reveal one item in advance to help consumers feel like they got their money’s worth, even if the revealed item is the only one they end up liking. Try taking a look at revealed items to clue you into which fukubukuro might appeal to you.
- Participate in fukubukuro exchanges: When shopping in person during fukubukuro season, customers often congregate outside stores to trade items directly. Sticking around and bartering is a great way to get rid of items you weren’t fond of while also getting something in return! Additionally, many people opt to resell unwanted items on social media platforms and second-hand websites.
About the author:
Britney Budiman (@booritney) is a writer, minimalist, aspiring effective altruist, and runner-in-progress with a penchant for saying “yes.” Previously, she has worked in Cambodia at a traditional arts NGO, in Brazil as a social sciences researcher, and in San Francisco at a housing start-up. She currently lives in the countryside of Kagoshima, Japan, where she teaches English. Her favorite thing in the world is good conversation.