Fukubukuro (福袋, “lucky bag”) is a Japanese custom in which merchants create bags filled with unknown random contents and sell them for a substantial discount, usually 50% or more off the list price of the items contained within. The low prices are usually done to attract customers to shop at that store during the new year. The term comprises the characters for luck and bag, and calls to mind the Japanese saying that “there is fortune in leftovers”.
Some members of our team witnessed this phenomenon while living in Japan, and fondly remember being tempted by the endless exhortations by sales promoters (robot and human alike) and beguiled by the exquisite packaging. At coveted stores, queues would snake down the pavement past several blocks, even at eye-watering prices of tens or hundreds of thousands of yen. Getting fukubukuro is not always stressful though–one fun memory was of spending 300 yen (5USD) ‘fishing’ for a lucky charm at a carnival located near a shrine, another was of handing over 500 yen to pick from a pile of randomly wrapped boxes. Customers resorted to shaking, tapping and sniffing the boxes, or even having long discussions with their shopping partners in an attempt to select boxes that promised something of substantial material value and were also perhaps useful to the buyer/recipient.
You can even buy BT21 merchandise, marketed as fukubukuro, courtesy of BTS, the most popular South Korean boyband in the world.
Popular stores’ fukubukuro usually are snapped up quickly by eager customers, traditionally before New Year’s Day, but in the 21st century the promotions sometimes go on for a couple of weeks, and can also be completed online. These lucky bags are an easy way for stores to offload excess and unwanted merchandise from the previous year, due to a Japanese superstition that one must not start the New Year with unwanted items from the previous year. Any brand can offer a fukubukuro, making it a great way to raise brand awareness, while giving customers a sense of snagging a bargain. After all, although many enjoy surprises, the surprise comes with a certain element of assurance when you can select lucky bags from your favourite coffee store, beauty brand or fashion empire. There’s something for everyone, whether you like Hello Kitty, electronics or traditional Japanese snacks.
In doing research for this article, the CultureXCulture team got so excited that we are going to try our hand at offering our very own curated, international fukubukuro, since it would allow us to bring you products from all over the world, while retaining the charm of the tradition. Stay tuned!