The Japanese Lucky Bag Phenomenon in New York

Begin your New Year in a lucky way with fukubukuro! Japanese for “lucky bag,” fukubukuro are grab bags that are sold by retailers during the Oshogatsu (New Year) holiday. Filled with mystery items at discounted prices, these lucky bags are popular with consumers throughout Japan.

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Fukubukuro

The custom of fukubukuro began during the late Meiji Era (c. 1868-1912) by Ginza Matsuya Department Store as a way to get rid of the previous year’s goods and make a fresh start in the New Year. Over time, the practice spread to shops across the country and entice the Japanese to shop during the New Year holiday. These days purchasing fukubukuro has become such a vital part of the holiday that shoppers will line up for hours for the chance to take home a store’s unwanted merchandise.

This unwanted merchandise isn’t junk; the fukubukuro at Apple stores in Japan contain iPod Nanos, iPad Minis, and even an 11-inch Macbook Air. (Check out the story on MacRumors.)

Closer to home, on New Year’s Day the New Jersey branch of Mitsuwa Marketplace sent out a tweet thanking the customers who lined up before dawn, and Twitter user @WinstonLiaoNYC tweeted that the line was around the corner. Along with New Year activities such as mochizuki (rice pounding) and a taiko drumming performance, the Japanese grocery store sold two kinds of fukubukuro, at $30 and $10.

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UNIQLO’s lucky bag promotion

If you missed Mitsuwa’s promotion, you still have opportunities to purchase a lucky bag of your own in New York. Kamakura Shirts has a limited amount of $100 fukubukuro containing three shirts crafted by the company.

Fukubukuro at Bathing Ape in SoHo just went on sale today (January 2). The Japanese lifestyle and street wear retailer has three bags from which to choose: BAPE Happy New Year Bag #1 and #2, and the Milo Happy New Year Bag.

You can register for UNIQLO’s lucky bag giveaway online, but you must follow the clothing store on Pinterest to be eligible to win.

The catch to the lucky bags is sometimes they’re not lucky. The items inside might not be to your liking or, in the case of clothing items, your size. You’re not allowed to look inside the bag before you buy it, and once you purchase a fukubukuro, the mystery goods inside belong to you. Retailers generally don’t do returns or exchanges, unless the merchandise is defective.

Will you try your luck at a lucky bag?