Things I don’t understand about Japan: Fuku bukuro (Lucky Bags) [福袋]


What is a Lucky Bag (Fuku bukuro) 福袋? Lucky Bags are exactly what they sound like: Grab bags full of goodies sold at a discounted price – a Japanese consumer New Year’s tradition.

The concept of a Lucky Bag is simple. It is a bag that can hold anything from candy, toys, electronics, clothes, makeup, jewelry, or underwear – sold at a discounted price. For instance, if the “true” value of the clothes inside of a bag were 50 US$, then the Lucky Bag would probably be sold at around 25 US$. The only catch is that you don’t know (or get to choose) what is in your bag.

It’s pretty straightforward and I’ve seen Lucky Bags in other countries as well.

Why don’t I understand it: Don’t get me wrong, I understand the concept of an ordinary Lucky Bag. But then… Japan takes it to a whole new level.

Japan always does that.

  1. The stakes for buying a Lucky Bag are too high in Japan. My fiancé, Ryosuke, took me to one of the most famous shopping buildings in Japan, Shibuya 109, during the 7-day New Year’s Sale. I was expecting crazy – every time we’ve shopped there, we are assaulted by skinny little Asian girls with bleached blonde hair, caked on make-up, bushy fake eyelashes, teetering around on high heels and shouting through colorful, plastic megaphones.
    And that’s on a normal day.
    The 7-day bargain sale was just like that… on crazier. This time, all the stored were blasting Psy’s Gangam Style (the Gangam Style phase just hit Japan a couple weeks back), and all the girls were shoving Lucky Bags in our faces.
    So I decided to buy one. And then I looked at the price tag for one of the smaller bags. 一万円. (Around 120 US$).
    They expected me to pay 120 US$ for a bag of things I haven’t seen that might not fit me. And… people were paying it. With pleasure.
  2. People give Lucky Bag’s as gifts. Ryosuke’s father’s birthday was a couple days after New Year’s Day. His wife and daughter gave him a Lucky Bag from Nike. It had a windbreaker, a pair of sweatpants, and two workout shirts. He liked what was in the bag well enough – and I’ve seen him wear the windbreaker since then.
    However, that Lucky Bag was 120 US$. Luckily he liked what was in the bag… but they could have easily thrown down over a hundred dollars on something that he didn’t want or need.
    (But then again, when you’re shopping for someone else, they probably have the same chance as liking what is randomly put in the Lucky Bag as they do liking what you personally picked out.)
  3. Brands don’t just put all their “unsold” items in the bag; most high-end clothing lines market a special line of clothes that can ONLY be found in the Lucky Bags. Talk about good marketing.
    Some stores will publish “samples” of what can be found in the Lucky Bag online, to try and entice people to line up on New Year’s morning and fight for bags.
    New Year’s Morning is the Black Friday of Japan. No one gets shot or trampled (this isn’t America), but there are incredible lines of people just waiting for new Lucky Bags.
    And if you want that one limited-edition jacket that’s super cute, you have to buy a whole bag of other random things before you can get it.
  4. Most stores offer Lucky Bags – regardless of what they actually sell. For the days after New Year’s, I actually went around making a list of what kinds of things I could find in Lucky Bags. Here’s my (incomplete) list, ranging from normal to weird.
    1. Clothes (pants, shirts, scarves, jackets)
    2. Shoes (but they don’t list the size)
    3. Accessories
    4. Make-up
    5. Candy
    6. Children’s Toys
    7. Underwear/Lingerie
    8. Expensive Jewelry (I’ve seen Lucky Bags at jewelry stores that cost up to三万円, about 380 US$)
    9. Expensive Electronics (examples include SD card, digital camera, mini-printer, monitor, and laptops).
      And people actually buy them.
  5. It’s only a “Good Deal” if you like everything in your bag. For instance, let’s assume you bought a Lucky Bag at your favorite shop for 35 US$ (but good luck finding one that cheap). Inside there was a sweater (originally 28 US$), shirt (originally 16 US$), and necklace (originally 14 US$). If you look at it purely numerically, you got a great deal! 58 US$ worth of things for only 35 US$!But you only really love the sweater. You like the shirt ok… and the necklace is a bit weird… If you only bought things you love (like the sweater), you would have spent less. You convince yourself you got a great deal on your bag of stuff, but on the inside you’re a little bitter.But next time, you tell yourself, next time you will choose a better bag.

Why I really DO kind of understand it:

People buy Lucky Bags for the same reason they play the lottery. Everyone likes to believe that they are “lucky” and might walk away with that dream jacket, necklace, or laptop that they’ve been eyeing but can’t afford.

Those “under-dog wins the prize” ideals appeal to everyone, regardless of your nationality. I would like to believe that if I bought a Lucky Bag, I would love what was inside.

But I know better than that. And, I bought a Lucky Bag of candy (and by “I” bought, I mean Ryosuke’s best friend bought and gave it to us as a cheap engagement present)… thinking there is no way to hate candy. Candy Lucky Bags are pretty safe.

Or not. I only ended up liking a little less than half of the candies – the rest I gave away to friends, neighbors, and Ryosuke’s sister.

All the candy in my 1,000 yen (10 US$) Lucky Bag

All the candy in my 1,000 yen (10 US$) Lucky Bag

Final thoughts. I don’t like that feeling of hope I get every time I’m tempted to buy a Lucky Bag. I know I won’t win big. I know it is full of things I wouldn’t buy even IF they were on sale.

It’s just… that feeling of hope… it’s so strong.


For other “Things I don’t Understand About Japan” posts, check out:

Things I don’t Understand About Japan: Melon Soda

Things I don’t Understand About Japan: The Obsession with Crocs

Things I don’t Understand About Japan: Job Hunting Suits 

Add me on Google Plus: +Grace Buchele

About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

6 Comments on Things I don’t understand about Japan: Fuku bukuro (Lucky Bags) [福袋]

  1. This seems kind of like one of those “Look at how craaaaazy Japan is” things that goes around when, really, it isn’t that bad compared to the alternatives in other countries (Black Friday, New Year’s shopping in America, etc). Plenty of places do give some sort of choice in the matter (Lupicia, for example, lets you choose a basic tea choice–black, green, or herbal–and plenty of other places with hints as to what is contained in the bag), and I’ve seen a few clothing places actually advertising what size the clothing is. While there is some randomness to it, it is generally more structured than what you explain… Unless Tohoku just does things significantly better than Kanto.

    You do bring up some valid points, but there are a few things that made me ???

  2. “Why don’t I understand it: Don’t get me wrong, I understand the concept of an ordinary Lucky Bag. But then… Japan takes it to a whole new level.” My response to this is speechless when you said Japan is taking it to a whole new level when America is does it even worse with Black Friday. If you start complaining about the concept of lucky bags than you have a ton of problems with the United States Black Friday.
    1. Black Friday has people lining up 2 weeks before the actual date. I am not kidding the first person in line has done it.
    2. Black Friday has people overbuying stuff they definitely don’t need and that is one of the prime reasons why the people in the United States owe so much money to credit card companies.
    3. Small Businesses barely makes money while major retailers are making so much sales that it is more than 30% of their yearly revenue in those couple of days.
    4. People don’t work and the money that they save from shopping during black friday is about how much they probably would have earned.
    5. Employees have to work and barely get any sleep around Black Friday and than a couple of days later after cyber monday the majority gets fired because of too much staff.
    6. Every year people get injured, hurt, and even died because of Black Friday.
    7. Major retailers drop prices so low that small business can’t do anything about it.
    The point of the Fuku bukuro is that you don’t know what it is and retailers and other small business are able to get rid of their inventory as well as boost sales. Also, lucky bags isn’t a bad gift and it will truly be a surprise. Even if it is things that you don’t really like you will almost always find someone to give it to even if it is ugly. Lucky bags is a great idea and I love it and honestly major retailers in Japan don’t need to compete with price.

    • I’ve never been to a Black Friday sale in America (at least at a major retailer), so I can’t draw too much of a comparison. I do think you raise several good points.

      I think the Fuku Bukuro culture was interesting because it wasn’t contained to just one day. Or week, really. For nearly a month I saw stores selling the fuku bukuro – and even went with a friend to buy close to $300 of fuku bukuro bags from her favorite Shibuya 109 shops. I also noticed that shops will publish inventory sheets showing some of the products they are giving away. I think it is a great idea and easy way to get rid of old inventory. Kudos to Japan for figuring that out.

      On the other hand, aside from the one sock fuku bukuro and candy fuku bukuro, I haven’t purchased a fuku bukuro (in two years of living in Japan). I’m so picky about my clothes, how they fit, and what style they are; I don’t trust myself to like the clothes inside the bag. I know lots of girls will exchange clothes with their friends – but to me that seems like too much work. I am fascinated by people who do spend hundreds of dollars on fuku bukuro sales, though.

    • Jerry… I’m not entirely sure what you are talking about. I have been doing black Friday for years, and I’ve /never/ seen the sort of behavior you’ve spoken of. In a country the size of the US with as many people out as we have on black Friday, I’m surprised at how few injuries there are. People don’t line up two weeks in advance. That would disrupt prime business, and they wouldn’t allow that. Maybe six hours now that black Friday is happening on Thursday instead, and before that? The night before. At most. Yes, people over buy for stuff. But that’s basic Christmas materialism. Me? I wait until black Friday to make the necessary tech upgrades I need. This year I got a new computer, a printer, and a camera, not excessive purchases considering my last computer broke two months ago, and I’ve never had a camera. There are laws as to how many hours people can work. Yes, they tend to work more on black Friday, but no more than the general uptick of holiday shopping. Generally black Friday is a mandatory work day, and days off are shifted around to accommodate that. Yes, big businesses drop prices too low for small business to compete, but… how is that different from any other day of the year?

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