Lucky Bags in Japan

Do you fancy yourself a gambling-type? Do you find a thrill in the luck of the draw? Do you also like getting goods at steep discounts? If you answered yes to any of those, then Japan has a New Year’s consumer tradition for you: The Lucky Bag, or Fukubukuro (福袋).

The History of Fukubukuro (Lucky Bags)

After much inquiry and some serious Japanese kanji studying, I found some primary sources that informed me of the history of Lucky Bags. All sources point towards Daimaru Matsuzakaya Department Store’s ancestor: Daimaruya. The exact date isn’t exactly confirmed, only that it started back in the Edo period (1603-1868). Back then it wasn’t a lucky bag, but rather, an Ebisu Bag, named after the god of merchant’s bag, which is most commonly seen on Yebisu beer cans. While Daimaru holds a claim to these proto-lucky bags, it does concede that in that same time frame a kimono shop in Nihonbashi. The bags held strips of kimono fabric the shops were trying to clear out for the new year, but the contents were a mystery. The bags were red to symbolize the one year’s worth of “bleeding” (assumedly, the scraps) that came before the winter sale of such leftover goods.

Other sources point out that the bags are supposed to be the bag of Daikokuten, one of the seven lucky spirits, and not his counterpart, Ebisu. Either way, the tradition started to spread across Japan, with records from the Meiji era (1868-1912) from the clothing store Tsuruya Kuyuku selling such bags. The tradition started to catch on as Japan modernized, with the tradition picking up in the Showa era (1926-1989), leading to the phenomenon we see in modern times.

New Year’s Shopping

The general ethos for New Year’s is that you want to get rid of things from the previous year so you can be fresh and ready to tak on what the new year brings you. For shops, that invovled ditching old merchandise. Enter the Lucky Bags! They are also sometimes referred to as Happy Bags and the idea is that you get a lot of goods at a heavily discounted price, usually around the 60% off mark. Many big-name multinational brands get involved, too: Starbucks, Ikea, and even McDonalds get in on the Lucky Bag craze.

Lucky Bags - Two Second Street -
Some lucky bags are actually very nice canvas material and can be reused after you pillage their treasures!

This year, we wanted to check out the madness, but there was a catch: Our local mall decided to shut down for New Year’s! On January 1, many shops in our area were actually closed for the holiday, allowing employees to do their Hatsumode and spend time with family. That shouldn’t be a big issue, though: Many shops will start selling Lucky Bags many days before New Years and even a few days after. They’ll have signs up showing their schedule, the contents of bags (many shops now tell you what you are getting, but may include randomness with design or colors), and how many bags they will have for a given day. This gives shoppers more opportunities to grab their deals while not missing a pretty important holiday with friends and family.

What do you think? What shop would you most want to get a Lucky Bag from? Let us know in the comments!


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