What to buy for the New Year

by JNTO Travel on 21 December 2018

One of Japan’s most popular – and maybe unique – customs during the New Year season is hatsu-uri, or ‘first sale of the New Year’, which is when the grand New Year sale happens, and when people queue up to get their hands on a fukubukuro (福袋), or ‘lucky bag’.

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Similar to mystery bags that you can find on many online stores like Lazada or Amazon, fukubukuro cost anywhere between a few thousand to over 10,000 yen, and can be purchased at most retail stores ranging from department stores to electronic shops and even coffee chains.

This is a great time to purchase almost everything from Japanese cosmetics to clothes and shoes by homegrown fashion labels, or even electronics. They’re always great value because items in the bag will cost much more, or are limited edition – plus, there’s a limited number of bags on sale.

The sale of fukubukuro coincides with hatsumode (first shrine visit of the year) between January 1 and 3, and due to their popularity, they really sell out fast. This is why people often queue (sometimes overnight) to buy these bags, and some stores limit the purchase to one bag per customer.

Popular places for fukubukuro

Department stores like LaForet HARAJUKU, Lumine, Parco, or Solamachi in Tokyo are popular places to buy fukubukuro since you can get almost everything under one roof, whether it’s cosmetics, clothing, or food. Most department stores announce the number of fukubukuro they will retail, usually between 20,000 to 30,000. Each department will have its own fukubukuro, so for example, you can buy food from the basement, and trendy clothes or cosmetics from the ladies’ department.

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Some department stores also sell fukubukuro that contain coupons for experiences or tours – in 2017, Seibu Shibuya sold rickshaw trips to Meiji Shrine, and Iwataya Fukuoka sold a Japan travel package on a private chartered aircraft.

Outside of department stores, there are plenty of other options. If you’re looking for Japanese cosmetics and skincare, you can get fukubukuro from brands like DHC, Shiseido, and Shu Uemura. You can also get Japanese pop culture goods from stores like Village Vanguard, specialty tea from Lupicia, or even homeware from Loft.

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If you’re looking for electronics, a popular place is BIC Camera which has a variety of fukubukuro ranging from digital cameras to headphones at different prices. The Apple store is extremely popular since it boasts one lucky bag with a Macbook, prompting lines to form outside the store overnight. There are also fukubukuro for video games, comic books, and more.

Don’t overlook cafes or food outlets. Chains like Starbucks, Mister Donuts, and McDonald’s also sell fukubukuro for under 4,000 yen – in addition to food vouchers, you can also get limited edition products like tote bags and tumblers.

Fukubukuro prices vary depending on the brand and items, and every year there are also a few extremely expensive fukubukuro – like 200 million yen from a Ginza jewellery store – as well as bags that are sold at very low prices (ie. 500-1,000 yen) that contain nothing significant (like figurines, pens, etc), which are called fukobukuro (‘unlucky bag’).

Tips to buy fukubukuro

With the limited number of fukubukuro, it’s no surprise that queues can get very long. If you’re a first-time fukubukuro hunter, here are some tips:

  • Buy from brands that you like, so that you know what you’ll get
  • Know your size from the brand you’re buying from, because clothing or shoe fukubukuroare sold in sizes, for men/women/children
  • Find out if you need a maeuri-ken (advance ticket) to enter – but not all shops have this system
  • Be there early – most shoppers arrive at popular shops before they even open – and be prepared to queue. It can be cold if you’re queueing outdoors in winter, so be adequately dressed
  • Make sure to join the queue at the right point – start from 最後尾 (end of line)
  • Some of the most popular stores distribute numbered tickets so you need one in order to get your fukubukuro
  • While most fukubukuro are complete surprises, most stores indicate the number and type of items enclosed