Kuji lottery draws in Japan: the luck-based merch Olympics for otaku

For collectors and dedicated fans, sometimes getting hold of merch is total luck. Like when the item you want’s only available as a lottery prize. In another country.

Japan goes all in for ‘kuji’ prize lotteries and random draws. Picking a bit of paper out of a box (and hoping it has ‘you win!’ written on it) feels like our national sport. Are you gonna take home the gold medal, or the wooden spoon? You don’t have to wait long to find out.

Try and hit the jackpot! (whatever that is to you)

The ‘kuji’ (くじ) in the names of prize games like Ichiban Kuji (一番くじ) and Minna no Kuji (みんなのくじ) means ‘lottery’. There’s a ‘kuji’ kanji, but the hiragana’s used so often we don’t think you need to know it.

Most kuji draws are for special anime/game merch, idol goods, concert tickets, and other kawaii character items. You can’t buy this stuff in shops, or try and pick it out from a claw machine.

Pay for a ticket, open it up and see what you won! Prize levels are ranked from A grade to… however much stuff they’ve got this time. Maybe down to E, or F, or Q if there’s a lot.

An ‘A’ prize is rarer than a ‘B’ or ‘C’ prize, in how many chances there are to win one, but it might not be better to win. That depends on what kind of lottery it is, and the items you want most.

If every prize is the same type of item with different designs/characters, then maybe the ‘C’ version’s your personal jackpot. If they’re all different items – say ‘A’ is a figure, ‘B’ is a hand towel and ‘C’ is an acrylic stand – it comes down to what you’d rather own.

Then there’s the unique ‘last one’ prize – only 1 available, won by whoever buys the final ticket left in the box. It’s a special design version of another item from that lottery, and not always the ‘A’ grade one.

Shop around for the best chance of winning

A lot of limited kuji draws for anime/game goods happen at conbinis: Family Mart, Seven-Eleven, Lawson, and Ministop. We tried our own luck for Legend of Zelda merch at Seven-Eleven that one time.

The other places to go in person are bookshops, hobby stores, and game centres. Names you’d know: Animate, Animega, Bunkyodo, Junkudo, Tsutaya, Namco and Taito arcades, and more.

Winning that one-of-a-kind ‘last one’ prize comes down to which store you go to, and when. They’ve each got a final ticket to claim – and it’s almost certain they’ve each got a different number of tickets left. You’ve got no way of knowing ’til you arrive.

But there’s a way to try and improve your chances, if you get there in time. Like other crazy popular events in Japan (think idol concerts, streetwear new season drops, and opening day at tapioca milk tea stands), it means showing up early.

Used tickets are put up on a wall panel, to show everyone what’s been claimed and what’s left to win. Scout out that panel and you’ll see how much is already gone. It won’t tell you how fast the rest is gonna be picked up… but if most of the tickets are already up there, maybe it’s worth hanging around the store for a while.

You can start praying, or you can start clicking…

It used to be that if you didn’t get up, go out there and take part, you weren’t gonna win anything for sure. But online kuji draws and scratchcard games (basically the same thing) are getting more common.

They work in the same way as the in-store lotteries: pay for a ticket (or a bunch of them) and see what you win. And if you feel like trying again later, you don’t have to go back outside… or suffer handing more cash over at the checkout in person.

A big difference is the wait on delivery. If you visit a place that’s running a kuji, you get to take whatever you’ve won straight home. You can show off your prizes and brag about it on Twitter that same day. Online kujis send the items out as much as a few months later, and there’s a domestic delivery charge involved.

You’ll need an account, a Japanese address, and a valid way to pay for online kuji draws – but we can help you out with all of that. Keep in mind they don’t accept cancellations, exchanges or returns.

…or benefit from someone else’s good fortune

Let’s say you missed a lottery completely. Couldn’t get to Japan for it, couldn’t do it online. What the hell do you do next? You look for resellers, that’s what.

The idea of someone taking another person’s chance of winning, so they can sell that prize for profit… okay, that might not be cool with you. But we’re here to tell you it happens. A lot.

To get an idea of how much, check the search results for ‘Ichiban Kuji’ on Yahoo! Auctions. And ‘Minna no Kuji’ too, while you’re there. You’ll see pages of listings like the screenshot above.

Going down the ‘resellers and auctions’ path still needs luck, and good timing, for a deal you’re happy with. Some items end up on resale costing way more than the original kuji ticket price.

You bring the luck, we bring the skill

In some cases, we can help you take part in kuji lotteries (online and offline). Ask us if it’s possible – we’ll translate the important bits, and show you how the item request form works.

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