A new year’s when your luck for the next 12 months is decided. Many people visit a temple or shrine for ‘hatsumoude’, to pray for a good year. (And to burn their daruma dolls, so much symbolism.)
There’s mochi to pound, lucky red and white food to eat, and some serious peak time travelling to do.
New Year in Japan lasts 3 days. During that time, the sales are on. Most shops have a ‘fukubukuro’ lucky bag or 2… or more… for bargain hunters to snatch up. These bags have a set price, and the items inside are worth more than you pay. Most of the time.
There are Japanese lucky bags for fashion, accessories, cosmetics, electronics, anime and manga, zakka goods, and pretty much anything else. You’ll also see fast food and coffee places getting in on the act.
Rocking up on the day (Jan 1st or 2nd) and waiting in line should get you at least 1 bag. But online pre-ordering’s become more popular, especially for bigger chain stores. Starbucks made all their fukubukuros ‘reservation only’ this year, because the fights that happen in their queues are legendary.
Some lucky bags are revealed in advance, and some are totally random. Yeah, you can drop a couple thousand yen on a lucky bag and have no idea what’s inside. That’s half the fun!
By now, you know where we’re going with this. We bought 2018 lucky bags, and we’re gonna review them.
You gotta spend money to make money
The 4 bags we picked cost about 10,000 yen total. At the time we wrote this, that was appx. £65.50 or $88.80.
We did well with our cash – some lucky bags cost more than 10k by themselves. To get 4 for that amount, you’ve gotta do your research. (And be able to buy stuff from Japan, obvs.)
Decide what you want, plus what you hope to get for your cash. e.g. If you love fashion but want a cheaper fukubukuro, focus on accessory shops. And don’t let size matter too much. A heavy lucky bag feels like a bargain riiiiight up until your arm goes numb carrying it.
Get to the most popular shops on your list early. We mean it. You won’t be as early as the diehards who camped out all night, but you’ll be nearer the front.
Planning to head out without a plan? Be ready to go home empty-handed.
Village Vanguard (3,500 yen)
Village Vanguard never lets us down on lucky bags. Simple colour coding makes it easy to choose. Every colour’s a different type, like ‘homeware stuff’ or ‘gaming stuff’. Find the bag with the right colour on the handles and sides, and you’re good to go.
In this year’s selection, pink meant ‘we’re totally not giving you any hints on what may or may not be inside this bag’. So that’s obviously the one we picked.
The front and back of the colour-coded fukubukuros was designed by Ookawa Bkub. Y’know, the guy who created Pop Team Epic. Perfect choice by VV, and the bags look great.
Our fukubukuro was huge. Bigger than the 2017 lucky bag, for sure. But not super heavy. The cushion and the camo fleece blanket in there helped keep it light. We also got a big rug (more like a bath mat), a ‘tool pouch’, and a tea tray.
At VV’s normal prices, for 3,500 yen this stuff was a steal. Not that many items, but they’re useful and valuable. We knew that because the price tags were still on. Everything cost at least 1,000 yen plus tax by itself, so we saved a couple thousand.
Our fave item from the 2018 Village Vanguard fukubukuro is this mug.
WORK HARD. Yep, that sure sets the tone for the rest of the year. It’s staying in the office.
McDonald’s Japan (3,000 yen)
For this one, we knew exactly what’d be inside. McD’s revealed the contents of their lucky bag in advance, like always.
So what was there to look forward to? A drink cup pen case, a fries towel, and a Big Mac coin purse. All inside a canvas tote bag with another Big Mac on it. (McD’s warns that some contents might vary, but they never do.) We’re calling it the McBukuro.
McBukuros tend not to have many items in. But what you do get is branded, quality merch.
And there are little extras – we mean, small size. If your new year’s resolution is to eat healthy, the McDonald’s fukubukuro ain’t for you. It comes with 30 coupons for free food and drink. Save on 6 items, with 5 coupons for each:
- Small fries
- Small coke
- Small coffee
- Hot apple pie
- Soft twist ice cream cone
The total value, at 3,250 yen, is more than the bag costs. Result. Winter’s the worst season for ice cream, so every coupon’s valid ’til the end of May. They can be used at any McDonald’s in Japan, but only 1 per order, and not during breakfast. Not even the coffee. Shrug, we’ll use them in time anyway.
Mister Donut (2,160 yen)
Sadly, no actual donuts in this lucky bag. You’re not gonna see crullers when you scroll down, it’s best we warn you now. Should’ve gone to Krispy Kreme, where they give you a dozen to sweeten the deal (lolol).
The colour scheme’s all pastel pink and orange. Does remind us of eating donuts, to be fair.
This bag was a combo of predictable and random. Both the tote bag and the compact mirror came in 1 of 2 designs. No way to pick what you got. We ended up with the pink mirror, and the ‘pon de ring’ bag design. Happy with that.
The stuff we expected was the set of 3 A4 clear files, the 2018 wall calendar, and the card for 20 free donuts. Valid until the end of March, for donuts that cost up to 172 yen each. So that’s worth… 3,440 yen, max.
Our only disappointment: all that stuff got stuffed in a throwaway paper bag. Sure, the Mister Donut tote bag was inside. But every other fukubukuro included the bag it came in, and they looked better from the outside that way.
Flying Tiger (1,100 yen)
We’ve saved the best for last. This is a story of 2018 bringing us some crazy luck.
Flying Tiger Copenhagen (just ‘Tiger’ in other countries) sells fun, cool, and seriously cheap stuff. Home and kitchen goods, stationery, accessories, snacks, the lot.
Their new year lucky bags sell out fast. Not just because people love Tiger – each fukubukuro’s packed out, and only costs 1,100 yen. You know you’ll get way more than you pay for. It’s a no-brainer choice.
We needed a Tiger fukubukuro in our lives, but we messed up and got there late. Think ’10 mins before closing time on Jan 2nd’ late. (This is why we tell you, so you don’t make our mistakes…) There was ONE bag left, and some other guy was looking at it.
We stood there and waited. They kept looking at the bag. We held our breath. They looked some more. We dug our nails into our palms. And then. Then, they put the bag down and walked away.
So we bought it. And here it is.
Holy crap, this lucky bag was heavy. It was made with thick canvas, the sturdiest of all the bags we bought. Soon found out why – we got a huge tin of butter cookies! The best kind of heavy. Plus all this stuff:
- a cake plate
- house-shaped memo pad
- snazzy colour-changing notebook
- storage tin
- pencil case
- mason jar with reuseable straw
- storage jar
- slipper socks with massive pink pom-poms
- more sweets
- another smaller tote bag
Worth way more than 1,000 yen, without us adding it up. The cookie tin’s worth half that by itself.
Easily the best choice we’ve ever made. In our whole lives. We’ve got our hearts set on another Flying Tiger fukubukuro next year. And you bet we’re gonna drag our butts there early next time.
Up all morning to get lucky
In-store lucky bag sales always seem to end on Jan 3rd. Lucky for you, it’s never too late to look for a fukubukuro online. Test your good fortune by checking the search results for Japanese lucky bags on DEJAPAN.