While gift-giving (and receiving) is undoubtedly the most exciting part about holidays every year, we can all agree that in 2020, everyone would be delighted to receive a positive surprise — you know, for a change. And if you love the idea of surprises, there is no better New Year’s custom in Japan than Fukubukuro — the annual surprise hunt and bag snapping that marks the beginning of another good sales year for many department stores in Japan.

While this year, to prevent the spread of Covid-19, we won’t be seeing the typical battles at stores, there are still many Fukubukuro surprises guaranteed to make your holidays special — and perhaps even make up a tiny bit for the challenging year that 2020 was. 

What is Fukubukuro?

For those who haven’t had the chance to experience the bag snapping madness yet, here is a quick guide. Fukubukuro is a Japanese term formed from fuku (福, meaning “good fortune” or “luck”) and fukuro (袋, meaning “bag”), and therefore literally translates into “lucky bags.” It is a popular Japanese tradition that traces its origins back to the Edo Period (although some argue that it started in the Meiji Era) when the then-Mitsukoshi (known as Echigoya at the time) in Nihonbashi started selling leftover cloth materials in a bag that became known as “Ebisubukuro.”

Inspired by a Japanese superstition that merchants should not begin a new year with old merchandise, many shop owners followed suit and began developing innovative ideas of getting rid of old goods while still making a profit. Those resulted in creating the Fukubukuro bags, which merchants filled with last-season items or excess merchandise at substantial discounts — usually at about 50-70% off of the original price. The Fukubukuro tradition became widespread in the Showa Era when most department stores embraced it as an annual event marking the new year’s beginning. 

What are the contents of Fukubukuro?

Traditionally, lucky bags contain undisclosed items, each organized in a theme or category — beauty, fashion, jewelry, home supplies, cosmetics, kitchen tools and many more. Since the concept of Fukubukuro is about trying your luck, the contents of these bags are only revealed once you buy them. It has been a common sight to see buyers exchanging their lucky bags with each other outside the stores if they didn’t find the goods of their size or liking. 

In recent years, however, major department stores have started launching special bags like size-based sets and spoiler lucky bags (that reveal the contents) so that the buyers do not face a major disappointment. 

When do Fukubukuro go on sale?

Over the years, Fukubukuro have been sold at the start of the new year, with major departmental stores announcing the bags’ theme and price as early as at the beginning of December. The first sale begins on the first business day of the store, typically on January 2. As every year, shoppers start queuing up outside stores as early as 4 am to buy these lucky bags, many brands have started following a lottery system and an online option to pre-order the bags. 

Where to buy Fukubukuro?

To prevent the spread of Covid-19, many department stores like Hankyu FashionDaimaruSeibu Sago, and Takashimaya have already launched a great selection of lucky bags that can be pre-ordered online. Apart from major department stores, many electronic stores, cosmetic stores, supermarkets, and individual brands like Adidas and Reebok, have also launched their version of lucky bags sold for a limited period. Keep an eye out on SNS and official websites to know the Fukubukuro schedule of your favorite brand.

Top picks for 2021

For the coffee lovers, Tully’s Coffee offers three types of Lucky Bag 2021, for ¥3,000, ¥5,000, and ¥10,000, each containing limited-edition goods like an exclusive tote bag, a teddy bear, and Brazil Fazenda coffee beans that are just perfect for the cozy days ahead. You can book online or at every Tully’s store in your neighborhood. 

For beauty lovers, we recommend the Skinfood Lucky Bag 2021, a special lucky bag that contains bestsellers from the South Korean all-natural brand, including the amazing Black Sugar Perfect Essential Scrub, snail face mask, royal honey toner, sheer butter hand cream, nail polish and more. Buy for ¥11,000 online or at Skinfood stores.  

For the fashionistas, what could be better than entering 2021 with a brand new wardrobe with this fantastic lucky bag from Nano Universe, which offers five winter/spring fashion items (outer, tops, skirt (or pants) and dress) for ¥15,000. Reserve online for a special discount. 

Avirex has an amazing lucky bag for men that contains three highly functional items for your winter closet (because one can never have enough outerwear), priced at only ¥11,000. 

With huge discounts combined with a mystery element, Fukubukuro is the perfect way to step into the new year. We hope you’ll get lucky!