Lucky Bag Full of Happiness for 2019
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LUCKY BAG for the New Year
The first article in 2018 explained traditional family events of Japanese New Year celebrations. The focus is on get-togethers and rituals for wishing each other a healthy and prosperous New Year.
The same well-wishing rituals take place in shop fronts. Many shops are open on New Years Day, and most of them are fully open on the second day. There are many people out and about visiting shrines, temples, distant families and friends, so the New Year Holiday period can be one of the busiest time for retailers. Customers stroll up and down the streets, hoping to try their luck for the first time in the new year, by purchasing a bag filled with products, which claims that the contents are valued at much more than the price tag.
They are called Fukubukuro, Lucky Bag. It is originally a large sack carried by Daikokuten (= Hindu god, Mahakala) who is a god of abundance and prosperity. His sack is full of luck and happiness, so those who buy Fukubukuro in the New Year are purchasing a prosperous new year for themselves.
Dumping Bag for Department Stores
The origin of lucky bags cannot be specified as one source, but they were stocked bya few Kimono fabric stores, which then became all major department stores such as Daimaru, Matsuya, Mitsukoshi etc. The original bags included some offcuts of exquisite fabrics, left after cutting for expensive Kimonos. They were so popular that it quickly became an annual staple event and spread to many other retailers.
Cynics say this is the perfect way to dump all leftovers, but savvy business owners are acutely aware that customers would loathe the custom if they felt betrayed by the contents of these bags. After all, customers know that it is a gamble and the random nature of the contents should be taken lightly, but they also do come to purchase the bags from the stores they often visit and trust.
The stores always took care to strike the right balance between the cost of the bags and customer satisfaction. Reputations spread faster and more extensively on the internet these days as well, so some stores, especially the premium retailers, started disclosing contents before the sale. They are used mainly as the star attractions in the show window to draw the customers into the stores.
In the 1980s, competition between the retailers over the content of Fukubukuro became fierce. They became more and more expensive, and it was common to see the bag priced at USD 10,000. One art dealer sold a bag with Picasso’s work at USD 5 million.
The craze had to finish at the end of the economic boom in the 1990s, but by then customers were very wary of the gap between the price and content. Retailers had to come down to reasonable prices and practices, including “transparent” bags.
Imitated by Overseas Retailers
In 2004, Apple Store Ginza branch sold Fukubukuro, and it was a big success within the brands’ chain. They adopted the idea of “Lucky Bag” for new openings of flagship stores in the USA.
Chinese customers embraced the idea, and not only in the Chinatowns across Japan but on the mainland. Similar bags are on offer during Chinese New Year. But many holidaymakers still come to Japan to purchase these bags. They are mainly looking for bargains, so the stores targeting tourists often opt for the open bag options.
New Trend – Service Items
Non-traditional businesses are now entering the Fukubukuro market. There are furniture and cars on offer; obviously they do not come in bags. The newest entries are from service industries: travelling, real estates, interior designs, driving lessons, and dating.
Matchmaking agencies offer Fukubukuro, which includes consultation with experts, cash to purchase clothing items to make candidates attractive to secure success, and the actual date. This kind of personalised service is high value, so for those who are serious about finding the best possible future spouses would go for this chance, Perhaps, in a way, it goes back to the origin of the bag: The sack full of luck and happiness.
Happy New Year.
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