What’s the Deal with “Fukubukuro" Lucky Bags in Japan?
Fukubukuro is a unique tradition in Japan where people buy mystery bags to see how lucky they get with the contents. In recent years, the practice has started slowly trickling to stores abroad, but there are still many people who are confused about it. What exactly is a lucky bag, how can you purchase your own, and where to buy fukubukuro? Moreover, why should you consider buying a lucky bag in Japan? In this article, we answer these questions along with insider tips on how to win the game of fukubukuro and a list of some of the best fukubukuro sold in Japan.
Oct 18 2021 (Mar 24 2023)
What Is Fukubukuro?
Known in English as “lucky bags” or “mystery bags,” fukubukuro are literal bags filled with a random assortment of goods and sold at a substantial discount during special sales periods in Japan. Each lucky bag is usually centered around a specific theme, such as beauty products or computer accessories. They are a long-standing tradition among the Japanese and are still beloved today as great opportunities to test your luck at nabbing a good deal.
You’ll need reservations while in Japan. See our writers’ top picks!
How Lucky Bags in Japan Started
Although it’s not known who exactly created and sold the first fukubukuro in Japan, there are a few prominent theories.
Some say it was first sold in the Edo Period (1603-1868) as “Ebisu-bukuro” by Echigoya, a kimono fabric store in Nihonbashi, Tokyo that would later transform into the well-known Mitsukoshi department store of today. In order to get rid of excess stock, Echigoya stuffed bags with leftover cuts of fabric and sold them during a winter bargain sale at a discount. This took Edo (former name for Tokyo) by storm, leading to the custom still being practiced today.
Others claim that it was Daimaruya—a store that would later become the Daimaru department store the locals know and love today—who came up with the idea of fukubukuro in Japan during the Edo Period. They sold the lucky bags during the Ebisu-ko—a festival dedicated to Ebisu, the deity of trade and commerce—and New Year’s, which helped the custom take off and spread throughout the rest of the country.
There’s a few who even claim that lucky bags in Japan were not created in the Edo Period, but later on during the Meiji Period (1868-1912) instead!
Regardless of when and who first came up with the idea, one common trait between all the theories is that it was a kimono fabric store that started this well-loved custom.
When Can I Buy Fukubukuro in Japan?
New Year Lucky Bags
Lucky bags in Japan can be found on store shelves during the New Year period (January 1-3). However, some may choose to sell fukubukuro a little earlier, starting from December 29th, while others will continue selling them throughout the entirety of January. Furthermore, some places require you to place a reservation for your lucky bag up to several months in advance!
You’ll need reservations while in Japan. See our writers’ top picks!
Can You Still Buy Lucky Bags Outside of the New Year?
If you happen to miss the big New Year sales period, don’t give up. Some stores have multiple big sales in a year where they might sell fukubukuro. Others regularly sell an assortment of lucky bags in Japan throughout the year, changing up their selection to match the occasion or season. When you do get the chance to visit Japan, take a look around and keep your eyes peeled for the 福袋 (fukubukuro in Japanese kanji characters) sign!
Where to Buy Fukubukuro in Japan?
Fukubukuro are sold in all kinds of stores, with department stores, electronics retailers, restaurants, and clothing and makeup stores making up the majority. More and more stores are also selling fukubukuro online now with the exact same contents as what you might get in store. Check online first before making the decision to purchase your lucky bag in person.
Insider Tips on Buying Lucky Bags in Japan
・It’s very easy to “lose” the fukubukuro game by purchasing certain types of bags, such as those from clothing stores. The clothing might not fit you and even if they do, they might not match your style or preferences. If you want to avoid the potential loss, consider buying fukubukuro from food-related stores such as restaurants and supermarkets.
・To maximize your chances of “winning,” look out for fukubukuro that give you a sneak peek at what’s inside. Nowadays, many lucky bags will give you a general idea of what’s in them, offer up a size range, or even be based around a specific brand, clothing item, color, etc. Some stores don’t even hide the contents of the lucky bags they sell!
・Only target stores that you are a fan of. That way, most of the items that you get will be things you like.
If you go to a physical store to buy lucky bags in Japan, you can sometimes see people trading items that they didn’t like. Take that opportunity to trade items that you don’t like for stuff that you do! If you know enough Japanese, you can also try doing this on Twitter by posting a picture of your unwanted item along with some text detailing what you’d like to exchange it with and the hashtags #福袋交換 (fukubukuro exchange) and #[name of the store].
・Some stores require you to reserve your place in line to buy a fukubukuro, whether that be online or by going to the store to pick up a reservation number. We recommend researching in advance or showing up to the shop extra early to secure your lucky bag. It’s not unheard of for people to start lining up at 4 AM for a particularly popular fukubukuro in Japan!
・We recommend checking out this site for the latest information on when major stores will hold their fukubukuro sales in Japan: https://happy-bag.biz/category1/ (Japanese only)
Best Fukubukuro to Buy in Japan
Starbucks "Fukubukuro" Lucky Bag
Japan loves Starbucks. There are Starbucks stores with incredible, uniquely Japanese designs as well as one of the world's few Starbucks Reserve Roasteries here. This love also extends to the coffee chain's fukubukuro, which are sold a couple of times throughout the year.
Yodobashi Camera "Fukubukuro" Lucky Bag
Yodobashi Camera is one of the giants of electronics retailing in Japan, with the Akihabara store being especially popular among both locals and travelers. People queue outside its doors every New Year's hoping to score a laptop or game console at ridiculously cheap prices.
LUPICIA "Fukubukuro" Lucky Bag
LUPICIA is one of the most popular Japanese tea retailers in Japan thanks to its easy accessibility, reasonable prices, and wide selection. Every year, they sell lucky bags filled with a random assortment of Japanese tea sachets online. These bags are so popular that they often sell out well before Christmas!
KALDI "Fukubukuro" Lucky Bag
KALDI is one of Japan's most beloved international supermarkets. Every year, people eagerly line up outside its doors for a chance to buy one of its candy-filled fukubukuro.
Cosme Kitchen "Fukubukuro" Lucky Bag
Cosme Kitchen is where the Japanese go if they want to get some of the best natural or organic skincare, makeup, and body products in Japan.
Sanrio "Fukubukuro" Lucky Bag
If you love adorable Japanese characters, you certainly know about Sanrio! Sanrio's yearly lucky bags are incredibly popular with the Japanese masses, so you better be quick if you want to nab one.
Due to the effects of the pandemic, more and more retailers have been choosing to sell their fukubukuro online instead of in store in Japan. Online fukubukuro tend to go on sale much earlier than their in-store counterparts, which also means they get sold out a lot quicker. We recommend checking out the stores you wish to purchase from as early as possible to avoid missing out on something you really want.
Grab Yourself Some Lucky Bags in Japan This Year!
Now that you know what to expect, why not take part in this exciting Japanese tradition by grabbing yourself a fukubukuro in Japan this year? Even if you only have 1,000 yen to spend or you come to Japan outside of the New Year period, there will definitely be a lucky bag out there for you. The concept of fukubukuro is also slowly spreading out to other countries as well, so even if you can’t come to Japan or make use of a forwarding service to purchase a lucky bag or two, it could be worth a try taking a look at what’s available near you.
Thumbnail credit: PIXTA
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.