What are fukubukuro? What is inside? Are they worth buying? Why is Japan crazy about them?
The word "Fukubukuro" (福袋) is consists of the kanjis for "luck" and "bag", so naturally the most common translation is "lucky bag" (but you will also see "good luck bag" here and another possible less literal translation would be "grab bags").
The tradition emerged early 20th century when Japanese shops bundled unsold items from the previous year (belief is that you need to make a fresh start in the new year by getting rid of things from the last year). In closed bags, a couple of items are sold on January 1st, for a price much lower than the combined value of the items (or so it should be). Although January 1st is a public holiday in Japan, many shops open just to sell fukubukuro (but some, like Mister Donuts or Liz Lisa for example) start selling them last week of December.
There are fukubukuro for everything; from grocery stores, to clothing and electronic items. Nowadays almost all shops here in Japan sell fukubukuro. While the clothing ones might be the most common ones (Harajuku and Shibuya are especially wild around that time of the year -people even line up in front of 109 or LaForet the night(!!) before), more and more stores join the excitement (Starbucks and Apple for example).
In more concrete terms, what is inside a fukubukuro? Well that is the fun of it all, you DON'T KNOW! Usually it's "unwanted' items, so don't expect any really popular items, although some stores create pieces solely for the purpose of being sold in fukubukuro (just like some shops produce new pieces for the sales period).
Generally speaking, it is a good bargain if you like the brand/shop anyway. For example:Mister Donuts
For 2000Yen, I received 20 coupons for a donuts/pie each. An average doughnut costs 130Y and a pie 150Y, so if you do the math you see that I made quite a good deal. No to mention that all the Snoopy goodies came for free (I consider them bonus, as I bought the fukubukuro for the donuts in the first place, not the goodies).
MisDo is an example of items produced only for fukubukuro. They also reveal the contents of their bags on their website before they go on sale, so the surprise is kept to a minimum. So does LizLisa
Liz Lisa Fukubukuro 2013
Some other stores sell fukubukuro that all have different contents because the contents are really leftover items. So it's cheaper than buying the items separately, but it's also a gamble
. Not gonna lie, some grab bags are real garbage and leave you disappointed. With food (Baskin Robbins, MisDo etc.) at least you get the value back in coupons, but sometimes you're just unlucky. Some stores play fair game and warn you about the crappiness of the contents by labeling their bags as "fukou
bukuro" (misfortune bag). Usually fukoubukuro are sold even cheaper, about 500Yen.
The average price of a fukubukuro depends on the brand of course. Apple plants some IPads in theirs, so don't expect to find anything under 30,000Yen. LizLisa and other 109 brands usually have some for 5,000-10,000Yen, smaller shops like Claire's and supermarkets have pretty fun bags for only 1000Yen.
If you're the kind of person who likes to take a gamble, likes everything from a particular brand as not to be disappointed or just want to join the pre-sales frenzy in Tokyo, fukubukuro are for you!I hope this was informative and/or helpful in some way or another =)