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Thursday, Jan. 3, 2008

'Fukubukuro' hunters rise early to bag their prey at nation's shops


Staff writer

With the new year comes the season of shopping extravaganzas.

News photo
Thousands of shoppers line up at the Matsuya department store in Tokyo's Ginza district Wednesday, waiting for the store to open for the first time this year. SATOKO KAWASAKI PHOTO

Shoppers in Tokyo were lining up Wednesday to pounce on "fukubukuro" (lucky bags) as soon as the stores opened.

Customarily, all manner of shops from department stores, grocers, electronics retailers to supermarkets, sell lucky bags on their first day of business in the new year.

The Ginza shopping district saw a mass of lucky-bag hunters.

At 9 a.m. long lines of people on Ginza Dori were braving the chilly morning air to get first crack at the street's close-packed shops and department stores.

At the Matsuya department store, a line of some 6,700 people extended about two blocks. The sections inside the store had prepared 30,000 bags.

One woman at the front of the line said she had arrived with her family from Chiba Prefecture at around 4 p.m. the day before.

The woman, who didn't want to give her name, said she did some research about lucky bags on the Internet and decided to get a bag at Rita's Diary, a clothing outlet for women located on the second floor of the department store.

News photo
Shoppers scramble to buy "lucky bags" as the Matsuya department store in Tokyo's Ginza district opens for business for the new year Wednesday morning. More than 6,000 people lined up to purchase the packages, whose contents are not revealed until you buy one. SATOKO KAWASAKI PHOTO

She said she arrived early because she had heard the shop's lucky bags were extremely popular.

She said that because each bag's contents are unknown, it's fun to see afterward if the products are worth more or less than the price.

"It's like trying my luck," she said.

A Matsuya spokeswoman said lucky bag sales this year were up 20 percent from last year as of 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Prices vary by store. Traditionally, shoppers are not informed of the bags' contents, while some stores disclose them in advance.

"It feels safer or makes it easier to buy if we know what's in the bag, but I think people do enjoy surprises when they open up the bags," said Yoshiko Sato, of Koto Ward, Tokyo, who bought several bags at Matsuya Ginza and Printemps Ginza.

Stores that disclose what's inside their lucky bags try to draw attention by the uniqueness and the sharp discount of the products, with some setting the price to match 2008. For example, the Takashimaya department store in Yokohama sold a "special lucky bag" — a Nissan GT-R sports car and ¥30 million in jewelry — for ¥20.08 million, far below the regular retail price.

Other unusual goods packaged as lucky bags include luxury international travel packages, the right to hold a music concert on the department store's rooftop plaza and a one-day store manager experience.

In recent years, the lucky bag phenomenon has also entered cyber space. But despite being able to go online now, many shoppers still do not seem to mind the long lines and the crush to get their favorite lucky bags.

When the Matsuya store opened at 9:45 a.m., the hordes rushed to their targeted shops.

The most popular destination was Rita's Diary, which had prepared 10 bags for ¥20,000 and 50 for ¥10,000. All 60 bags were gone in 81 seconds, according to the store.

"I think this year is probably the most intense," shop manager Yukiko Tsumita said.

A shopper from Yokohama, who was standing in line from 6 a.m. Wednesday, was able to buy a ¥10,000 bag from Rita's Diary.

"I'm very happy to get this bag because I was worried I might not be able to get one," said the woman, who said she was surprised how quickly the bags sold out.

Asked if she would return next year, she said: "Hmm. I'll think about it after going back home and checking what's in there."



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