New Year's Day is the most revered holiday in Japan. The Japanese actually celebrate it over a 4 day period. Many start the year by waking up to the first sunrise, they go to a shrine to make a new year wish. It's a quiet holiday ? unless you're out shopping. Every year, people line up to buy something called a ?fukubukuro? or ?luck? bag. Akiko Fujita introduces us to a different kind of New Year's tradition.
JEB SHARP: Japanese shoppers will be hitting the stores in the New Year. New Year's Day is the most revered holiday in Japan. In fact, the Japanese celebrated over a four day period. It's a generally quiet holiday, unless you're taking advantage of an annual sale in Japanese department sales. From Tokyo, reporter Akiko Fujita introduces us to a different kind of New Year's tradition.
AKIKO FUJITA: Think of it like Black Friday in the U.S., except this sale begins New Year's Day. Tens of thousands of shoppers line up at Japan's largest retail stores to get their hands on a fukubukuro or luck bag. It's a surprise bag that stores only sell the first few days of the year and the limited time offer creates a frenzy. Shoppers jostle their way into the store. Store employees announce the price of the bags over megaphones. Traditional taiko drums add to the excitement. Shopper Erika Ozawa says you have to push through the crowd because each store puts out a limited number of fukubukuros. The catch is shoppers can't see what's inside. The bags are sealed after stores stuff them with merchandise and customers pay $50 to $100 a bag in hopes of landing a big score, just like a lottery ticket. Business professor Roy Larke says the bags allow stores to get rid of unsold inventory. They're also key to drumming up sales in a traditionally slow shopping month.
ROY LARKE: The fukubukuro rather being the opportunity to acquire something for less money than you actually pay for it, I think is something that's a bit of a gamble and there's an excitement value to it.
FUJITA: The Matsuya department store came up with the luck bag a century ago to create buzz for the New Year. They sold 2,001 yen bags that first year and the tradition took off. By the 1980's, Larke says stores were selling bags for one million yen, about ten thousand dollars. Some came with the promise of diamond rings, plane tickets, goods worth five to seven times the cost of the bag.
LARKE: That kind of promotion now is very unlikely simply because people are unwilling to pay those huge prices for an item they're not really sure what it is.
FUJITA: So retailers are opening up the surprise bags. A few years ago, stores began selling fukubukuros through catalogs so customers could pick and choose what they wanted. Kiyome Nagai is a spokesman for Takashimaya, one of Japan's largest department stores. She says Takashimaya decided to open up the bags because of the economy. People aren't willing to pay for something they don't like. We guarantee the bags contain three times the value customers pay for. Takashimaya has also started something called experience bags that include mini-getaways. For example, the fresh vegetable bag includes a trip to an organic farm and a personal meal cooked with vegetables picked by customers. The makeover bag for men comes with a personal stylist, clothes and makeup. Nagai says the packages are sold by lottery for less than one hundred dollars and the promotions seem to be working. Nagai says fukubukuro sales have increased consistently over the last few years, while overall sales have slumped 10%. This woman says she prefers to buy fukubukuros at bakeries. For thirty dollars, you get bread, fruitcake and jam. It's worth the price because you can eat everything. Not every shopper is sold on the concept. Yuka Shimoji says she just can't deal with the lines. ?I'd rather go to a regular, post-holiday sale.? Still, those like Shimoji may be outnumbered come New Year's Day. Kiyome Nagai says Takashimaya is stocking additional bags this year and it's expecting a crowd of 20,000 outside its largest store. For The World, I'm Akiko Fujita, in Tokyo.