Around the New Year's holidays, many Japanese shops sell the equivalent of a "grab bag" or what translates to a "lucky bag" (fukubukuro - fuku=lucky, bukuro=bag). Often the contents of these bags are unknown, but sometimes they are known in whole or in part. The main selling point of these grab bags is that the value of the contents exceeds the sale price of the bag.
Contents of the box as originally packaged. (Click this picture to see a larger version for more detail.)
Mister Donut, a chain of doughnut shops which is very popular in Japan and originated in the United States, sells a "lucky box" (bako = box) rather than a bag. The boxes cost 2000 yen ($22.16) and come with a variety of items as well as coupons which can be used to redeem 20 doughnuts. Since the doughnuts range in price from a little over 100 yen ($1.10) to a little under 140 yen ($1.55), the coupons alone are worth the cost of the box. If you would normally eat 20 doughnuts in a three month span of time, you can't lose on the deal. It is important to note, however, that the coupons expire at the end of March. If you tend to buy slightly more expensive doughnuts, you can save about 700 yen ($7.45) and will pretty much break even if you buy the cheapest ones.
In addition to the tickets for 20 doughnuts, you get a variety of souvenir Mister Donut Pon de Lion goods this year. Last year's box focused on the Pingu the penguin character and was rather a different mix of items. In fact, it was far more oriented toward adults and had more useful items (particularly dishes) than this year's box, which seems to have a lot of things for young children. There's always a cutesy calendar in every box since calendars are distributed by many companies for the New Year's holidays. There are also Pon de Lion themed items as follows: a cell phone strap, a flat square plate, a coin bank, a clock, and a baby blanket.
The baby blanket could double as a lap blankets for someone in winter (or overly air conditioned summers). Lap blankets are very popular among office ladies in Japan because they seem to have reptilian metabolisms and be constantly in danger of freezing to death. The blanket is super soft, but very thin, so I doubt it'd provide good warmth.
Everything in the box is amazingly cute and I'm sure that any kid would be delighted to have the items to play with for a bit. For an adult, mainly the coupons are where the value lies. You also get an envelope with five 20% off coupons, but they're also only good until March 2009. Last year, similar coupons were included in the back of the schedule book in the fukubako we bought but we never used them. Eating 20 doughnuts in 3 months even between 2 people had us donutted out so the coupons went unused.
In addition to picking up this year's fukubako, we decided to sample a new doughnut. This is a custard and whipped cream "kara-age" pan doughnut, or "fried bread doughnut. In addition to the custard and whipped cream version, there's also a whipped cream and red bean (adzuki) version, but I wanted to get something my husband would sample, too, and he would not partake of adzuki. This is a slightly large pastry because it's about the size of a modestly proportioned hot dog bun so it's a good treat to share.
It smells pretty much like a generic doughnut smell though it's missing the "sweet" smell you associate with glazed donuts. The texture is very coarse and airy. It is true to the idea of being "fried bread" rather than a dense cake or light risen yeast doughnut. It comes closest to a crueller in terms of taste and texture, but it's less fine than a crueller. It's a bit dry and a bit chewy. It actually is a little sandpaper-like on the tongue, but it's hard to tell if that's due to the sugar sprinkled on the outside or the texture of the fried bread. The filling is good, but seems a little on the sparse side when you look at the proportion of cream and custard to fried bread. It's especially lacking near the ends where it's not piped in quite so evenly.
I enjoyed this. It's not too sweet and has a nice flavor to the donut itself. If it had a little more cream, I'd be happier, but I think this would be a nice, not incredibly sweet treat to have with breakfast on occasion. If your tastes run toward sweeter donuts, or you are fussy about the texture, this may not be to your liking.
Happy New Year, to all of my readers. Thank you for reading and I hope you have a wonderful 2009!