My husband buying the "lucky bag" and asking the shop attendant about the availability of such things.
Every year on New Year's Day, you can find a variety of shops in Japan selling "lucky bags" or something equivalent to what we call a grab bag in the United States. Readers who have been with me for a long time or who have read some of the archives may recall that last year I talked about a "fukubako", or "lucky box" which I bought at Mister Donut.
The main idea behind these things is that they are meant to be a bargain. The value of the items in total is supposed to exceed the amount you pay. I've always thought that these things were simply a way of unloading stuff that nobody wanted to buy and that couldn't be unloaded. After all, when that case of purple polka-dot tights isn't moving, you can stuff one in every "lucky bag" and claim that they're a 1000 yen (about $11) value. If your shop carries enough bum goods, you could easily stuff your bags with all of the craptacular inventory that won't move off your shelves and present the collection of embarrassing and distasteful items as "value".
The Mister Donut fukubukuro and fukubako are undeniably one of the best values for your money since you pay 2000 yen ($21.50) and get coupons which allow you to buy 20 donuts. The value of the donuts alone is at least 2000 yen, often more since many donuts are more than 100 yen. You also get a plethora of goodies ranging from kid's toys to dishware. Unfortunately, you also have to stuff yourself with donuts between January 1 and March 31 because the donut coupons run out at the end of March. For this reason, my husband and I decided to give a different shop our "lucky bag" money this year. Since we can never have too much coffee, we decided to try on Starbucks this time around.
Our local Starbucks is in a JR station and only had two of the cloth totes that constitute their "lucky bags" on display. They carry two varieties, one for 5000 yen ($54) and another for 3000 yen ($32) and the more expensive one was sold out. My husband asked how many of each they had on hand and the salesgirl told him they had 20 of the pricier ones and 30 of the cheaper ones. She also said that that was all they had period so we got the next to the last one for the season. Note that we arrived at 12:30 or so on January 1st so they did not last long.
As for the contents of the bag, they gave us three 70-gram (2.5 oz.) bags of ground coffee (Verona, House Blend, and Sumatra), two coupons in gift cards good for any drink of any size, a double-decker bento box, a very small and thin lap rug in a Starbucks cup cloth holder, and a small fair trade African woven cloth tote bag. The value would break down something like this:
- 3 small bags of coffee: ~1000 yen
- 2 drink coupons: a maximum of 1000 yen (biggest, most expensive drinks being purchased)
- double-decker bento box: ~100 yen without the Starbucks motif, to be charitable, let's say 300 yen
- African fair trade cloth tote bag : a maximum of 1000 yen
- Starbucks cloth tote bag: a maximum of 1000 yen
- lap blanket and mug: ~300 yen
The Starbucks 3000-yen "lucky bag" was a big disappointment to us. We would have preferred more coffee, more coupons, or at least some reusable Starbucks cups to the silly lap rug, and second tote, or even the bento box. At least the bento box is arguably useful though. It's actually a pretty nice size and has chopsticks snapped into the top of the bottom box. The main thing is that my husband doesn't eat traditional Japanese bento lunches and I work from home so it's not of great utility to us personally.
I wouldn't recommend the lucky bags at Starbucks if you're looking to take part in the spirit of the season during New Year's and pick up a lucky bag. Next year, I'm thinking we'll pick up something at a different place. If you can eat a lot of donuts, the Mister Donut box is still the best bet.
Quick update: I found someone who posted about the 2010 Mister Donut fukubako if you'd like to see them (there appear to be two different ones), they're here and here. It's rather similar to last year's haul.