Friday, January 8, 2010

Variety Friday: Starbucks Japan Fukubukuro

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
Technically, the value of the goods exceeded the cost, but realistically, two tote bags, neither of which is large enough to really shop with are not of much use and both are overpriced as retail items. Their true value is closer to 500 yen each. I also think it's absurd to put another tote bag in the main tote as a means of adding value.

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.


Anonymous said...

We did a happy bag once.. and it was with Mr. Doughnut.. I gave all the toys away to my nieces but the deal on the doughnuts was undeniably worth it.

That was I think in 2005... it was fun. I tempted to buy one at Franc Franc once and my husband told me as picky as I am about color... I should maybe skip it.. hehe

Speaking of coffee I am not finally enjoying my caffeine free cup.

Sarah said...

That bento seems so cuuute! I've only recently gotten into bento over the past year and tis a blast. Of course, I've dragged the boyfriend along for the ride. >:] Oh yeah, enough of the ramble...I'm really enjoying the blog, I've read all of them FINALLY. I think you've hit a very niche market, as finding english reviews of different things I want to import can be difficult. Plus, I'm gambling quite a bit more money on it, so I'd like to know IF it's any good, y'know? Oh yes, before I close off this ramble...try the Durian Hi Chew?

Orchid64 said...

The toys are great for kids. Last year and this year they also have cute clocks which would be nice in a kid's room.

I think next year I'll go for the ones at one of the local old-fashioned snack shops rather than from a big-ticket place, though the CH probably will want to give Starbucks another try.

Ah, caffeine-free coffee. It's like carob instead of chocolate. ;-)

Sarah: thanks so much for your kind comments! I really appreciate that you read through everything and enjoyed it. I'd probably make some sort of bento, though not an artful one, if my husband would eat them. He won't eat cold rice (and has no microwave at work) for starters. ;-)

Sarah said...

Ah, carob. I only like it in Sixlets...and I think that is definetly a texture/not caring much for Hershey's tangy chocolate thing. I see you're wisely avoiding the durian request? :P

Sarah said...

Also, my problem with coercing the boyfriend to carry a bento is that the only ones I can find that won't be $40 with shipping have hearts and flowers and Hello Kitty, etc. I'm sure you're not surprised though. (Forgot to include this in the first place. :])

Jess said...

That is so cool! I wish the US had more things like that...hence the reason why I am such a nut about the Kinder Egg Surprise, as well! I love random surprises...even if the deal is sometimes a little off, it's a lot of fun to open the boxes. Do they often sell them online?

Sherry said...

I totally agree with you about the lucky bags-a way to get rid of ugly and useless crap that no one was willing to buy the previous year. And the more secretive they are about what is in the bag (like the ones wrapped up in 7 layers of packing tape) the worse the crap is. I will never understand the Japanese love for those things unless it is just a spend money to spend money screwed up thing. I would rather pay more for something I like, and can see, than for whatever crap they decided to shove into a bag.

Orchid64 said...

Hi, Sarah: I wasn't avoiding the Durian request. I'm just 45 years old and can't keep things in my addled brain for long. ;-) I haven't seen the Durian Hi-Chew around, but I'll definitely try it if I see it! I've heard Durian tastes good, but smells bad.

Hi, Jess, and thanks for your comment! I don't know if they are sold on-line or not. I don't think they are since they're part of the whole New Year's sales thing. It's an interesting question though!

Orchid64 said...

Sherry: Hi and thanks for your comment! I'm a little more open-minded for food-based lucky bags. I'd definitely never buy clothing ones! I figure that food is more likely to give you value, though obviously I was wrong about the Starbucks one. ;-)

Tristan said...

Love the concept of the happy bag...wish we had them here in Australia!

Heard that people line up for ages for the department store ones and then its really pot luck...would love to see/take part in that!

Having just bought 2 bento boxes (as I was the same as you when it came to picking up bento boxes in Japan...too much Hello Kitty), I cant believe that you have priced the bento box so cheaply. I just paid AU$45 for 2 boxes+a bento box cooler! (admittedly the boxes came with everything....)

Love the blog...

Orchid64 said...

Hi, Tristan, and thank you for your comment and reading!

In the U.S., we have an equivalent of these called a "grab bag". Various groups would sell them - merchants at flea markets, shops doing sales for festivals or carnivals, and people at auctions. My grandmother used to buy them when she took us along on auction trips. They were never any good, but the whole idea behind it was that it was a suprise. ;-)

Sarah said...

To Tristan: or the US version of ebay is awesome! I got a cheap girly bento for myself for about $17 I believe. :] Of course, shipping was icky, but I don't really recall how much it was as I bought a ton of other bento stuff. Also, may I recommend looking in the cake decorating section of stores? THere are some real gems there. Sometimes I can snag silicon mini baking cups!

To Orchid: I ordered the durian hichew anyway. I'm an adventurer like that. I can comment on it once I get it here~ Also, I totally included in the order the message that I wanted my durian in a ziploc baggie or such to keep the stank out of my chocolate. xD