National

Tokyo department stores to target foreign tourists with lucky bags this New Year

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

Are you feeling lucky?

That’s a question foreign tourists will be asked this New Year as department stores invite them to follow the Japanese tradition of buying a sealed bag of goodies.

“A big theme of next year’s lucky bags is ‘Discovery Japan.’ We want not only Japanese people but also foreign customers to know more about Japanese food and craftsmanship,” said Mami Nomura, a spokeswoman at Matsuzakaya department store in Tokyo’s Ueno district.

Like many large department stores, Matsuzakaya offers bulging “fukubukuro” bags of products. Traditionally, contents of the bags are unknown to the purchasers, but there are more cases these days where the stores announce what’s in the bags before hand.

This year, one bag available at its Ueno store will contain souvenirs plus a ticket for a tour to a sumo stable to see the wrestlers’ morning practice and lunch on “chanko” hot pot. The bag will retail for ¥20,150 and will allow two people to take the tour.

Other packages will contain products made by local craftsmen in the Ueno area, such as wallets and deer-leather bags. As Japanese pearls are popular purchases, some bags will specifically contain pearl jewelry and will be priced at ¥300,000, ¥500,000 and ¥1 million.

Nomura said this is the first time the store has devised lucky bags specifically targeting foreign tourists, and decided to do so after hearing that “many foreigners came to Japan to get lucky bags in recent years.”

Sales are also up after Japan expanded the scope of tax-free shopping for inbound tourists in October, an additional reason to cater more to foreigners.

The Mitsukoshi department store in the Ginza shopping district in central Tokyo also hopes to cash in on the trend.

Asako Suenaga, a spokeswoman at Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings, said the store will offer bags containing luxury Japanese food ingredients, including rice, seaweed, sake and soy sauce, priced at ¥4,320.

It will also offer a gold sake jug of the kind traditionally used in New Year’s festivities, in a bag priced at ¥20.15 million.

Suenaga said while expensive, the store recognizes that many Chinese customers like gold and may take the gamble.

She recognizes that the holiday season is a popular time for foreign tourists to visit. Walking around the Mitsukoshi store in Ginza on Jan. 2 this year, she said she found “people who spent Christmas and New Year Japan and they were buying lucky bags before leaving the country.”

The number of foreign tourists visiting Japan has soared in recent years. Last year saw the number surpass 10 million for the first time.

Matsuya, another department store in Ginza, said it, too, will offer bags aimed at foreigners.

As Japanese liquor is popular overseas, one lucky bag will contain bottles of Japanese whisky; another will contain high-quality umbrellas made in Japan.

When the bags go on sale Matsuya will have signs up in Chinese and English.