In Japan, lucky bags hold no secrets

Do your New Year wishes include a nose job, bigger eyes, liposuction or even a face-lift as age sets in?

If so, one beauty clinic chain in the greater Tokyo area has just the right "fukubukuro" (lucky bag) for you.

For the price of about 20 million yen (S$279,616) upfront, the lucky bag offered by the Shonan Beauty Clinic promises the lucky buyer a lifetime of unlimited cosmetic surgery services at any of its 22 branches nationwide, including of course the all-important aftercare.

Buying lucky bags in the New Year is an entrenched Japanese tradition, along with eating "osechi" (mostly cold and sweet New Year delicacies) and "hatsumode" (making the first visit to the temple or shrine in the new year to pray for good luck).

Shopping for lucky bags used to mean making a leisurely trip to one's favourite store, picking out a bag from among many, and going home to find out what's in it.

All that was assured the buyer was that the total value of the goods inside the bag would be worth more than the price paid.

These days, many stores advertise the contents of their lucky bags well in advance - a surefire way of not only drawing shoppers to their stores, but also tempting shoppers to grab as many lucky bags as they can afford.

The Matsuya department store in Tokyo's glitzy Ginza shopping district prepared 70 lucky bags, each containing 100,000 yen worth of fashionwear for a price of just 10,000 yen.

The bags were snapped up in less than a minute.

For inveterate lucky bag shoppers, two hands are often not enough to bring home the spoils.

It is not uncommon in recent years to see determined shoppers lugging suitcases big enough for a weeklong trip abroad as they go from store to store, buying up lucky bags.

For the stores, the timing of their lucky bag sales is crucial because of the stiff competition.

In the past, Jan 1 was considered sacred, reserved for eating "osechi" - often at one's parental home - and exchanging New Year greetings and stories with relatives that one has not seen in the past year.

These days, more and more stores are kicking off their New Year sales on Jan 1 in order to gain a head start over their rivals.

The Seibu group decided to open all its stores on Jan 1 this year.

Despite the unusually frigid weather, some 20,000 shoppers queued up outside the Seibu department store in Tokyo's Ikebukuro district before opening time on Jan 1.

Anticipating a big rush, the store had prepared some 15,000 lucky bags.

Seibu's strategy worked.

Several department stores that opened their doors only from Jan 2 reported a drop in sales compared to previous years.

Major stores see lucky bags as a great public relations opportunity, hence their untiring efforts each year to put out headline-grabbing lucky bags whose contents are revealed in advance to great fanfare.

Seibu's flagship store at Ikebukuro in Tokyo offered a 20 million yen lucky bag that includes a platinum tiara studded with sapphires, a necklace featuring big pearls, a diamond ring and a dainty hand mirror - the latter presumably for checking at all times that the tiara is firmly lodged on one's head.

The Hankyu men's store in Tokyo's Yurakucho district had a lucky bag priced at 22 million yen that includes an Audi sports car and tour tickets for two persons to watch the 24-hour Le Mans car race in France.

Some stores have been selling lucky bags every year that promise not only a brand new apartment but free furniture as well.

The imagination's the limit.

This year, Mitsukoshi's Ginza store offers an unusual lucky bag for the city dweller that secretly yearns for a life in the countryside.

Whoever buys the 600,000 yen lucky bag will become the owner of a 3,000 square metre plot of rice field in Minami-Uonuma, Niigata prefecture, the premier rice-growing area in Japan.

He or she will also receive 1,190 kg of rice and the opportunity to take part in rice-planting and harvesting and of course mixing with the local farmers.

And if that were not enough, the bag also comes with tickets to the nearby onsen to recharge oneself after a hard day in the fields.

These days, social media is often used to full advantage to promote lucky bags as well.

In the final days of December, Apple fans were told that Apple stores would put out a limited number of lucky bags - but only on Jan 2.

And in the good old tradition of lucky bags, Apple declined to reveal what goodies to be found in them.

Braving freezing temperatures, hundreds of Apple fans queued up overnight outside Apple stores in the capital, determined to lay their hands on the lucky bags.

Reports said the 33,000 yen bags included some real bargains, from iPods to iPads, and even MacBook Airs for the lucky few.

Now that's what buying lucky bags should be all about.

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