When I was a kid, my grandmother used to take me along to auctions located some distance from her home. She'd make these trips several times a year to collect gifts for her copious amounts of grandchildren or just to see if she could get a bargain on something she needed. I remember very little about the auctions save for a few things. One was that I was mainly in it for the junk food, particularly the pizza. Two was that most of the items being auctioned off mainly appealed to adults though there were toys on occasion but no adult I ever went with purchased them, much to my chagrin. Three was that my mother once bought two huge boxes of the ugliest shoes known to man in garish blue and red with the idea of "selling" them then left them on our enclosed porch for 3 or 4 years until they got so grubby that she finally tossed them out. And four was that part of the auction included "grab bags".
For those who were spared exposure to such things, grab bags were large shopping bags filled with a collection of miscellaneous items. The idea was that the total cost of the items in the bag exceeded the purchase price by a fair margin. Notice that I didn't say "the value of the items exceeded the purchase price." My experience with the grab bags at these auctions was that they tended to be filled with a collection of the junk that wasn't appealing enough to be sold individually for the most part. In fact, I'm pretty sure a pair of those awful shoes my mother bought were in one of the bags my grandmother bought.
In Japan, every year during the New Year they sell the equivalent of these "grab bags". They are called fukubukuro (fuku = lucky, bukuro = bag) and, though I have seen them now for coming up on 18 years, I had never purchased them due to the lessons learned from my childhood auction attending days. That all (kinda) changed yesterday because I read a comment by Ken Y-N on Nihon Hacks (a site devoted to trying to live more cheaply in Japan) about Mr. Donut's fukubukuro. Ken said that the bags cost 1000 yen ($9.20) and included 10 donuts, a calendar, a schedule book, and other various and sundry items. Since the 10 donuts themselves are worth more than 1000 yen, this is a no-lose proposition economically speaking.
Unfortunately, our local Mr. Donut appeared not to have and fukubukuro when I swung by there for a peak. They did have a curious collection of colorful boxes (one of which is pictured at the top of this post). Since I was too timid to inquire about them and too laden down with groceries to carry anything more, my husband dropped by a bit later after his daily swim at a local fitness club and checked out the deal.
The calendar at right was packed on the top. After you remove it, the boxes of items below are revealed.
It seems our local branch of the Mr. Donut chain was selling "lucky boxes" (fukubako) rather than lucky bags (fukubukuro). The boxes cost 2000 yen rather than 1000 and are full of various goodies, almost all of which are leftover freebies from the copious numbers of campaigns Mr. Donut holds all year to encourage frequent patronage. Some of them may also be brand new dishware of the same design that they use in the shop (which sells soup, ramen, fried rice, etc. in addition to donuts), but I have no way of knowing since I never eat in.
Items in the box (from left to right): Large penguin ice fishing motif serving bowl and three smaller bowls (suitable for rice or pickles), very tiny bento box with chopsticks and case, green schedule book, lion head-shaped storage box with two stacking compartments, large soup bowl with wooden spoon, and calendar. Some of this stuff is too cutesy for us but the bowls are quite useful and nice. All of the bowls have "not for sale" stamped on the bottom of them.
Like many fast food establishments back home, Mr. Donut has a stamp card that, when filled out, gets you a bonus. In most cases, that bonus is a dish, cup, tote bag, or storage item. I think the only one of these bonuses we ever collected (and it was many years ago) was a collapsible magazine storage bin since we rarely consume donuts in sufficient quantities in a short period of time to get a card filled in before the campaigns are over.
The donuts you get as part of these grab bags aren't real donuts as no reasonable Japanese person would buy 20 donuts all at once. You get coupons with which you redeem them through time. The main difference in risk between a fukubako (box) and fukubukuro (bag) is that you get 20 donuts as part of the deal instead of 10. This wouldn't be a big deal except that you have to buy those 20 donuts by March 31 as the coupons expire after that date. Still, given that Mr. Donut is raising prices for the first time in a very long time (the average donut is 115 yen/$1.06) and March 31 is a about 12 weeks away, it shouldn't be too difficult to get the most for one's money from this deal. In fact, if you tend to have one or two donuts a week, you ultimately save money with the coupons and you get some nifty items as a bonus.