Like many people, we have really missed our travels in Japan while the borders are closed. We hope that may change soon but in the meantime, we have been reliving some great memories from past trips as we open a Japanese lucky bag, called fukubukuro in Japan, and share our Sugoi Mart review.
Who is Sugoi Mart?
Sugoi Mart is part of the Japan Crate subscription service, an online Japanese store based in Tokyo that ships around the world. They offer boxes with a variety of themes including anime characters such as Pokemon, Super Mario and Hello Kitty, Japanese candy, noodles, stationery, and more.
How long does it take for an order to arrive in Australia?
With Japan’s borders still closed, the 7th wave of infections posing logistical issues at both ends, limited flights and Australia’s postal and courier system significantly impacted by recent floods I was expecting the box to take some time to arrive. To give you an idea, my order was placed on Tuesday the 12th of July, it was packed and dispatched in Tokyo on the 25th and arrived at our door in regional Australia on Friday 29th of July. Normally you might expect it to take just over a week.
My order contained two items, the Deluxe Lucky Bag and the Kit Kats variety pack. They were contained within their individual bags and packed together inside a heavy-duty cardboard box. A fair bit of compression must have been applied to close the box as it was tightly packed but everything appeared to have survived well, there was a tiny dent on the packaging of one item that was barely noticeable and it didn’t impact the contents.
The order was despatched via DHL which provides excellent tracking from the origin. You can follow it the whole way by the app if you want but I received both a text and an email the morning it was due to arrive to let me know it was coming and my options if we weren’t going to be home. The delivery arrived late morning.
What is a Lucky Bag?
Fukubukuro is a Japanese word that translates to lucky bags and it is part of the New Year tradition in Japan. They are generally released on the 2nd of January when shops reopen from the New Year holiday and can generate massive queues, excitement and a lot of FOMO when there is a bag you REALLY want to get hold of. The release of the current year’s bag by a favourite store is anticipated and planned for by many with the same enthusiasm as the Black Friday sales and New Year sales in the USA and Australia.
Fukubukuro covers a huge range of price points and product types but the concept is that the exact contents are a mystery and they contain significantly more value than their price so there is a surprise element but you should also feel you got a good deal.
The concept seems to have started at Matsuya Ginza in 2003 but has exploded out to all areas of retail, services and even travel since then. In Japan on the 2nd of January popular stores like the Pokemon Centre and popular fashion labels can have queues snaking around the shopping centre well before opening time and they will sell out within hours.
Finding Lucky Bags online
Not everyone can be in Japan for Fukubukuro especially with the challenges of the last few years so Lucky Bags have gone online. No longer restricted to the New Year, Sugoi Mart has opened up Lucky Bags year-round while keeping that surprise element, each bag is different and there is some great value.
You can choose from a range of lucky bags to treat yourself or someone special in your life.
Unpacking the Deluxe Lucky Bag
I was super excited to give it a go and couldn’t wait to open my Lucky Bag when it arrived. While there are several themed options that really tempted me, I miss many things about Japan and went with a bag that can contain items from a variety of categories including food, cosmetics, stationery, collectible soft toys and novelty items. If you have a particular thing you enjoy or collect you can choose a themed lucky bag such as Pokemon or Starbucks.
The primary item in the Sugoi Mart deluxe lucky bag is a large, character plushy toy. These toys are official merchandise and can be characters such as Pokemon, Hello Kitty or Nintendo. Anyone who knows me is going to know I was slightly disappointed not to get a Pokemon, or maybe Hello Kitty but that is what lucky bags are all about, you roll the dice and see what comes up. My Super Mario will find a good home, he’s child-safe, fully fabric with no plastic or removable parts so he won’t miss out on someone to cuddle him.
The next item I pulled out I was excited about. I love Japanese stationery and while I think I will always be true to the original traveller’s notebook for my planning and daily carry, I had been toying with trying out a B6 notebook as my next memory keeping or travel journal. Now I have one ready and waiting.
The notebook in my lucky bag has a hardcover and off-white pages, the peach-coloured cover features kawaii onigiri ball characters and fruit, it’s super cute and something I would definitely pick up in a Japanese stationery shop. The signatures that make up the book are stitched and it is bound in a way that it lays flat when open, things that fellow journalers will appreciate.
Digging back into the bag there are some snack items in there. We got a large pack of Pocky sticks, a sweet treat that is often found in our bullet train stash. Inside there are 9 snack packs so I suspect they will find their way into a few picnic baskets in the next month and generate some discussion on our favourite day trip destinations in Japan.
There is also a lolly pink Chupa Chup drink in the strawberry cream flavour. It’s the size that comes out of vending machines found all across Japan. I couldn’t count the unusual beverage flavours I’ve tried out of the various machines but this is a new one for me. Many of these drinks are seasonal special releases and when you return you can hunt 100+ vending machines but never find your favourite from the previous year again.
Then there is a packet of Pringles in a truly Japanese variant, Google Translate tells me it is a cream stew, from the picture I am guessing a cream of vegetable soup. I’d have to say it’s probably not one I would have picked out myself at the 7-Eleven but it will be interesting to give it a try.
The next two items out of our bag are cosmetic items. Both are made in Japan, the first is a face soap designed to lather to a bouncy foam with the help of the enclosed net bag. This is a family brand and it says it is moisturising, probably intended for younger skin than mine but I will give it a try. I mostly use Japanese skincare products from across the price spectrum so I’m always interested to try something new. This particular one features green tea extract from Uji, an area south of Kyoto City that we love to visit.
The larger box contains 16 individually packaged bath salt tablets. There are 4 of each fragrance, wisteria from Tochigi, white peach from Ishikawa, kabosu a citrus fruit similar to yuzu, and bamboo from Kagoshima. According to the box they have a mildly therapeutic effect, warming the body, easing sore muscles and releasing the fatigue of the day. I’ll pop these aside until we are in our new house and have a tub again.
The next item is a pack of Studio Ghibli playing cards, this is from the anime film, Kiki’s Delivery Service released back in the 80s. You have Jiji the cat on the back and the story plays out on the face of the cards when you put them in sequence. I’m not sure yet if I’ll keep these as playing cards or if they will become artist trading cards, journal embellishments or even a mini album. The plastic case with the little gold Totoro has a good closure and would be perfect for taking a selection of stickers with me on the go.
We’ve not made it out to Studio Ghibli in Tokyo yet but I do make sure to see the clock play as often as possible when we are staying at the Tokyo Park Hotel across the road, we pass it every time we head over to the station.
Finally, there are 2 novelty items in the bag. One features Doraemon and would be fun if you had a child who was a fan of the robotic cat. Using the rice mould and cutter you assemble a bowl of Japanese curry with a rice Doremon looking up at you decorated with vegetables.
The second is a puzzle to build your own tiger puffer fish model. This fish (Fugu) is a delicacy in Japan but you need to be qualified to prepare it as the fish contains a deadly toxin that if not removed and prepared correctly can, and has, been fatal to diners. Put your puffer back together correctly with all the poisonous and safe pieces in the right place and it will close up into a complete fish.
Make good use of Google Translate
If you don’t read or speak fluent Japanese you may find Google Translate a useful tool in unpacking something like these lucky bags and when travelling in Japan. Language is more of an art than a code so it won’t give you an exact translation but enough to get by.
We use it regularly in checking signs, menus and packaging when we travel. It can also be useful for translating spoken conversations with locals but you will need to keep your phrasing simple for that.
With written words like on this packaging you select the camera icon and hold it over the writing you want to translate. It will impose the translation in place of the existing script as shown above. In this example, the flavour of this KitKat has a direct translation of ‘red sweet potato’ but in English, this flavour is called purple yam, it was a regional special release in the prefecture of Okinawa and is commonly purchased as a souvenir from the area which is also shown on the bottom of the packet.
The KitKat lucky bag
The second bag we ordered was the KitKat selection, it contains 20 different flavours, many of them special releases, regional or seasonal. There are 3 of each flavour so you can share or save your favourites.
Before we started travelling to Japan I wasn’t a fan of KitKats but in Japan, they are quite different with new flavours released several times a year. Rather than the bland wafer and milk chocolate, they take on all sorts of colours and flavours.
There is a whole story behind how this Nestle chocolate bar gained such widespread popularity in Japan but in short, when you write the name in kanji and then read it – it sounds like Kitto Katsu meaning ‘you will surely win’. From there it became a popular purchase and gift for students approaching exams or others needing to share a little good luck or best wishes.
We often pick up the bags of snack-sized latest release or local souvenir KitKats when we are in Japan, they are readily available and make a great little sweet treat on the train on the way home at the end of the day or with a hot drink in the evening.
I loved the selection in this lucky bag, rather than stick with the safe mainstream flavours they included a good selection of different ones from the iconic Tokyo Banana to Matcha Latte, Purple Yam from Okinawa, Adzuki bean from Hokkaido, melon, coffee, white peach, dark matcha, pudding and many more. Almost all of them brought back a memory, the KitKat cafe in Ginza, freshly made pots of Japanese pudding for sale in Kurashiki, the first time I noticed the price of those boxed melons in Daimaru, chunky anko served with mochi we’d helped pound ourselves in Aomori.
60 Kitkat snacks are going to last us a while so there are many more memories to enjoy in the coming weeks as we wait for Japan to be ready to invite visitors to return.
In conclusion: Our Sugoi Mart review
We had a fun afternoon unboxing, tasting the snacks, translating the packaging and reminiscing about the memories it brought up for us of many fabulous travels, people and places in Japan.
Could we compile a similar bag if we wanted to from the Asian Supermarkets in bigger cities, EB Games, Amazon and the like? Yes, we probably could but that’s not the point of a Lucky Bay, it’s the surprise and what that brings up for you.
In retrospect for me, food is always my biggest memory trigger so in future, I might gravitate towards lucky bags featuring more snack items or particular interests like Japanese stationery or maybe Starbucks as I already collect the Japanese regionally released coffee mugs.
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