COURTESY ALA MOANA CENTER
In keeping with Japan's New Year's Day retail tradition, the Ala Moana Center will sell these Fukubukuro bags.
Ala Moana honors Japanese tradition
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Just when you thought the shopping season was coming to a close, Ala Moana Center has expanded a Japan retail concept that is expected to augment January revenues.
New Year's Day traffic at Ala Moana is anticipated to be heavy as shoppers come to take a gamble on gift bags as well as to cash in their gift cards and return unwanted gifts. Fukubukuro, which literally means a gift bag or package containing unknown and varied merchandise that is sold on New Year's Day for a large discount, has long been a lavish retail tradition in Japan and its popularity is growing in Hawaii.
Retail experts say it's only natural that Hawaii residents -- long famous for their penchant for gambling and for borrowing traditions from other cultures -- have embraced the concept, which is now in its fourth year in Hawaii. The center is expecting hundreds of shoppers to line up at their favorite participating Fukubukuro store hours in advance for the chance to get their hands on one of the event's specially designed bags, which will retail for $20 to $1,000 each. The goods, which are marked down at least 50 percent, are a mystery until after purchase.
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Despite the continuing decline in Japanese visitors to Hawaii, a time-honored retail tradition in Japan, Fukubukuro, is expected to be celebrated with even more vigor this year in the islands.
Ala Moana Center's annual Fukubukuro event began in 2004 and was inspired by Japan's New Year's Day event which attracts hundreds of thousands of shoppers hoping to cash in on the first deal of the year and get perks such as free tickets to Hawaii.
While Ala Moana Center's event is not nearly so lavish, local shoppers will have the opportunity to purchase grab bags filled with mystery merchandise, at half off.
And while visitor arrivals from Japan were down 3.2 percent through the first 10 months of this year in Hawaii, interest in Fukubukuro here is growing. This year, 29 Ala Moana retailers -- the most ever -- are expected to participate in the Jan. 1 event.
For Japan retailers, Fukubukuro sales carry the same significance as Black Friday does in the U.S.; but in Hawaii, retailers say that it is more of a way to honor the Japanese culture of many residents and visitors than it is to close sales.
Still, New Year's Day traffic at Ala Moana is anticipated to be heavy as shoppers turn out for Fukubukuro, to cash in their gift cards or to return unwanted gifts, said Matthew Derby, Ala Moana Center's director of tourism.
Each year, Fukubukuro at Ala Moana Center gains more popularity, attracting hundreds of shoppers who line up at their favorite store hours in advance, eager to get their hands on at least one of the highly sought- after bags, Derby said.
"It's also a fun way to spend gift cards," he said, adding that the event coincides with the end of the busiest shopping period of the year. The first two weeks of January are typically the time that customers spend gift cards or return unwanted gifts, Derby said.
"We're optimistic that our turnout will be good," he said. "We sold 21 percent more gift cards this year than last and our Fukubukuro event is in its fourth year, so it's becoming a local tradition."
This year, Ala Moana Center anticipates that Fukubukuro will net more than $100,000 in revenue, and that customers will scoop up all 2,015 of the grab bags.
Early-bird shoppers at the 2008 event will have an opportunity to find Fukubukuro deals ranging from $20 to $1,000 and to enjoy live Japanese cultural entertainment at Centerstage by renowned taiko performer Kenny Endo and the Taiko Center of the Pacific, Derby said. And just to keep the event fresh, Ala Moana's Fukubukuro bags will offer a new signature design which features a white tote with many colorful icons.
While Ala Moana Center's Fukubukuro is naturally popular with Japanese visitors, who are acquainted with the custom behind it, it has also been well-supported by kamaaina shoppers, he said.
"Over the years, Fukubukuro has grown in popularity amongst island residents, who plan their first shopping visit of the new year at Ala Moana Center to partake in the festivities," Derby said.
Stephany Sofos, a Honolulu-based retail consultant, said that given Hawaii's penchant for gambling and for borrowing from other cultures, it's not surprising that Fukubukuro has been well received.
"Hawaii loves to gamble and this is kind of a safe bet. It's exciting to know that you'll get something no matter what," Sofos said.
"I think it's growing more popular because everyone is concerned about their dollar and this is something fun."
But, the event is unique enough that it has drawn attention from serious shoppers in Japan and the U.S. mainland, too. Ala Moana's Fukubukuro has earned a mention in a Japan-based blog called Tokyo Savvy and one called Everyday Splurge authored by a 24/7 shopper.