Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Hinamatsuri (Girls Doll Festival Day in Japan)

Hinamatsuri is a day for girls in Japan. On March 3rd, Japanese families who have a girl celebrate the growth and development of the girl. A set of beautifully costumed dolls, which belong to the girl is taken out for display, with decoration of blossomed peach branches.

A set of dolls consists of a pair of prince and princess (emperor and empress), ladies in waiting, musicians, and the list goes on and on, depending on the family's financial circumstances and the availability of space. Some families have an antique doll set, which have been passed down to generations.

When a girl is born, parents or grandparents buy a set of dolls for her. But many households don't have enough space to display two or three full sets of dolls. So that when the second or the third girl is born, the set tend to be abbreviated or smaller.

I always had weird feeling towards hinamatsuri, since my childhood. My parents weren't poor, but we belonged to humble working class. They didn't have enough time and interest to invest to this kind of vanity. But they still bought dolls for me and for my sisters, just because they were supposed to do so. The day wasn't particularly special or joyous.

I suspect that the custom of buying a set of gorgeous dolls to every single Japanese girl is rather recent phenomena, because many Japanese people were perpetually poor until late 1950s. Only wealthy families must have cerebrated the occasion with antique dolls which have been passed down to generations.

More than ten years ago, I went back to Japan around the time of hinamatsuri. I opened one of the closets in a very quiet house. There, I found my dolls. I remembered the busy and noisy days of my childhood, and I realized that I was deeply yarning for what I hated when I was growing up.

Monday, February 18, 2013


Every year at the beginning of January, as soon as stores open, frenzied Japanese shoppers run to buy a bag full of packaged goods called fukubukuro. Fukubukuro is a combination of the word fuku, which means luck and fukuro, which means bag. When it's translated, it would be some sort of lucky bag.

There exists an infinite number of fukubukuros. Some bags contain cosmetics, some bags contain famous designer name brand clothes, others games, depending on the stores. 

The prices also vary significantly, but most bags are from the $10 to $100 range.

The big catch is, buyers must purchase the bag without knowing what is inside. And no returns and exchanges are allowed, even if you buy a fukubukuro at a favorite name brand fashion store and happen to get a pair of shoes you absolutely can't wear. 

All fukubukuros are designed to provide good value to buyers. Most fukubukuros offer twice the value of the price, and sometimes even better. It's one of the convenient methods to control inventory for sellers. Therefore, every new year, Japanese rush to department stores looking for good luck and a better deal.

I am one of the people who never bought a fukubukuro. I was never lured by the idea of getting a good deal without knowing what I'm buying. I just can't understand the psychology of buying unknown items. I tend to think buying a fukubukuro is similar to buying a lottery ticket; a waste of money. 

I thought fukubukuros only exist in Japan, but according to the Japanese language wiki, Apple stores have sold "lucky bags" at the grand opening of flagship stores since 2004 in the United States. Bundled subprime loans are also basically based on the same idea that are behind fukubukuros, as Toyo Keizai Online, a Japanese magazine writes in its article. You just don't know what you are buying.

So, Fukubukuros may not be an exclusively Japanese idea after all.

Monday, February 4, 2013

It's a Finger Sack, Not a Cat Condom

Over the time, I found out that some standard convenient items in Japan are not existed in the United States. Horse oil I wrote about the other day is one item, and here is another. Finger sacks.

They may look like cat condoms, but they provide water tight protection to injured fingers. Your finger will not get wet while doing dishes, washing your hands, and taking shower, so that you don't have to go through annoying pains, and soggy band aides.

Sometimes they are also used to provide better grip when handling bills or turning pages. In Japan many cashers at grocery stores and bank tellers are using them. Because a finger sack fits tightly to individual fingers, it provides better grip than wearing gloves.

They are common items in Japan, and any discount stores sell a package at about $1.00 or so. I looked around my neighborhood drug stores, when I cut one of my fingers badly, but I didn't find any.

Last year when I visited Japan, remembering the painful experience, I purchased a package and brought it back to the United States. My husband looked slightly upset when I was using one. But it does the job!