If there is one lesson that I’ve learnt from my first months in Japan then I think that it’s this: If it looks familiar, it’s probably different.
What I mean is that while Japan has what I think is a unique ability to assimilate and incorporate traditions, ideas, culture, art – you name it – from other cultures, it almost invariably changes it. The change can range from ever so slightly, to absolutely, completely, totally.
One recent example was Christmas which is in the Western world associated with, amongst other things, Coca Cola. Not so in Japan. Here Kentucky Fried Chicken is a big deal for Christmas, and you can literally see lines go around the block on Christmas day.
Something similar has happened to the idea of January sales, as one of my students recently told me about.
Here, Japan started with a tradition of its own and added the idea of a sales. As summed up by Wikipedia:
“Fukubukuro (福袋?, [ɸu͍ku͍bu͍ku͍ɽo], “lucky bag”, “mystery bag”) is a Japanese New Year custom in which merchants make grab bags filled with unknown random contents and sell them for a substantial discount, usually 50% or more off the list price of the items contained within. The low prices are usually done to attract customers to shop at that store during the new year.”
So basically, you rush into a store, grab a bag full of unknown contents, pay your money, rush home, open the bag and then see what you’ve actually bought.
Personally, I simply love this concept to bits.