Sunday, May 2, 2010

A 2005 New Year - Of Snow and Fukubukuro

1st Jan, 2005 - After an eventful night, we awoke to find the world covered in an even thicker quilt of white, cold snow. The new year would be a cold one, if the first day was anything to go by.

In Japan, there is a concept of the first of the year.. such as the first sunrise (Hatsuhinode) or the first visit of to the local Shinto Shrine (Hatsumōde)... in this case it was going to be the first snow-shovel of the year. I'm not sure what you would call that in Japanese... Actually T-chan's family are lucky (with a new-ish house) in that they have a heated driveway.... however, on a bad day, even that doesn't help you!

T-chan helps - but I get the feeling that she's a little over-dressed. One of the down-sides of coming back to Japan from Australia is that you often don't bring a wide range of clothes. Certainly not enough clothes for every occasion.

It wasn't such good weather to visit Hokkaido Shrine, so we looked for nearer things to do... After clearing the driveway and cars, T-chan and I go to do some New Years shopping at the local Seiyu store (a cross between supermarket and department store)... 

There's a tradition in Japan of the "fukubukuro" (or lucky bag). It's based on the idea of a lucky dip - a shop will often have a range of sealed bags which can be purchased at reasonable prices 2,000 - 10,000 yen. You don't know (generally) what's inside until you've bought it, but it's generally (fingers crossed) a good bargain. The good thing about buying fukubukuro is that you can always on-sell on the internet auction sites (the discounts are often > 50+% off), so you can even come out of it with a little pocket money if you don't like what you find. I was happy with my choice - 

Actually Seiyu was controlled by Walmart (the US giant) who purchased a controlling share in December 2005 - and since they have owned it, the chain supermarket/department store has been going downhill. It just goes to show that some commercial business models do not translate well in a global economy. There have been some positives however with Seiyu being one of the first retailers to gain ISO 14001 certification for eco-management in 2007 (well before green-bonanza - which faded into the green-almost-revolution as the world's economies headed south in the global financial crisis). Unfortunately, Walmart didn't appreciate that the Japanese actually would pay more for quality - and infact, did not necessarily respond well to the "we sell for less" mantra.

Shopping over, we headed  back home. The rest of Sapporo was looking like a premonition of things to come. New Years Day in Japan is always pretty quiet - with people electing to spend quality time at home instead. Of course, it doesn't help when the weather's cold out.

The local shops are "on holidays" for the day... but it won't take long for business to pick-up again (even with a lot of snow). It's nice to know that even in the heart of the capitalist dream, that the Japanese can take time out to relax (when they're not buying fukubukuro).

Despite the snow of the night before, the snow-tractors (employed  by the local government to keep the roads clear) are often out of commission on New Years Day in the suburban streets. Anyway - it's meant to be a holiday isn't it?

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