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TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Forget the recession, at least for now in Japan, where it's time for some mystery New Year's shopping designed to cast off the economic gloom.
Thousands of shoppers queued for hours in front of department stores across Japan on Friday to buy limited-edition, traditional New Year's "goodie" bags in what has become one of the biggest events of the holiday season.
The so-called Lucky Bags are priced between 10,000 yen ($110) and 30,000 yen, and are completely sealed, with nothing to indicate the contents.
But experienced shoppers know that they are often filled with fashionable accessories and clothes at a substantial discount, which makes them especially desirable during the current financial crisis.
In Tokyo's glitzy Ginza shopping district, excited shoppers dashed inside the Mitsukoshi department store to grab over 20,000 lucky bags.
"There's this excitement before you open your bag, then comes the surprise and some degree of disappointment, but most of the time I'm happy with what I get," said Hisayo Kuwabara, a 52-year-old part-time worker.
Some shoppers sought to banish the economic gloom with these festive bags.
"Though the economy is worsening, I wanted to buy some lucky bags because it is sold at a discounted price. I also wanted to get some luck in this recession," said Eiichi Kakegawa, a 47-year-old businessman.
Takashi Masuko, director of "Lucky Bags" operations at Mitsukoshi, said the yearly shopping extravaganza is especially popular this year.
"People tend to buy more Lucky Bags during a recession," he said.
"We've been preparing for this day since last August, and since we were expecting some recession ahead, we changed the volume and items of our bags to better satisfy our customers at times like this."
The economy appears set for a gloomy 2009 in Japan, as firms cut their outlooks and industrial output slumps.
Most economists say a recovery in Japan will have to wait until global demand picks up. Some say that will not happen until the final quarter of next year, at the earliest.
Writing by Yoko Kubota, editing by Miral Fahmy