Japan's stores look to lure reluctant shoppers

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The Independent Online

Still reeling from one of their worst years on record, many of Japan's department stores are planning to break with tradition and open on New Year's Day.

Long considered the one day on the Japanese calendar that the entire family should spend together, department store operators are this year hoping to attract consumers by cutting prices and providing more " fukubukuro," or lucky gift bags.
The Shibuya branch of Parco will be open for business at 10 am on Friday, company spokesman Keisuke Nakaya told Relaxnews.

One of the busiest shopping districts in the city, Shibuya is also close to Meiji Shrine, the most famous in Tokyo, and store operators hope to attract people on their way home after praying for success and happiness in the year ahead.

Sale signs are already prominent in the windows of most department stores, along with posters advertising lucky gift bags - sealed bags that sell for a flat fee but contain goods worth many times that amount. Typically, a bag will sell for Y15,000 (€114) and contain clothes, jewelry or cosmetics worth around Y50,000 (€379).

Top-of-the-range fukubukuro - by Prada, Louis Vuitton or some of the most famous jewelers - retail for Y1 million (€7,575). And to meet the demand for people looking for the perfect partner, several stores are offering bags that will help snare him or her, such as fashionable new clothes and tickets for two on a romantic dinner cruise.

Another element in the stores' favor is the fact that most people have had shorter New Year holidays this year - five days is the average due to the way the holidays fall - and they are required to return to work on January 4.

That has meant that fewer people are travelling, both domestically and overseas, than in a usual year. According to Japan Railways, reservations for seats between January 1 and 5 are down 14 percent from the previous year, while overseas tour operators are reporting a decline of more than four percent in holiday bookings.

Retailers are hoping that the urge to spend will still be strong as they usher in the New Year and that the economy picks up as 2010 progresses.