We used to call them "surprise bag" or "sweets bag", and they were a staple at birthday parties - no one would dream of sending the young guests off without one.

Unlike the UK variety, these were nostly home assembled (you could buy colourful little bags for them, though) and often contained home made cookies or came simply in clear sandwich bags.

The more homespun content, the naffer the bag - we all wanted everything store bought and brightly packaged...

Lucky bags, or fukubukuro, attract tens of thousands of consumers to Japan's New Year's Day sales. One store alone claimed 25,000 lucky bag shoppers, and there are reports of injuries during lucky bag stampedes. One blog (http://ceicher.homeunix.com/archives/000301.html) has video of a near riot as 16,000 young women storm a popular Tokyo clothes store, a scene described as "materialism run amok."

A lucky bag is mysterious, their contents are unknown to the shopper until they purchase and open it. You may have heard of them as "mystery bags" because you aren't sure what you are going to get. Typically, they sell for a sum, but the contents are valued as much higher.

For example, the Apple Store Ginza recently fell in with tradition and sold lucky bags, one of which contained "an iSight camera, a Bluetooth USB adapter, a Bluetooth mouse, Apple's Keynote presentation software, a package for the .Mac online services, and a 10 percent discount card for the store." The bag cost 27,000 yen (about $250) and Apple claimed the goods were worth 62,000 yen ($570). They sold like crazy, so Apple's seeing if Americans will pick up the craze as well at their San Francisco store. Some stores in France are also offering lucky bags, but as one person told me, "you get what you pay for."

Lucky bags can actually be worth a lot more in some cases. Not all bags have the same items, and some bundles are actually worth $1000US.

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