Monday morning, the 1st, Ma Li and I headed to Oita through freezing rain to go to a kickass department store / mall on the southern outskirts of town. There had been some preliminary discussion amongst us as to whether anything would actually be *open* on New Year’s Day, but Ma Li was determined to lay her hands on a totally awesome “fukubukuro” so we had gone ahead and hopped a train on over.
Once at Oita-eki, we walked (I hobbled) over to the bus terminal and took a seat. There were a few people around, although not as many as one would expect, but we were oblivious and sat there merrily chatting for 30 minutes until the bus came… except it didn’t. So we waited for another one that was due 10 minutes later but would also take us to the mall… and it didn’t come either. And so after ~45min of waiting around in the cold we decided to mosey on over and check the bus schedule… wouldn’t you know it – special schedule on New Year’s… and… no bus today!
“Hey, we can just visit some of the nice department stores around the station (of which there are 3),” we thought, and of course it was then that we noticed that they looked closed… as did everything else in the whole goddamn town.
Ultimately, hobbling along, we did discover that ONE of the three department stores – Forus – was open. This was a win-lose sort of thing as Forus is the backward inbred cousin to the other two fine shopping establishments, but we were happy to get in out of the cold and wet so in we went. Ma Li immediately spotted a fukubukuro up for sale from a small trendy jewelry shop called Bloom.
So what are these fukubukuro?
Well, in theory, to show their appreciation for your patronage all sorts of stores put together awesome bags of loot for New Years and you buy this bag full of unknown treasure but you’re allegedly guaranteed to get much more value in the bag than what you’ve paid for it.
Did that make sense?
I’ll try again… the stores throw a ton of crap in a bag once a year, then they sell it to you, and they promise that what’s IN the bag is worth 2 or 3 times what you’ve paid for the bag… the hitch of course being that you don’t know what you’ve got until you open it.
These bags run from $10 to $150 in my experience, and I’m sure go even higher at better stores.
So yeah, Ma Li saw one by a jewelry place that she just had to have for $30…
I should add that this was her first fukubukuro ever…
As I rested my weary knee at Starbucks she unpacked her awesome Bloom bag… only to find it full of cheap silver jewelry with ugly plastic accessories. That sort of shit could have come out of any old gumball machine. The poor girl was crushed. Her first fukubukuro experience, after dozens of friends telling her how great they were and urging her to get one, and she buys a big steaming turd.
So we window-shopped the rest of the afternoon and then began looking for someplace to eat dinner. Once again though, everything was closed. We wandered the restaurant district near the station past shuttered cafe after shuttered cafe. The only place we could find open was an Indian curry joint actually run by Indians… as much as I like to support the business of hardworking foreigners in Japan, it was bad timing — we had made curry ourselves the night before and weren’t about to go back to back.
Finally though we came around one more corner, actually heading back to the station at this point, and found an izakaya that was open. Izakaya are places where people go to drink, but also to eat small portions of delicious food. In this respect it’s therefore placed somewhere between a bar and a restaurant… perhaps a pub?
Anyhow, this place had “nabe” — which literally translates into “pot.” I’d never had it, Ma Li had once or twice, so in we went. When you order nabe you get a magnificent stew that’s made at your table while you wait and watch – we ate like kings.
It was a cozy little joint, and we were quite happy.
See that switch hanging down in the center of the picture from the light? I thought for sure it was exactly that, a light switch. So, after we had seated ourselves I grabbed it and pressed it… and nothing happened. So I pressed it about 40 more times in rapid succession… and that’s when the breathless waiter came skidding to a halt next to our table.
It seems my ‘light switch’ was actually the service call button… and while I was busily trying to ‘make it work’ the bell in the kitchen was going DING! DING! DING! DING! DING! DING! DING! DING! DING! — haha, thatta boy Drew!
Here’s a nice close-up shot of our nabe right after it arrived and before it had really started cooking.
We ordered a couple of side dishes – a very small and yet still utterly delicious okonomiyaki and some lightly roasted tuna.. uhh… hunks?
After 20 minutes or so the nabe was really going crazy, so I took another picture to show you what it looks like when it’s just about ready to eat.
After a long, cold, and wet day of frustration over no buses and everything being closed, it felt really good to curl up together in that comfy little izakaya and relax – Happy New Year!
Oh, and the fukubukuro?
Well, we finally made it out to the original destination – Wasada Town Mall – the following afternoon. Ma Li bought a $30 bag from the finest department store in town that weighed about 500lbs and which the sales lady – after confessing she recognized me from TV! – assured us contained at least $150 worth of goods!
In hindsight, I should have taken Ma Li up on her offer to take pictures of what was actually INSIDE the boxes, but here are the boxes themselves! It was finally a successful fukubukuro though, Ma Li got a whole pile of really nice picture frames, dishes, cups, wine glasses, and serving… things. Did we get $150 worth? I dunno, but it was certainly much much more than $30 and that’s good enough for me!
And that’s that. As I write this sentence it’s 1pm Wednesday afternoon and I’m due back at the hospital by 4… I’ll probably be late. I don’t know how long the rest of my stay will be, but hopefully not more than a week or two. In the meantime we’ll try and get dopey — err, dear brother Steven — to resume his duties and keep posting my journals for me.
Take care everyone, Happy New Year!