While the first temple visit is undoubtedly important for quite a lot of people, the tradition that really get people going is the new year sale, complete with "Lucky Bags". On January second, most stores open for one of the big sales of the year - children have New Years money burning in their pockets; salarymen have their year-end bonuses in the bank and the whole family is probably feeling a little cooped-up and frustrated after three or four days of enforced free time spent with each other and with assorted relatives.
Shinsaibashi shopping street on the second day of the year. If you ever wonder what a lot of Japanese do as a hobby wonder no more. Of course, just like us many people come out to watch the crowds as much as anything else.
The idea of lucky bags, fukubukuro, is that the store packs bags with merchandize and sells them with a hefty rebate, and you buy them without knowing exactly what you'll be getting. In practice, sometimes you'll be shown exactly what you'll get and sometimes it will be a complete surprise. They can range in price from a few hundred yen up to hundreds of thousands of yen, and cover such diverse items as clothing (you do get to pick a bag your size), skin care products, camera accessories, cars (you know the overall type but not the model or color) and - I'm not kidding - a wedding ceremony and reception.
This fukubukuro at a men's suit store is where the idea of lucky bags kind of fall apart. You're supposed to be surprised by the contents, after all, but I'm just not convinced that "dark suit, white shirt, striped tie" will be any kind of surprise for a patron of this store. Of course I could be wrong and you actually get a pearl-white tuxedo and top hat with sparklies. I doubt it, though.
We had to buy one lucky bag of some sort, and you can never go wrong with food. This bag was bought at a pickles store, and contains a number of umeboshi-related goodies. We got actual umeboshi to the left; small onions pickled in ume and shiso vinegar, then pickled ume to the center right. In the front is shredded, dried umeboshi to spread on your rice, and in the back right caramel candies with umeboshi bits inside. I may have to go back for more of those candies one day; they're really excellent and Ritsuko has already eaten most of the ones we got.