Before all of Japan had gacha machines, Kyoto had fukudama, and the coffeehouse chain is helping make sure the city still does.

Capsule toys seem like a thoroughly modern part of Japanese life, and yes, it’s true that back in the samurai days Japan didn’t have rows of gacha machines for people to toss a few coins of pocket change into in exchange for a random Studio Ghibli figure or origami crane folded by a gyaru.

Capsule toys do have a sort of cultural predecessor, though, in fukudama. Literally translating as “lucky balls,” fukudama are part of a unique New Year’s tradition that was practiced in Kyoto’s Gion neighborhood, the city’s geisha district. The fukudama was a spherical capsule with a good-luck charm inside, some sort of figurine with an auspicious association. The capsules were given to geisha and children for New Year’s Eve, and as the last echoes of the temple bells rung at midnight to signal the start the new year faded, they’d open the fukudama and see exactly what was inside.

Fast forwarding to the modern day, Starbucks Japan has a few branches in Higashiyama, the ward of Kyoto that includes Gion, so as part of the coffeehouse chain’s commitment to contributing to the local cultural community they’re offering fukudama for the upcoming New Year’s season. A total of six different designs are being offered at Starbucks’ Kyoto Gion Hotel, Keihan Gion Shijo Station, and Kyoto Ninenzaka Yasaka Chaya branches.

In keeping with the tradition, you won’t know what’s inside until you open it, but you can slightly narrow down your prediction since certain items are only available at specific locations.

Staring things off, since Japan observes the start of the new Chinese Zodiac animal year on January 1, there’s an earthenware rabbit decked out in Starbucks’ green image color to mark the Year of the Rabbit in 2023. The rabbit, along with the komainu (lion dog) and crawling baby, are available at all three fukudama-selling Starbucks.

Each branch will also have an exclusive maneki neko (beckoning cat) not offered at the other two. Maneki neko are popular good-luck symbols all year round, with their waving paw symbolizing all the prosperity and happy interpersonal connections that are coming your way.

Calico maneki neko: Exclusive to Kyoto Gion Hotel branch

Black maneki neko: Exclusive to Kyoto Ninenzaka Yasaka Chaya branch

White maneki neko: Exclusive to Keihan Gion Shijo Station branch

The figurines are made by local artisans as part of Starbucks Japan’s Jimoto Made Series, and each is also an earthenware bell, which explains why they’re also priced higher than ordinary capsule toys at 2,530 yen (US$18). In addition to decorating your home, they’re also sized just right to adorn a coffee cup, so they’ll help you keep track of your drink at the office or during cafe breaks with a group of friends in the new year.

Starbucks fukudama are on sale between now and February 3.

Source: Starbucks Japan, Entabe
Images: Starbucks
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