Our reporter gets the inside scoop!

If you go to the electronics, maid-cafe, and anime neighborhood of Akihabara on the morning of New Year’s Day, you’ll see people lining up all over the place. You can hardly walk without bumping into a line. Why? Because people are lining up for the chance to buy one of the electronic shop’s Lucky Boxes, which contain special deals on desirable kitchen gadgets, phones, tablets, gaming consoles, beauty items, and more.

Two years ago, our Japanese-language reporter Seiji Nakazawa found tremendous value in the digital camera lucky box from electronics store Bic Camera Akiba, which he just happened to buy on a whim. It was a stroke of tremendously good luck, since it was one of only five lucky boxes that contained a digital camera set that sold for 29,800 yen (currently US$209.90).

Last year, not forgetting that experience, he made sure to line up early in the morning in order to have lucky box success once again. Though they would start selling the boxes at nine, he arrived at seven in the morning, when ten or so people were waiting, but no staff was present to establish a proper line. By around 7:50 a.m., shop associates had appeared and were starting to organize the now thirty or so people clustered around them into four lines. There hadn’t been any rhyme or reason to who got to stand at the front of the lines, so it seemed that it was a “whoever was there was there” kind of situation.

At eight o’clock, about 100 people had filled up the lines, and just a half hour later the number of people in line had doubled or even tripled. By nine o’clock, it was one of the biggest lines in Akihabara.

Unfortunately, Bic Camera has both lottery-only lucky boxes and first-come-first-served lucky boxes, and the Sim-Free Smart Phone Lucky Box that Seiji wanted to buy last year was by lottery only, so even though he’d lined up early, he didn’t win the lottery and wasn’t able to buy one.

This year, Seiji decided to try to game the system differently. Though last year he concluded that it’d be best to arrive at 7:50, just before the explosion of people, if there’s something on the first-come-first-served list he really wanted to buy, he didn’t really want to get there so early, since it was New Year’s day, it was winter (and therefore cold), and he would be there for a long time anyway.

That’s why Seiji strolled up to the square behind Bic Camera where the lines were forming at about 8:20. Reception was already set up by then and the staff had begun establishing the lines. When Seiji took his place in line, he received a “Line-cutting prevention ticket” (which is not the same as a service number ticket because he still had to stay in line if he wanted to buy something). It designated him as number 86 in line.

What he wanted to buy was the same Sim-free Smart Phone Lucky Box, but this year it was a first-come-first-served item. There were two boxes, one that was 21,800 yen, and one that was 24,800 yen, and there were only 10 of each. Seiji really wanted one, but would there be any left for number 86?

At nine o’clock, the line began to move. When Seiji glanced behind him, he noticed the lines had swelled to about 200 or 300 people, which was about the same amount as last year. Though he was somewhere in the middle of the line, it only took about 14 minutes for Seiji to get to the purchase counter. Would the Sim-free Smart Phone Lucky Box 2024 still be in stock? The staff showed him the listing of items still available, with those already gone marked with a big black “X”…

Both sets were still available! Seiji successfully managed to get Sim-free Smart Phone Box No. 1.

Surprisingly, quite a lot of first-come-first-served items were still available. What Seiji learned from this was that what people most wanted to buy were the cameras and computers that have the best discounts. When Seiji’s turn came, those were all gone, but there were still some pretty good options, like a Nintendo Switch and wireless headphones.

However, by the time the lines had filtered out, most of the good stuff was gone, and what remained were things like electric shavers that felt kind of like “leftovers”.

Seiji was rather pleased with his 8:20 arrival and the success of his lucky box shopping. If you plan to shop at Bic Camera’s lucky box sales next year, maybe his experience will help you. If you want a high-value item, it’s probably better to arrive just as they start forming the lines, at around 7:50. But if you want a lottery item or something less in-demand, you might be okay if you arrive later like Seiji, and you might be done within an hour or two as well!

Now, I’m sure you’re curious about what was actually inside the Sim-free Smart Phone Lucky Box 2024, which Seiji bought for 21,800 yen.

It contained a Xiaomi Japan Redmi Note 11 Pro 5G smart phone.

When Seiji looked it up, he learned it usually sells used for 24,000 to 30,000 yen, and new for 34,402 yen on Amazon. As far as lucky bags go, buying it at 21,800 yen wasn’t any kind of mind-boggling discount, but for Seiji, who was still stuck with his 64-gigabyte, 2017 iPhone X, the Redmi Note 11 Pro’s 128 gigabytes of storage was a nice upgrade.

What’s more, the camera has four different lenses, which is what really got Seiji excited. Maybe it was his chance to finally make the leap from Apple to another operating system!

What will we unbox next? Stay tuned to find out what we spent our hard-earned money on this year!

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[ Read in Japanese ]