When most people think of a lottery, lotteries such as the takarakuji national lottery or a football lottery with cash prizes probably come to mind.
In Japan, a different kind of lottery has been on the rise with anime or game character goods as prizes.
The character goods come in a variety of forms, including clear files, cell-phone straps, drinking glasses, PVC figures and even huggy pillow cases. For a ¥500 kuji (lottery ticket), you may get a character item costing more than ¥500, or one that costs about that much.
Some may wonder if such lotteries could ever be popular. The short answer is yes. They have really caught on in Japan.
Long lines of fans can be seen at kuji sales outlets well before they open when a new lottery is announced. Many fans buy multiple kuji, although they are sometimes far from cheap. As a result, some of the lotteries are over minutes after the shop hosting them opens.
If this phenomenon happened only at specialist anime goods shops, such as Animate - where I work as the store manager of a small branch in Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture - it could be regarded as yet another example of the great enthusiasm exhibited by hardcore Japanese anime fans. The scary thing is that this system has spread to as many as 50,000 or so convenience stores across the country.
In other words, the character goods lottery has become part of everyday life in this country. Participating in the lotteries at convenience stores has become as common as buying a bento lunch to eat at the office.
This phenomenon is even more impressive in light of the tight economic situation in Japan. In these circumstances, many people are racking their brains to minimise lunch expenses at a time when their real wages are falling, sometimes paying only about ¥500 for a bento and a drink at a convenience store.
But even workers on such tight budgets find their determination to cut expenses weaken when they see that their favourite anime character has become a prize in a new lottery. The allure of the lotteries seems to be almost magical.
Behind this allure may be the Japanese love for festivals and events. Think of how St. Valentine's Day and Christmas are celebrated with gusto in this country - a country with a relatively low number of Christians - and you'll get the idea. Japanese people seem to enjoy an event or situation just as an end in itself.
Witness the Japanese willingness to stand in a line for a long time without complaint. I think the main factor here is that sharing time and experiences in line with friends with common goals matters more than the annoyance of standing in a line for a long time.
The same attitude is seen in lotteries for anime and games prizes. Friends cooperate to arrange the purchase of kuji on the day they go on sale, without even knowing which character goods they will win. From all this, we can conclude that these new lotteries suit the nature of Japanese people terrifyingly well.
This seemingly magical power of the character goods lottery is extremely potent. It not only causes customers to lose their good judgement but it also drives shop assistants to exhibit odd behaviour. Some of them put on a happi coat, which is traditionally worn on festive occasions, or they don a costume related to the featured anime or game, and they face the occasion with an unusual degree of excitement, although it may be only the first day of a lottery and it's likely no one has asked them to dress up for it.
This is clearly a case of the spirit of omotenashi (hospitality) going out of control - they just want to give a chance to enjoy an exciting, fun atmosphere to disappointed customers who couldn't win what they wanted or who couldn't even buy a ticket. At any rate, the lottery is just a vehicle to move merchandise. However, it is a behemoth of a system with unfathomable influence.
While this lottery, with its formidable allure, is available at convenience stores and other shops, Animate is the only place where you can buy "Anikuji," a specialised lottery themed on anime. Animate developed this lottery after years of studies, and we take pride in producing it for anime fans. Each month there is a new lineup of featured anime, so it's a must-see for fans.
In a way, character goods represent the characteristics of Japanese really well. If you are interested, please come visit an Animate shop to see this aspect of Japanese culture.