The new year saw thousands of Japan flock to shopping malls and shops, but they weren’t heading out in search of traditional new year bargains, as they might in the West, instead they were queuing for ‘lucky bags’ , or Fukubukuro (福袋, in Japanese).

The bags are pre-sealed, and often the contents will vary, but essentially punters can expect to get a range of items with considerable discount, the catch being that they do know what is in the bag when they buy it. Typically the goodies inside the sealed bag may worth three of more times as much as the price, as this blog on Japanese culture explains.

As Penn Olson points out, the secret bounty from Apple is about as popular as they come in the country and its bags of secret joy were on sale 33,000 Yen, that’s around $430. Fans began lining up outside Apple Stores in Tokyo from the early hours in the hope of getting their hands on an iPhone 4S, MacBook Air, new iPod or any other Apple swag being given away.

This picture from Apple blog Rakunamac shows that Apple attracted a huge number of lucky bag seekers, who braved the dingy weather to queue round the block:

ピクチャ 2012 01 02 10.41.59 520x344 Apples New Year lucky bags lure thousands to its Stores in Japan

The Apple Stores themselves were swamped with the demand, as a photo from Appshot.net shows:

swfupload4d21524d2c602 Apples New Year lucky bags lure thousands to its Stores in Japan

And here’s the contents of one of the bags, this one was snapped up by a blogger at Apple Bank:

luck bag 2 520x346 Apples New Year lucky bags lure thousands to its Stores in Japan

Apple began offering lucky bags in Japan in 2004, and the first had quite a treat, containing a wireless mouse and keyboard, a Griffin iTalk and iTrip, portable speakers, Bluetooth adaptor and more. The event was such a success that is spawned a tradition whereby the company provides lucky bags for customers whenever it opens a new store.

While each bag’s contents is down to chance — some lucky devils got iPads in their $380 bags last year — we can’t help but think that Apple was a little stingier this year. Most punters probably already have an iPod…but let’s face it, who can resist the lure of a secret Apple bargain?