Packaging Design for the Japanese New Year

Posted By Nathan Hoernig

What’s New Years in Japan?

New Years in Japan isn’t like it is in a lot of western countries. The Japanese celebrate New Years with family, a trip to the shrine and with select foods called osechi. Packaging design also gets a taste of New Years and that’s what this article is all about.

How do Japanese food manufacturers utilize the New Years festivities in packaging design?

Being Lucky

In Japan, there are a lot of ways to encourage the luck of your personal life and even your business. If you read our recent blog on Disney in Japan, you’ll have noticed that I talked a bit about a specific symbol of good luck called the daruma. In case you missed that, here’s that image one more time:

daruma doll

The daruma, though actually a toy, is primarily considered a good luck charm in Japanese society and has been used by adults and children alike to signify and encourage the pursuit of a goal. Traditionally, only one of the daruma’s eyes is drawn in when purchased. Once your goal is achieved, you yourself draw in the second eye.

If you’re really superstitious and would like to guarantee your luck, you could probably take this a step further and not only purchase a daruma doll, but buy some daruma-packaged snacks! Why just have your luck when you can eat it too?

Tonkatsu Burgers

tonkatsu burger

Tonkatsu are breaded and fried pork cutlets often served with shredded cabbage, miso soup and rice. They’re usually eaten with a special sauce (basically a mixture of worcestershire sauce and ketchup), honey mustard or Japanese karashi.

This is a lucky tonkatsu sandwich that wishes you the best of luck on your tests and supports the good luck that comes with the opening of the cherry blossoms in spring.

Daruma Cider

daruma cider bottle

“Cider” in Japanese, is actually just a lemon or lime drink (think Sprite or 7-up). This one came in a glass bottle and guaranteed good luck when drunk!

Koala March

koala march box

You may recognize this package if you are from a western country. You may also know them by a different name: Koala Yummies, though the Japanese call them “Koala March”.

What’s really great about this packaging is that the good luck references don’t stop at the daruma version of the koala. On the bottom left, the panda’s sign hopes (again) for the blossoming of the cherry blossoms in spring—the sign of a bright future. The Koala with its paw up holds a tablet that says (quite directly), money—we’ll see more of this money reference in the next example! Even the daruma has two characters on his chest that read “goukaku” or passing a test. Considering they’re snacks geared towards a younger crowd, it makes sense that this would be the primary message.

Canael Corn

canael corn bag

Canael is actually the roman spelling for the japanese word kanaeru. Kanau means “to come true” (such as a wish). By changing the ending into “eru”, it becomes “able to come true”. A clever way to market the product.

This packaging features, not a daruma but a cat. This is a maneki neko, or “welcoming cat”.

You’ll notice that the paw is raised. In western states when beckoning someone to come over we often reach out the hand, palm up and fold our fingers back to motion them over. In Japan, the same action is done with the palm down. This is how Japanese people invite others over. This is the action that the maneki neko is doing.

This is often used in businesses to invite customers (id est, financial stability), thus the reference to money as mentioned above.

On this package, again, we see reference to test-taking and the ethereal cherry blossom.


omamori ukaru bag

These are basically like Japanese “Cheetos” but a bit lighter in flavor. They’re called Ukaru. The packaging for this version of Ukaru is based around the Japanese Omamori.

Omamori is a good luck charm often sold at temples. The name literally means protection. An individual, of any religious background, can purchase one and use it towards a specific goal. Some are geared towards safe-driving, others are to ward off evil, there are many varieties.

These puffy snacks feature a full omamori-style packaging redesign. The negative space emulates the surface of the omamori. Even the “Ukaru” name is made to resemble the embroidered stitching commonly found on the talisman. Can you guess what purpose this “omamori” is serving? If you’ve read up to here, you should have a pretty good idea, based off the previous examples. Compare the characters if you’re not sure.

How lucky Are You?

In order to write this blog, I had to purchase all these products for the sake of taking the proper photos. That being said, I also ate/drank all of them. I think I’m pretty set on good luck for the year (though I haven’t bought a daruma, a maneki neko or an omamori…).

How’s your luck for the year? Have you invested in a good luck charm to keep your future looking bright?

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