Aji Ichiban

Aji Ichiban
Japan is one of the dominant exporters of pop culture in the world, possibly the only country that even comes close to rivaling the United States in this field. While the English speaking parts of the world are oddly resistant to foreign language films, popular music and so on, most other countries have no trouble with it. As seems natural, Japan’s close neighbors (particularly Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong, where the standard of living and consumer culture are most similar to Japan) have the biggest culture exchange.

Young woman carrying Aji Ichiban shopping bags around is a common sight in Hong Kong. Notice that she is standing in front of an American style bar entirely sans-Chinese.

This store is an example of the popularity Japanese pop culture has in Hong Kong. This candy store, despite being a completely Hong Kong owned and operated business, has a Japanese name and bases a lot of their appeal on the Japanese image. While it does have Japanese candy, it’s hardly a specialist shop and puts the stuff in bins right next to mini Nestle bars or more local style sweets. The name is also peculiar. The name written in the Roman alphabet is ‘Aji Ichiban,’ which is Japanese for ‘Taste Number 1’ and is written as ‘味一番.’ In Chinese/Japanese characters, the name is written 優の良品、which in Japanese would be pronounced as ‘Yuu no Ryouhin’ and translates to ‘Quality Goods of Excellence.’ The first, third and fourth characters are Chinese characters, which are also used in Japan, and are normally read with the local pronounciation anywhere in China or Japan, and generally with the same meaning. The second character(の), however, is the phonetic Japanese character for the syllable ‘no‘ and as a merely phonetic character does not have any intrinsic meaning. However, in this case it is being used to represent the possessive particle in Japanese grammar (hence the ‘of’ when translated). The phonetic syllabary of Japanese (hiragana or katakana, depending on style. In this case the hiragana form of the character is being used) does not exist in Chinese and has no meaning whatsoever to a typical Chinese person, so the presence of this character in the name is what gives the name a particularly Japanese feeling.

Now, this may seem like mere trivia, but there is a point. While not coming directly from Chinese, the Japanese hiragana characters did evolve from them, specifically from the cursive style calligraphic forms of the Chinese characters. In the case of the character の(no), it was derived from the character 的(pronounced teki in Japanese). The really interesting thing is that the meaning of 的 (pronounced de in Mandarin Chinese) in Chinese is as a possessive marker – the same function that の(no), which was derived from it, serves in this store’s name. I imagine this is in fact why that character was chosen as the basis for this particular symbol- because the grammatical particle written with this particular syllablic character has the same meaning as the original Chinese character. To return from a mild tangent: the important thing is that while の is used for its value as a symbol of Japanness, it is also recognizable to most Hong Kong citizens for its meaning.

の has actually become popular in advertising in Hong Kong, and not just in cases that have any particular Japan feeling to them. For example, here is an ordinary flyer for some kind of social activity.

This flyer says ‘Haru no Yuu‘ or ‘Fun in the Spring.’ Interestingly, the の looks like it might have been a piece of clip art, which would be appropriate for the way in which it has been adopted as a symbol in Hong Kong.