Hito Nomi Sugu Yase
February 30 2004.
I spotted this advertisement for 助助身茶(help-help-body-tea) in the Hong Kong subway system. What caught my eye was the Japanese text written alongside the larger Chinese slogan. Before reading the explanation of this picture you might want to refer to This earlier post.
The Chinese phrase of these characters 一飲就痩(at least as I understand the characters from the way they are used in Japanese) translates word by word to ‘one-drink-become-thin.’ Chinese literature has a long history of what are called in Japanese 四字熟語 (pronounced as yo-ji-juku-go), or four character idioms, and I presume that writing an advertising slogan in 4 characters is intended to convey a feeling of classicism reminiscent of these traditional phrases. The woman dressed in a Japanese Kimono in a Japanese style setting also adds to the old-fashioned feeling, but transposes it to Japan.
Alongside the Chinese slogan is a small line of text written in Japanese characters, which I have enlarged in the photo. Now, Japanese is written largely with Chinese characters (called kanji , but they also use natively developed phonetic characters (called kana), which is what these are. Japanese vocabulary is generally divided into the categories of ‘native’ Japanese words, Chinese words (whether actually imported from China or created in Japan by combining Chinese words), and ‘foreign words,’ mostly words imported from European languages (these days mostly English, but going back as far as the 17th century contact with Porteguese.)
I don’t want to get deep into explaining the Japanese language, but the point is that the words written in kana are native Japanese words and not the Chinese derived Japanese words which correspond to those characters. The Japanese words are read as ‘Hito Nomi Sugu Yase,‘ which translates to ‘One sip, soon lose weight.’ Now, kanji can be used to write either native Japanese words or words borrowed from Chinese. Like kanji, tea is something borrowed by Japan from China. The advertiser uses the image of Japan and the refinement of the Japanese tea ceremony to suggest that their tea, while superficially similar to the teas commonly drunk in Hong Kong has some quality of superiority, of a higher level of refinment. By showing the Japanese readings of the Chinese phrase, (the kana is incidentally is not readable for the vast majority of Hong Kong residents that have not studied Japanese), they are showing something else which was borrowed by Japan and changed, and reinforcing the suggestion that this tea with a completely Chinese name is somehow foreign.