Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

Hong Kong exchange

September 18, 2009

Exploring a couple of blocks on a sweltering late summer day, I felt at home in this energetic, bustling Asian city where streets teem with buses and streetcars, and people shout into cellphones on the subway or in front of stores and restaurants with signs written in Japanese letters.

A Tokyo afternoon? No, I was vacationing in Hong Kong.



Japan, some 64 years after its war-time occupation ended, is the second biggest exporter to Hong Kong after mainland China, according to data from Hong Kong’s Census and Statistics Department, while its business and cultural icons dot the island.

Given this, the territory’s proximity to Japan and the increasing enthusiasm for Japanese popular culture in all corners of the world, it would be reasonable to expect a fairly visible Japanese influence in Hong Kong. But the extent of the city’s love affair with all things Japanese bowled me over.

Sushi restaurants may be common in many countries now, but in Hong Kong it seems they are everywhere. Yoshinoya, the Japanese beef bowl restaurant chain, spans the city, nearly as ubiquitous as Starbucks in the United States. And among an apparently endless traffic flow, some buses sport ads for Nissin’s “Demae Iccho” ramen noodles — delivered all the way to Hong Kong.

promiseIn a sign that even Japanese borrowing has been exported, consumer lender Promise’s ATMs are sprinkled among the island’s retailers, while Toyota, Honda and Subaru dealerships are also hard to miss.

At grocery stores, vegetable signs declare produce was imported from Japan with Japanese writing covering a wide range of foods from cookies to pre-made curry.

But except for one salesman at a camera shop who recommended Canon and Nikon digital cameras, most locals thought I was a Hong Konger and almost always spoke to me in Cantonese, usually followed by an unfortunate, awkward silence as, regrettably, I don’t speak the language.

I was lost in translation in a strange way in a setting that seemed familiar.

One day during my stay, an American friend living there gave me instructions on how to find a bus stop: I should take the left once I found a “Taiyaki” shop, a  Japanese sweet bean sandwich store, in an area ”like a little Shibuya” in his words.

On the bus, a woman with a little girl sat next to me. The child started eating a Japanese rice cracker, while the lady braided the girl’s hair with a smiling Hello Kitty hair band.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Kimimasa Mayama – night view, REUTERS/Aiko Hayashi – Promise

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