2016-Year of the Monkey in Japan: Symbols and Superstitions-Kit Kats and Red Underwear!

Posted on 16 December 2015 in Cultural Awareness, Market Insight -

I was fascinated to read about how in 1966, the year of the fire horse, which comes around every 60 years, the birth rate in Japan dropped dramatically as people did not want to have children, especially girls, with the characteristics associated with this zodiac sign (fiery, headstrong, rebellious and overall bad luck).

Although this speaks volumes about the attitude towards ideal character traits of females in Japan (another blog’s worth perhaps) it also gives a fascinating insight into the superstitions evident in Japan, which are very much part of its cultural landscape. Symbols, tradition and stories all form part of a culture, much as anywhere around the world. The Japanese zodiac is accepted in modern day society and naturally the world of commerce and retailers use it as a powerful selling tool.

Kit Kat, which has been an immense success story in Japan, due to its understanding of Japanese tastes and customs (gift giving, emphasis on regional produce etc) have joined up with Japan Post to sell their Otoshidama New Year’s Kit Kat gift box decorated with “kawaii” monkeys cosplaying as New Year rice balls, Gods of fortune or Maneki Cats (the ones that wave at you). Included is the otoshidama envelope (the monetary gift given to children to celebrate New Year’s in Japan). How many Japan specific cultural elements can you get on one product? Fantastic!

Several department stores are promoting lines of red underwear since red underwear is supposed to bring luck and keep out diseases in the Year of the Monkey. “Saru” as well as meaning monkey in Japan also as a verb means to “go away”. Apparently in the last year of the Monkey in 2004, red shorts for women sold five times more than usual! Japan Post will of course bring out a monkey decorated stamp for the New Year Cards that are sent all over Japan in the New Year.

Monkeys have a varied role in Japanese religious beliefs and folklore appearing as both trickster and sacred mediator. I have seen the cute yet mischievous macaques stealing from the local farmers or occupying hot springs and have also visited the famous shrines of Nikko to see the 3 wise monkeys (see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil) For me, I hope that the Year of the Monkey symbolises wisdom and skill in business negotiations & problem solving with a hint of mischief.

A Merry Christmas to everyone and may your Year of the Monkey be successful too.


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