Saturday, June 6, 2020

Kikkoman - What Does It Mean?

I’ve got a lot I want to blog about, but recently I haven’t had time to sit down and write a blog post as detailed as I’d like. For now, here’s a post about Japanese trivia.

If you enjoy going to Chinese and Japanese restaurants, or just enjoy cooking Asian food at home, I’m quite sure you’ve come across the soy sauce brand Kikkoman.

This blog post is about what the name of this brand and their logo means.

First off, let’s analyze the logo.

It’s composed of two concentric hexagon outlines, the outer hexagon being extremely thick in width, and the inner one being extremely thin.

At the center is a stylized character for the Chinese character for “10,000” or “myriad”, . It is in fact, the older, traditional form for the character .

In the Chinese number system, and consequently the Japanese number system, larger numbers are counted differently. Instead of  breaking up large numbers in terms of how many thousands (1,000) they have, they're broken down in terms of how many ten thousands (10,000) they have.

That is to say, that in the Chinese number system, there exists a singular unit of ten thousands, called a "
wàn" in Mandarin Chinese, or "man" in Japanese.

What to Westerners looks like "ten thousand," (10,000), in countries where the Chinese number system is used, this is seen as one unit, in older English called a "myriad." (1,0000)

The next unit up is called an "oku," (億) which is a unit of one hundred million. Where commas are placed after every three places in the Western number system, commas are placed every four spaces.

So in Western numbers, one hundred million looks like 100,000,000, it looks like 1,0000,0000.

The original meaning of the word "myriad" in English was an archaic unit of 10,000, but today it means a large, innumerable number.

As in English, the character
can also share the meaning of the word "myriad" of a countless number, in which case it is read よろず (yorozu).

So what is this logo’s meaning? Why were these elements chosen?

It all begins to make sense once we realize that traditionally, the Japanese referred to the hexagon as “turtle/tortoise shell,” 亀甲 (きっこう, kikkou) because of the patterns found on turtle shells.

When looking at a turtle shell, it’s easy to see.

The turtle is an auspicious symbol in Asian culture, because it is thought to live a long life, 10,000 years in particular.

Starting to get the picture?

In short, the literal meaning of "kikkoman" is "myriad in a hexagon," and the logo itself is the image of a stylized character for "myriad" enclosed in a hexagon.

The double meaning that can be found here is that "kikkou," or 亀甲 when written in Chinese characters, actually means "turtle shell."

So the word "kikkoman," and its visual representation are auspicious symbols of longevity and good luck.

It's a name that reflects the founders' hopes of the company lasting 10,000 (a myriad) years. (Basically forever.)

In Japanese art, one can often see the turtle paired with a crane. It is said the crane lives 1,000 years, and the turtle 10,000. Together, they are auspicious symbols of longevity.

I’m quite sure you’ve heard of the Japanese expression “banzai.” (万歳, ばんざい) It literally means “10,000 years.” (In some compounds, 万/萬 is read “ban”.)

By the way, any Megaman lovers on here remember the turtle boss from Megaman 7?

Check out the turtle decorations in the stage leading up to it.

Notice the hexagon?

Related Post: 
Oshogatsu: Japanese New Year