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Asia Minute: Year of the Monkey: Birth Rates and Red Underwear

Bill Dorman
Bill Dorman

Celebrations of the Lunar New Year will be taking place around the state in coming days. The Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Hawai‘i has events Friday and Saturday, while the Year of the Monkey officially starts next Monday.  And in different parts of Asia, the lunar New Year brings more than just celebrations.  HPR’s Bill Dorman explains in today’s Asia Minute.

If the experts are correct, China’s birth rate will rise this year, and Japanese department stores will sell a lot of red underwear.  Both developments can be pegged to the year of the monkey.  The birth rate part might be easier to understand.  The year of the monkey is tucked between the year of the sheep and the year of the chicken—two relatively inauspicious birth years.

Those arriving in the year of the monkey are thought to be charming and clever—and good with numbers.

Bloomberg quotes the drug maker Merck as saying that sales of fertility related medications increased late last year in China.  Combined with the Chinese cycle of elements, this is also the year of the fire monkey—or the red monkey.

Which brings us to the underwear sales at Tokyo department stores.  The Japanese word for monkey, “saru”…sounds like the phrase “go away.”  And apparently, long ago that led someone to come up with the idea that wearing red underwear in the year of the monkey can make illnesses go away.  That’s enough of a connection for a marketing campaign...leading some manufacturers to advertise “good luck underwear for the year of the monkey.”  Some department stores have opened special displays—with one advising that shoppers can pick items up for themselves—or friends or family members….though probably not for business associates.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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