In Asia there are three cities where neon signs are particularly famous: Tokyo and Osaka in Japan, and Hong Kong. In each city these signs have their own history and their own special meanings. Let's learn a little more about the neon signs of these cities!
|Neon signs in Kabuchiko, Tokyo.|
One of the world's "neon capitals" is without a doubt Tokyo. The very first neon sign in Japan was set up in 1926 by Tokyo Pan Bakery in Shinjuku district to advertise their business. During and after World War II, neon signs gradually became a popular form of advertising in the country and at the very end of 1957, the Totsuko company erected a huge neon billboard modeled after New York City's famous billboards in Sukiyabashi, which is located in Tokyo's Ginza shopping district. The switching-on of the lights on this billboard was a nationally-televised event, and when the lights came on, the new name of Totsuko was revealed to the world: Sony.
After this sign became an instant Tokyo landmark, more and more businesses in the city saw the value of having their own neon signs. Throughout the 1960s, Tokyo's shopping districts were plastered with neon signs ranging from giant billboards to tiny window signs, trying to outdo all the other nearby businesses and make their brand a popular one. Over the past few decades, entire streets blanketed in neon lights have become a trademark image in Tokyo. Also, other cities in Japan have followed suit and erected neon signs over their own businesses and shopping districts.
|The neon lights of Dōtonbori, Osaka, Japan. Notice the Glico Man in the foreground.|
The 1960s saw neon signs start popping up in another major urban area of Asia: Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, neon signs can be found almost everywhere. As is the case with Tokyo, images of young couples walking underneath massive neon signs or lights of every color bouncing off a rain-soaked Nathan Road have become a trademark.
|Portland Street in Kowloon, Hong Kong. Note the lucky bat in the top sign.|
As Christopher DeWolf discusses in his excellent article about the neon lights of Hong Kong, many of these signs use traditional Chinese symbolism to advertise their business. For instance, bats carrying coins are very common on pawn shop signs. In traditional Chinese beliefs, bats descending from the sky are a sign of happiness, as are bats featured on "eye coin" amulets. Naturally, coins themselves are also a sign of wealth! DeWolf also points out that many of these signs use traditional Chinese colors that were used to paint the signs of old. Red (traditionally a lucky color), white, and green were the most common colors.
Hong Kong is also famous for being the inspiration for the city scenes in director Ridley Scott's 1982 film Blade Runner. With all of its amazing neon signs illuminating the night streets in a blanket of light, Ridley couldn't have picked a better inspiration for a futuristic Los Angeles than Hong Kong on a rainy day!
Over the course of the mid to late-20th century, neon lights became as much a part of many Asian city landscapes as their temples, parks, restaurants, and other buildings. To some they may be an annoyance, but to others they are valuable pieces of the cities themselves that are more than just an advertising medium. They light up the city at night and create a beautiful nighttime atmosphere for everyone to enjoy.
For more about the neon signs, here are a couple of sites for you:
http://www.darkroastedblend.com/2007/09/japans-neon-vision-lights-up-night.html (Steve Levenstein's article about Tokyo's neon lights.)
http://randomwire.com/hong-kong-nights (A blog post from Random Wire about Hong Kong's neon signs.)
Portland St.: UCLARodent
All images used courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.