Stories behind top Asian brandsi

From Tiger Balm and Po Chai Pills to Vitasoy and Camel flasks, many of the region's most famous brands have become symbols of Asia to the rest of the world. We chart the fascinating histories of Asia's top brands - their often humble beginnings, their ups and downs, and the ways they are facing the challenges of the future.

  • Nitori’s flagship store in MegaBox, Kowloon Bay, is spread over 20,000 sq ft and features 5,500 items
  • Asian retailers are increasingly occupying prime space in Hong Kong vacated by Western brands following nearly four years of tumult

Koala’s March cookies from South Korea’s Lotte are popular around Asia and there are more than 600 koala designs, including an ‘eyebrow koala’ said to bring good luck. Fans have gone to great lengths to find one.

Japanese drinks company Suntory started making whisky 100 years ago and now vintage bottles of its Yamazaki single malt command huge prices – if you can get your hands on one.


Thanks to the founder’s daughter and grandson, the Diamond Restaurant name lives on as a gourmet food brand – even after its five Hong Kong outlets closed down in 2002.

Forget Playboy’s bow-tied icon: the rabbit symbolises longevity, peace and prosperity in Chinese and Asian cultures, and has a long history as a brand symbol.

White Rabbit Creamy Candy, a mainstay of the Lunar New Year treat box, has an 80-year history but isn’t resting on its laurels, launching new flavours and ice cream. A Hong Kong bar sells a White Rabbit cocktail.

Yan Chim Kee started selling coconut sweets in Hong Kong in 2015. Descendants of its founder say sticking to its original formula while adding new products has been key to its longevity.

Watsons today is Asia’s leading retail health and beauty chain. It’s an empire that was built on selling opium and opiates in colonial Hong Kong, writes Patrick Chiu in this excerpt from a forthcoming book.

Lee Man-tat is credited with turning Lee Kum Kee into a household name in Hong Kong, with the company’s products now sold in more than 100 countries worldwide.

Vitasoy shares plunged 10 per cent last week in the aftermath of a leaked internal memo and a backlash by consumers in mainland China. Can the firm behind the city’s venerable brand tame the crisis?


Star Industrial’s Red A Plastic products are in many a Hong Kong household, and its plastic cups were made famous by Chow Yun-fat film Prison on Fire. These days, its customers include food businesses and hospitals.


Founded in 1917 when eight Japanese soy sauce makers decided to work together, Kikkomen is now Japan’s favourite soy sauce and popular all over the world.

Hello Kitty, the cat with no mouth, was born in 1974, and by 2014, was worth US$8 billion a year. Her face is seen on everything, from toys to pencils and even water dispensers.

From My Neighbor Totoro to The Wind Rises, Studio Ghibli has produced some of the biggest anime hits in the world. Its co-founder Miyazaki’s love of art shines through in its animated productions.

From Singapore's Tiger Balm to Japan's Cup Noodles, many of Asia's top brands are now loved the world over. Here'll you find the fascinating histories of Asia's top companies and the hardworking people that built them.

Despite being a small city, Hong Kong has had a huge impact in the world of business, and many of its home-grown companies are now international names. Here are some of their stories.

Initially just a goldsmith, Chow Tai Fook opened its first stores in Hong Kong and Macau before the second world war and now has more than 4,000 worldwide. Along the way the company changed the gold and jewellery industry.


Casio invented the unbreakable G-Shock watch, now in its 37th year of production, but before that it had pioneered electronic calculators, and launched digital watches, musical instruments, cameras and a pocket-sized TV.

From humble beginnings in Qing dynasty China, Yeo Hiap Seng moved to Singapore in 1937. After World War II, Yeo’s started making canned food, soymilk, and other drinks, and has been expanding ever since.


Karex started life as a rubber company in Malaysia in the 1920s, turned to making condoms in the 1980s, and today supplies most of the big brands around the world, including Durex.

Yamaha is best known for motorbikes and musical instruments, but it has made everything from boats to warplane parts and the first CD recorder in the more than 130 years since watchmaker Torakusu Yamaha started making reed organs.

From the world’s first gamer’s mouse to the Blade laptop and Razor phone, Razer has led the way for gaming peripherals for 20 years. Its dedication to making the best gaming hardware has earned it a legion of fans.

Once Japan’s first Western-style pharmacy, Shiseido – founded in the 19th century – has evolved into the fifth biggest personal care company in the world. Its dedication to quality and service has brought it millions of fans.

Sony was founded in 1946 and changed music listening and video gaming with its invention of the Walkman and PlayStation. But it has not always been plain sailing for the Japanese electronics giant.

Pocari Sweat is one of Asia’s most popular sports drinks and among Japan’s most successful beverages, despite English-speaking media mocking the name for years. Here’s how the little blue-and-white bottles did it.


An octopus salad inspired Kihachiro Onitsuka to launch extra-grip basketball shoes in the 1950s. Today, thanks to some star power, Onitsuka Tiger’s striped trainers are a fashion must-have, especially in China, Thailand and South Korea.

Uniqlo’s roots go back to a single store in provincial Japan opened in 1949; it began expanding in the 1980s, but it was a fortuitous name change and a cue taken from US retailer The Gap that made it a global force this century.

From its start in 1980, the Japanese brand has had a minimalist ethos focused on quality, simplicity and low prices. Today its lifestyle stores span the developed world and it has begun opening hotels as competition from Chinese copycats rises.