Chinese consumers have been buying up a certain brand of sake in staggering numbers due to an unexpected link with hit basketball anime Slam Dunk.

Mii no Kotobuki (三井の寿) is a brand of Japanese sake originating in the Mii District of Fukuoka Prefecture. Since it began to be exported overseas mid-last year, this particular product has been experiencing an unprecedented wave of popularity in China despite the high tariffs. So what’s with the sudden boom of sales?

The reason for its success is that this particular brand actually inspired the name of one of the main characters of Slam Dunk, a hugely popular sports manga during its initial run in Weekly Shonen Jump between 1990 and 1996 which became a subsequent hit anime. The series, which follows the individual members of a high school basketball team, was also a major hit in China and is credited with helping to popularize basketball as a sport in East Asia.

The character in question is Hisashi Mitsui (三井寿), a junior high school basketball champion and expert three-pointer shooter. Slam Dunk author Takehiko Inoue revealed in a written dialogue that he derived the kanji characters in Mitsui’s name from the Mii no Kotobuki brand of sake, which he personally enjoys.

Slam Dunk character Hisashi Mitsui

While the meaning of the three individual kanji, 三井寿, translates to something along the lines of “three-wells-longevity,” it’s often the case that kanji used in names have a variety of different possible readings. This explains the discrepancy between the pronunciation of 三井 as “mii” in the sake name and “mitsui” in the character’s name, and 寿 as “kotobuki” in the sake name and as “hisashi” in the character’s name (fun fact: it’s also the same character used to write the “su” in “sushi”!).

According to Tadatsugu Inoue, the managing director of Mii no Kotobuki‘s sake production company (who also ironically shares a last name with the Slam Dunk author), once the company learned this bit of trivia it decided to take production a step further by actually paying homage to Hisashi Mitsui on the brand’s label. Most visibly, they gave the label a red background to match the Shohoku High School basketball players’ uniforms. More subtly, they also enlarged the number “14” which indicates its +14 Sake Meter Value (meaning that it’s a very dry brew). Wouldn’t you know–by a fortuitous coincidence, Mitsui’s jersey number also happens to be 14 in the story!

▼ The red sake label now screams a connection to Slam Dunk character Mitsui.

All of these changes were a major recipe for success since the company began exporting Mii no Kotobuki to Shanghai and other Chinese cities last June. Although it was initially marketed towards restaurants and other dining and drinking establishments, longtime Slam Dunk fans, most of whom are now in their 30s and 40s with plenty of purchasing power, also began to buy it up in bulk once they got wind of its existence. Just four months later in September, over 10,000 bottles had already sold out. Furthermore, due to the high demand, one 720-milliliter (24.3-ounce) bottle was selling for the equivalent of 6,000-10,000 yen (US$54-90).

As a result of its popularity, Inoue is now busy preparing a new batch of Mii no Kotobuki which will once again go on sale in China later this month. Restaurants and diehard basketball fans are already eagerly anticipating its arrival, so we’ll just have to wait to see how long the new shipment will last this time around.

Source: Yahoo! Japan News
Featured image: Twitter/@24kao1oi7