This is an ongoing series where I explain concepts of the Japanese language through words that you already know; Japanese car names.
The mid 1980’s started what I like to call; The Cannonball Car-Logo Run. It’s like The Cannonball Run except all the colorful characters were car logos. They were all scrambling to get ready for world dominating globalization.
Some car companies were better situated for this mad dash. Honda needed only to shine-up their classic logo. But some like Mazda, did not even have a logo to shine-up. Some were swallowed-up like Datsun. And few, like Toyota, used it to redefine the company and set a new design standard for the modern-day logo.
The third and present day Toyota logo would actually win any design contest it was entered in. Toyota knew that the Katakana logo it was using from Part-2 had limited international appeal. It was not used much outside of Japan. This led to inconsistent use of the Toyota name and branding methods at a time when they were starting to sell cars all over the world.
Toyota’s website is loaded with frequently asked questions that, ironically, no one would ever ask. There you can find information on the looping “T” logo that you see on cars today. I quote Toyota;
“What does the Toyota logo represent?”
“In 1990, Toyota debuted the three overlapping Ellipses logo on American vehicles. The Toyota Ellipses symbolize the unification of the hearts of our customers and the heart of Toyota products. The background space represents Toyota’s technological advancement and the boundless opportunities ahead.”
I’m not even sure what that second sentence means… Though, If you can somehow turn empty space into boundless opportunities, think of how many golf clubs you can fit in a trunk. They could have just said, Its a “T”, because we are Toyota, and we would still think it’s one of the coolest logos we ever saw. By the time its wrung through the marketing-hype-machine, it sounds like they are trying too hard.
The looping circles have some obvious features like forming the letter “T”. and having a globe like shape. Others are a little more hidden like the fact that it has all 6 letters of the word “Toyota” present within the logo. My favorite one is the reference to the loom making days from Part-1, with the subtle needle and thread reference. (not subtly shown in the top graphic)
Katakana (the alphabet used for foreign words and names) is used generously when talking about the car model name. Aside From the Kawasaki Ninja or the Suzuki Samurai, Most model names are not words in the Japanese vocabulary. Thus, they are usually written with Katakana. This makes for great practice, as you try to figure out what each model name says while zooming past signs in Japan.
Here is some wacky Toyota model name info:
Toyota Corolla is fun to say, but what does it meeeeeean? I will explain (try to stay with me on this one):
The Toyota Corolla (1966 debut) is not a Japanese word, it is Latin for “crown” of flowers. Which is directly related to its root word; “Corona”, as in the Toyota Corona (1955 debut) which is Latin/Spanish for “crown”. Which should not be confused with the Toyota Crown (1955 debut) which is an English word for “crown”. Which should not be confused with the Toyota Camry (1982 debut) which is the Japanese word for “crown”. Whew…
The Toyota vehicle name origins are a confusing yet fascinating topic alone. And I have not even gone into the Celica, the Corsa, and the Cressida. But my goal hear is to learn more about Japanese.
My point is that it does not matter if it’s a Spanish City or a Latin root, or an English Monarch, they are all written in Katakana. Only the Camry is a native word, yet it is also treated with same Katakana letters to stay with the theme.
Here are all four model names written in Katakana. Can you figure out which ones are which? (Answers at bottom of post)
Here is an interesting photo. It relates in several ways. These Katakana syllables sound-out English words that you have seen a zillion times. You could probably guess what the first line is. The second line is driving related. Now that I’ve given you that hint, you could probably guess what that line is also.
Here is the sign broken into its Katakana syllables. As you repeat them faster and faster, they will start to sound familiar. When you say them at ludacris speed, as fast as you say the English words, then you are speaking Japanese.
Answers: 1.)Camry 2.)Corona 3.)Corolla 4.)Crown
Please keep coming back as I continue to use more car company names to explain more Japanese language basics and cultural insights. Remember, as they say at the Japanese car wash, Wax On!
All Toyota logos are copyright Toyota Motor Company.