These are all handy things to know before heading to Japan!
If you’re relatively new to learning about Japanese car culture, this free bonus guide is for you! In this guide, we’ve basically put together all of the random facts and tid-bits of
information that we could think of – that don’t really fit into any of our other guides specifically – and we’ve put them all into one document for easy reference. If you’re wanting to impress people with your knowledge on Japan car culture, this is a great starting point.
Firstly, let’s count!
Wait, what? A math lesson? Don’t worry, it’s easy – we promise! Just like in other languages, the Japanese often refer to their cars by their chassis codes or model numbers, so first off, let’s learn to count from one to ten in Japanese. Knowing these basic numbers will really come in handy when you’re wanting to ‘talk cars’ with someone in Japan.
1 = ichi, 2 = ni, 3 = san, 4 = yon, 5 = go, 6 = roku, 7 = nana, 8 = hachi, 9 = kyu, 10 = jyu
Next up, let’s learn a few Japanese ‘nicknames’ for some well-known cars…
It’s common for us to use chassis codes when talking about certain cars, and the same thing happens in Japan. However, the Japanese way of saying them is slightly different. The most common example (and one you’re most likely familiar with) is with the Toyota AE86 being referred to as a hachi-roku. ‘Hachi’ in Japanese means eight, and ‘roku’ means six. Note that instead of using the Japanese word for eighty-six, each number is said individually. 8, then 6.
Some common examples of this are:
Toyota Corolla Levin/Sprinter Trueno
We say: AE86 or AE85. In Japan: hachi-roku or hachi-go
Nissan Skyline/GT-R models
We say: R32. In Japan: san-ni
We say: R33. In Japan: san-san
We say: R34. In Japan: san-yon
We say: R35. In Japan: san-go
Nissan Silvia models
We say: S13. In Japan: ichi-san
We say: S14. In Japan: ichi-yon
We say: S15. In Japan: ichi-go
Here’s a fun fact for you. Have you ever heard of an S14 (or S13) with an S15 front-end swap being referred to as a ‘strawberry face’ conversion? This is because the Japanese numbers for 1, ichi and 5, go combined together make ichigo, which is the Japanese word for ‘strawberry’. Ichi-go (one five) front-end (face)!
Know your kyusha!
If you’re interested in nostalgic Japanese cars or ‘kyusha’, knowing these facts might come in handy at some point…
The Kenmeri & Yonmeri Skyline.
You might’ve heard of a Nissan C110 Skyline being referred to as a ‘Ken Mary’ Skyline (pronounced as meh-ri in Japanese) – ever wondered why? This nickname comes from the TV advertising campaign used to market the C110 in Japan back in the ‘70s. It featured a young Caucasian couple, Ken and Mary, driving around Japan and having various adventures in hilariously ’70s clothing. Needless to say, the ads worked. Run a Youtube search!
The four-door version of the C110 is also commonly referred to as a ‘Yon Mary’ or yonmeriSkyline – ‘yon’ meaning four in Japanese.
Are you saying ‘Hakosuka’ correctly?
Thanks to its squarish shape, the Nissan C10 Skyline earned the nickname ‘Hakosuka’ – hako meaning ‘boxy’ and suka, an abbreviation of sukairain (Skyline) in Japanese. Every nostalgic Japanese car enthusiast is familiar with this name, but make sure you’re saying it correctly! The ‘su’ sound is spoken softly without emphasis, so instead of saying ‘ha-ko-soo-ka, it’s pronounced more like ‘ha-koh-ska’. The same pronunciation goes from ‘Tsukuba’, which is said more like ‘ts-koo-ba’ or ‘scooba’.
Is that really a real GT-R?
You’ll see a lot of C110 and C10 Skylines wearing GT-R badges in Japan, when of course they’re not actually the real deal. But instead of this being frowned upon, it’s considered more of a ‘tribute’ to the rare S20-powered models. So if you spot a GT-R emblem, don’t get too excited!
S30? Datsun 240Z? Fairlady Z?
We all love a good Z car, but what should you be referring to them as in Japan? Datsun 240Z, Fairlady Z or S30? Firstly, let’s clear up a few things – the Nissan S30 (S30 is the chassis code) was sold as the Nissan Fairlady Z in Japan, and the Datsun 240Z, 260Z and 280Z (which ran fuel injection) in America. The S31 Fairlady Z was also a Japan-only fuel-injected model.
So in Japan, the S30 and S31 have always been called the Fairlady Z, but seeing as there’s no letter ‘Z’ in the Japanese spoken language, they call it the Fearedi Zetto, or just Zetto. Many Japanese enthusiasts think that the American market Datsuns were cool, so you‘ll also sometimes see Datsun and 240Z badges on Japanese Zs. And to further confuse things, some hardcore fans have even gone so far as to import USDM-spec Datsuns into Japan!
Pig’s butt – say what!?
Have you ever heard someone use the term ‘Pig’s Butt Laurel’ and thought, what the heck? Don’t worry, there’s an explanation! If you’ve ever looked toward the rear of a Nissan C130 Laurel, you might’ve noticed it’s got a somewhat chunky derrière! The Japanese noticed too, and gave it the nickname ‘Butaketsu’, which translates to pig’s butt!
What is ‘Suichuuka’?
Have you ever wondered what the story is with those weird acrylic gear knobs that everyone seems to have? What’s become a popular ‘JDM’ accessory these days started out as a beautiful ornamental art form in Japan. In Japanese these items are called Suichuuka, which literally means ‘flower in water’. This became a popular style for mainly gear knobs but also items like cigarette lighters and sometimes even fender mirrors back in the day. If you pay close attention, genuine vintage suichuuka will sometimes come up for sale on Yahoo Japan auctions, but they’re still quite rare and generally don’t go for cheap. Nowadays ‘flower’ or ‘bubble’ gear knobs have become popularised and are a common sight all over the world, but their roots remain in the old days of the Japanese car scene.
QUICK LANGUAGE LESSON:
The kanji for suichuuka ‘水中花’ have the following meaning:
水: sui (water)
中: chū (in, in the middle)
花: ka (flower)
Japanese License Plates.
Have you ever wondered why some Japanese license plates have red lines through them? And why some plates are yellow? Here’s a quick run-through of what different plates mean:
White with a diagonal red stripe = Temporary plates
You’ll often see modified cars wearing these plates, and there’s a reason for that. These plates are only ‘temporary’ – they basically allow an illegal or unregistered car to drive on public roads without a valid road permit for a short period of time. Pretty sweet huh?
Yellow = Kei Car (personal vehicle)
We already talked about Kei Cars – smaller, lighter vehicles which have to be 660cc or less – in our Beginner Guide #2: An Introduction to Japanese Car Culture. All kei cars in Japan wear yellow plates, unless…
Green or black = Commercial vehicle (black for Kei Cars)
Any vehicle used for commercial purposes (work trucks, courier vans, etc.) will have a dark green plate or a black plate if they’re a kei car.
Personalised plates with special characters and numbers can also be ordered, as well as green ‘illuminated’ plates which can be lit up at night.
Dude, why are your plates bent?
If you’re a fan of Japanese cars you’ve probably seen photos of cars with plates bent upwards like this. Generally this is done when a car is in a questionably road-legal state, in order to make the plates harder to identify. No doubt, it’s also become a bit of a fashion thing too…
JDM: What does it actually mean?
The term ‘JDM’ gets thrown around a lot nowadays. It’s an acronym that stands for Japanese Domestic Market, which refers to cars and automotive parts produced for sale exclusively in Japan. Naturally, these Japan-only models and parts are considered desirable to Japanese car enthusiasts outside of Japan, which is perhaps why JDM has evolved into meaning something more than just what it actually stands for. For example, it’s common these days to see a car being referred to as having ‘JDM styling’ if it’s been modified with all-Japanese parts. So JDM can refer to the JDM, but in slang terms it can also just mean ‘Japanese style.’
That ‘JDM’ sticker thing.
Every Japanese car enthusiast is familiar with this yellow and green symbol. Some might know it as the ‘JDM leaf’, and with car stickers and ‘sticker-bombing’ becoming all the rage a few years back, many westerners have sported one of these stickers as a way of showing others that they’re passionate about Japanese car culture and styling. In Japan however, it’sused for something quite different…
This symbol, which is called the Wakaba mark, is used to show others that you’re a beginner driver in Japan. It has to be displayed on both the front and rear of your car for a period of time after you obtain your driver’s license. In the photo above, it’s been displayed (it’s actually a magnet!) on the back of a car at a drift day to let other drivers know that the driver is less experienced.
So there you go, we hope you’ve learned a few new things about cars in Japan!