Why Japanese Cars Only Use English Badges

Here's something I've been wondering about for years: why does every Japanese car, even ones never intended for export, have their name badges in English? Why don't any Japanese cars have chromed Japanese characters spelling out their names? Tonight, finally, I found out why.

This is something that's been the case with Japanese cars from the beginning. Go back and look at Japanese cars from the '30s, '60s, '80s or whenever, and you'll find that the chromed badges in fancy script that spell the car's name are always written in Western characters. Always.

Sure, in brochures and advertisements and other materials the name may be written in Kanji or Katakana or the adapted Chinese characters Japan uses, but never on the car itself. Why is this? It never made any sense to me, so I was delighted to find myself at the Nissan 360 event, where Nissan's design guru, Shiro Nakamura, left himself carelessly unguarded, allowing me to accost him and see what he thought.

Shiro Nakamura understood what I was getting at immediately. He confirmed that Japanese cars will never ā€” and he was adamant about that "never" ā€” have name badges in Japanese, only English. He explained that this was because as far as languages go, Japanese is incredibly welcoming to words borrowed from other cultures and languages.

Why Japanese Cars Only Use English Badges

In English, we do that, too, but we tend to anglicize the words to make them more compatible with the language. Japanese does much less forced adapting, and will even maintain original character sets for given words.

This is because, Shiro Nakmura explained, Japan is as East as East gets. A little island parenthesis right off the shore of Asia. As a result, Japan really, really appreciates the concepts and ideas they borrow from outside cultures, since there's a sense that they're tucked out at the end of the world. They respect outside ideas to such a degree that they want the words used in their language to maintain the character of where the orginal concepts came from.

Cars came to Japan initially from primarily English-speaking countries, and certainly places that used the western/Latin alphabet. As a result, that alphabet is now always associated with cars in Japanese culture, and the idea of using anything other than Western characters to write the name of a car just seems absurd to Japanese people.

This is a concept unique to Japan; Chinese cars, for example, have no problem with Chinese-character badges. Just look at that example on the red Chery up there.

And that's pretty much why a JDM Juke or Fairlady Z is always going to be a "JUKE" or "FAIRLADY" no matter if it'll never leave Japan. It's because the Japanese respect the origin of things, and honor those origins with the language associated with them.

Fascinating, right?