JC 14

In college, I had a classmate who, almost every day, would talk about the list of tuning mods he had planned for his car. Sometimes, he’d talk about his plans to order some sweet JDM parts from Honda’s in-house aftermarket division, Mugen, and you can’t imagine how much it drove me up the walls.

I didn’t begrudge the guy his daydream, but what I couldn’t take was the way he pronounced it “Myu-gen” instead of “Moo-gen,” adding in a phantom Y sound that has no place in the Japanese word for “without limits.”

But hey, a lot of people in the U.S. mispronounce it that way, and can you blame them? Pronouncing foreign words can be tricky, which is why there’s now a video which will teach you the correct way to pronounce the names of all of Japan’s major car makers. And, once you’ve mastered them all, we’ll even explain what they mean.

Before we get to the video itself, here’s a quick and simple guide to how to pronounce vowel sounds in Japanese:

A as in “father”
E as in “every”
I as in the last vowel sound in “macaroni”
O as in “only”
U as in the middle part of “soon”, but a bit shorter

So, let’s see that in action with a native speaker in this video from Mighty Car Mods.

JC 1

But now that we know how to say them, what do they mean?

Nissan / 日産

JC 2

Nissan’s name is pretty straightforward. The kanji 日 means “sun,” but is also the first character in what the Japanese people call their county, Nihon/日本. Combine that with san, meaning “production,” and Nissan’s name essentially works out to “Japanese-made.”

Subaru / スバル

JC 3

Like a lot of Japanese car manufacturers, Subaru chooses to write its name in phonetic katakana instead of kanji, giving it a modern, technological feel. If you were to render Subaru in kanji, it’d come out as 昴, the Pleiades, the group of stars also known as the Seven Sisters, all of which appear as part of the Subaru logo.

Mitsubishi / 三菱

JC 4

Linguistically, you could debate whether the bishi portion should be translated as “caltrop” or “diamond.” Mitsubishi itself prefers the latter, which would make its name literally “three diamonds,” which are exactly what make up the company’s emblem.

Suzuki / スズキ

JC 5

Suzuki also opts for all katakana, and bears the same name as company founder Michio Suzuki, who began his business by building automated weaving looms. One of the most common names in Japan, Suzuki literally means “Bell Tree,” giving it a vague but refined ring.

Toyota / トヨタ

JC 6

Similar to Suzuki, Toyota started out in looms, and has a name that’s almost the same as that of founder Kiichiro Toyoda, whose surname means “fertile farm field.”

The automotive division eventually decided to switch to a katakana name, and changing the last syllable from a “da” to a “ta” knocked two trailing brush strokes off when writing the name, giving it better visual balance and an auspicious eight-stroke count.

Honda / 本田 / ホンダ

JC 7

Honda seems to go back and forth as to whether it wants to write its name in katakana or kanji. Either way, though, the origin is founder and motorsports enthusiast Soichiro Honda, and means “original field” or “main field.”

Lexus / レクサス

JC 8

So how did a Japanese company end up with an L in its name, when the Japanese language doesn’t even have that sound? The answer is that Lexus didn’t start in Japan, or even exist there until 2005. Parent company Toyota established the marque with the aim of taking on high-end rivals such as Mercedes-Benz and BMW, with a specific eye on succeeding in the American market. Competing theories say the moniker is either a blend of “luxury” and “elegance,” or code for “luxury exports to the U.S.

Daihatsu / ダイハツ

JC 9

In contrast to the English background to Lexus’, Daihatsu’s name is as Japanese as can be. The company was originally known as Osaka Hatsudouki, written in kanji as 大阪発動機 and meaning “Osaka Motors,” as a tip of the hat to the city where the compact automaker is headquartered. Cherry-picking the 大 from Osaka, which can also be pronounced “dai,” and the 発 from Hatsudouki gave the company the much shorter name Daihatsu.

Mazda / マツダ

JC 11

Finally, Mazda has just about the most complicated name on this list, so much so that there’s even room for debate on whether or not the company’s in-house pronunciation itself is accurate.

The company was founded by Jujiro Matsuda, who has a fairly ordinary Japanese family name meaning “field of pines.” However, when rendering the automaker’s name in English, the decision was made to change Matsuda to Mazda, inspired by the Zoroastrian god of light and wisdom, Ahura Mazda.

But while the company’s English spelling was changed, its pronunciation, at least in Japan, never was. So while “Mazda” is written on the side of the corporate headquarters in Hiroshima, everyone in Japan still calls the company “Matsuda” in conversation, with a hard T and noticeable U.

So which is it, field of pines or god of light? We’re going to dodge the judgment and say it’s both. After all, a connection to sunshine and scenery seems like a pretty good fit for the company behind the world’s most popular convertible.

JC 12

Video source: Autoblog
Top image: YouTube
Insert images: YouTube, Nissan, Car Sensor, Goo, Minkara, Toyota Cars 2015, Minkara (2), Lexus, FC2, RocketNews24