The Nissan Skyline wins Japan Naming Award despite controversy about name origins

Naming a car can be difficult. Just ask the folks who came up with the Mitsubishi Pajero or the Buick Lacrosse (both of which turned out to mean wanker in other languages). There are also the unintentionally funny ones given by English dictionary-adverse marketers like Suzuki Every Joy Pop Turbo or the Hino Dolphin Dump. Thankfully, when Prince Motor named its premium Skyline sedan, it chose a word that had lasting resonance and helped the car gain international acclaim even though it was never intended to be sold overseas. It has now won an award for naming excellence, but the origins of the name have always been controversial.

The Japan Naming Award recognizes the best product names in the country. It’s given by the Japan Naming Association, made up of copyrighters, designers, typographers patent attorneys, and such. Alongside the Skyline, awards this year went to icons such as Cup Noodle instant ramen, anti-brand retail brand Muji, and the Tokyo Sky Tree tower.

“The Skyline name, which has been passed down for more than 60 years, is still appealing is to Japanese customers who loved and raised the “Skyline” and to its current model,” said Nissan Executive Vice President Asako Hoshino, “It is the result of supporters who have been passionate about the car.” As with anything people feel passionately about, there are bound to be disagreements.

According to the Japan Naming Association, which likely had to recognize the official origin story, when it came time to replace the boringly named Prince Sedan the Skyline name was decided upon by two men. Those men were Fuji Precision Industry (predecessor to Prince Motor) president Ino Dan and chairman Shojiro Ishibashi, also the founder of Bridgestone. Ishibashi liked the name Skyline had several products with similar names, the Skyway tire and Blue Sky golf balls.

The competing story that enthusiasts have always thought to be true was that it came from Shinichro Sakurai, the Prince engineer called the father of Skyline. We may commonly think of “skyline” to mean the outline of a city viewed from a distance, but an alternate meaning is the view of a mountain chain against the sky. As the story goes, Sakurai went skiing in Kusatsu, a town in the Agatsuma District of Gunma Prefecture. Standing at a vista point there, he was inspired by the beautiful mountain ridges he saw in the distance.

People who support the first theory say that it would have been unlikely that Sakurai, who would have only been 26 at the time and thus a junior level employee at the company, could have had such an influence. Those who support the second theory, however, say that there was an internal contest for name suggestions, as Japanese companies were often fond of doing back then, allowing Sakurai to get his nomination to Dan and Ishibashi’s desk.

We will probably never know its true origins. Regardless, the Skyline name means a lot to many people around the world, and now it has been acknowledged for its importance in Japanese culture.

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4 Responses to The Nissan Skyline wins Japan Naming Award despite controversy about name origins

  1. MWC says:

    i vote for Dolphin Dump.

  2. Tom Westmacott says:

    It seems that both stories are compatible – Sakurai-san could have been inspired by the beautiful mountain horizon and proposed the name in the internal competition, and then the chairman and president could then have reviewed all the entries in the competition, and chosen his submission as the winning name.

    Sakurai-san’s origin story for the name would be highly appropriate. The Japan Alps are a beautiful and quintessentially “Japanese” area of the country, where volcanic stone walls thrust dramatically towards the sky, fitting for this most Japanese of performance cars.
    Agatsuma District appears to include part of the shore of Lake Haruna (aka Akina), linking not just to the beauty of the mountains but the joy of the touge, where the hard labour of scaling Nature’s challenge becomes paradoxically a source of pleasure, to be enjoyed for its own sake.

    So it’s a great name and a good decision. I do think Nissan missed a trick by retiring the Skyline name from the GT-R line, perhaps underestimating the way the brand had sneaked out of Nissan’s sakoku domestic-market isolation policy to become a global legend. But we all know what the R35 really is, and the legacy it continues.

    • Ben Hsu says:

      Well said. That Sakurai submitted the name for a contest would neatly credit all sides and be a great story to boot. It’s what I was trying to hint at, but for some reason these two tales are always described as being in conflict. Sakurai reportedly snubbed a well-known Nostalgic Hero journalist for years because he wrote about the Ishibashi story. The Toyota Automobile Museum, in describing the Kenmeri GT-R in their collection, tells the ski trip inspiration story but with the disclaimer that “The origin of the name is in dispute.” In any case, it’s really fitting that Skyline won this award, as it’s probably the most fondly remembered car name in Japan.

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