VIDEO: How to pronounce Japanese carmaker names properly

A couple of years ago we were at a dinner with several journalists and a Mazda executive. At the other end of the table, a debate broke out about whether the proper pronunciation of the Hiroshima carmaker was the standard issue “MAHZ-dah” or the Australian-accented “MAAZZ-dah.” Finally, the exec schooled everyone with the real pronunciation, “MA-tsu-da.” You can often make friends in Japan by speaking the universal language of cars, but in order to get more than a blanks stare back it’s helpful to say the words correctly. Luckily, YouTuber CZero has helpfully put together a video for this exact purpose.

CZero also helpfully talks a bit about the origin of the carmaker names. For example, Toyota has often explained why its name doesn’t match the founding family’s Toyoda by simply stating that “Toyota” written in Japanese has eight strokes whereas “Toyoda” has ten, and eight is good luck in most Asian cultures.

CZero goes a step further, explaining that ten written in Japanese is a cross, which represents indecision — not a good trait for a company. The “ta” and “da” are variations of the same letter, kind of like a regular N and an N with a tilde in Spanish, and so the two dots that turn “da” into “ta” were simply removed. Voilá, the name of a multinational $200 billion company is born.

The video is well worth a watch, even if you already know that it’s “moo-GEN” and not “MEW-gen,” and that at the end you learn that Mazda simply means “field of pines.”


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7 Responses to VIDEO: How to pronounce Japanese carmaker names properly

  1. LB1 says:

    For that matter, Toyota or Toyoda, means abundant (rice) field.

  2. Leon Dixon says:

    Pronouncing all these names has always been an issue… and not merely between Japanese and Americans… or Japanese and English-speaking people… but in pronouncing in the region where particular cars are sold.

    For instance, in the 1980s when I was writing publications for Mazda in North America (and by the way, “Mazda” in the North American market is simply pronounced “mahz-da”–as in “oz-da”) I made some observations. And yes, “Mazda” is indeed pronounced “mot-su-dah” in Japan. But I discovered several ways that “Mazda” was pronounced in various English-speaking markets. For instance in Australia the pronunciation sounds more nasal…like “meaaahzzzzzz-dah.” There are varying ways it is pronounced in the U.K. and Europe… and still others in Canada. But I have one memory I shall never forget and that points out the difficulties of languages and doing business internationally and what is “correct” in pronunciation.

    I was working in the office assigned to me in Hiroshima when some Japanese staff members came in with confused, concerned looks and began asking me questions. Of course Japanese tend to mix the sound of letters “L” and “R” when speaking English, so this complicates things even further. Their question to me in English was, “what is rise-ah?” Of course, I had no idea. Eventually in attempts to resolve the matter, they took me downstairs to where a small group of Aussies were in a training class. But the Australians could not understand the Japanese who were making valiant efforts to teach them in English. And the Japanese were confused by the Aussie ways of saying what appeared to be English words. So they brought me in to translate.

    In the end I discovered the Australians were actually with Ford of Australia. Ford of Australia had various models sold there based on re-styled Mazda 626 and 323. These were known as Telstar and Laser respectively. Americans and most English-speaking people would pronounce that latter as “lay-zer.” But the Aussies pronounced it “lie-zah”… which came out sounding to Japanese as “rise-ah.” Guess who ended up placed involved with training the Australians and doing their manuals?

    Now. Wanna take a crack at pronouncing the American name of the famous hamburger restaurant as Japanese do in Nihon? If you ask someone where McDonald’s is using typical American pronunciation, you’ll likely get a blank stare and then polite smile back… but that’s all. McDonald’s is pronounced “mack-oh-doh-nahl-doh”… Of course, if I were in Hiroshima, I’d rather be having okonomiyaki with Otafuku sauce!

  3. Power Tryp says:

    Mighty Car Mods did this a few years ago, with a much cuter instructor too!

  4. Brian B says:

    I love the internet…thank you JNC

  5. Josh says:

    Really a helpful video. I always love to learn different languages. It’s a great video to learn pronunciation of Japanese carmaker names.

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