You’ve probably been oversaturated with Nissan stories lately, so we’ll forgive you if you’re feeling a bit of fatigue, but in putting together our showcase of the company’s pickup lineage, we stumbled upon a detail that delighted us: Nissan’s truck chassis leapfrogged a generation, and not for reasons a non-Japanese-speaker might expect.
Today’s highlight is brought to you by the numbers “420” and “69.” Go ahead and giggle. After all, a certain titan of industry loves to reference both figures, and not in any way that is relevant to building electric cars or putting human beings in tunnels (or on Mars, for that matter). At least when we make you snicker, it has something to do with cars.
We get it. You probably don’t spend your day crawling forums, GeoCities-era web sites and, yes, wikipedia, in an attempt to dredge up obscure car trivia. But we do, mostly because we get paid to, but also sometimes because you can learn some particularly weird factoids that might come in handy the next time you feel like being asked to leave a party early.
In this case, we’re looking at the fourth-generation Nissan (or Datsun, as it was here) Pickup, with a capital “P,” also known as the compact truck that would eventually be called the Frontier. In putting together our retrospective, we came across a delightful little tidbit on wikipedia: Nissan chose to skip from the 320 series to the 520 series due to a fascinating quirk of Japanese speech.
The wiki entry contains a vague (and amusing) note claiming that Nissan skipped over “420” because, when spoken aloud, the numbers sound similar to “the Japanese word for ‘rudeness’ or ‘impolite.'” The entry cites a book (which we don’t have) about Nissan’s engineering history, making it a bit tricky to verify.
“Just ask somebody who speaks Japanese,” you might say. Sure, that might simplify half of the equation, but even if the linguistic observation is accurate, that doesn’t mean it factored into the automaker’s decision-making. So, we went straight to the source, and one of our contacts at Nissan asked a company historian for clarification. Here’s what they had to say:
“Yes – the model code ‘420’ was skipped, only because of its pronunciation / homophone issue. In Japanese, ‘4’ reads ‘Yon‘ or ‘Shi.’ ‘2’ reads ‘Ni.’ So, some people can read ’42’ as ‘Shi-Ni,’ sounding very much like ‘死に’ (‘die’ / ‘dead’ / ‘death’). In Japanese traditional culture, pronunciation like these ‘ill-fortune’ words are often avoided, skipped or replaced.”
If you’ve ever been to Japan, you may have noticed that old flats and hotels tend to skip room numbers that start with 4, much the same way western buildings might not have a 13th floor. The historian also noted that Japanese license plates often skip sequences which end in 42 or 49 (‘死苦’ — ‘throes of death’) for the same reason. Imagine how strange it must be for Japanese baseball fans to watch American teams play on Jackie Robinson Day.
So, there you have it. But for a quirk of Japanese linguistics, we almost had a 1960s Datsun 420 Pickup. Sorry, Elon.