Brand misconception

It can often seem the case that Japanese brands don’t have much of a presence in the west. What if it’s just a case of not recognising them? There are of course a number of well-known Japanese companies that operate globally, yet there are others that are among the biggest in the industry but whose origins remain a mystery or at least mistaken. 

I want to remedy this situation by introducing some famous Japanese brands and companies from a variety of industries. The Stipulation to this is that the following names are in fact all Japanese from conception; they are not Japanese owned from the results of buyouts or takeover etc. 

If you are ready for a surprise, keep reading. 


1. Lexus

You will all know that Lexus is a brand that produces luxury cars which can be found around the world. What you may not know is that it’s a subsidiary of the biggest car manufacturer in the world, Toyota.

Lexus was designed to be the luxury division of Toyota, but only for the international market (starting with North America). While it’s true that they can now be found in Japan, until 2005 Lexus models that were released in Japan did so under a Toyota badge instead. 

Compared to other Japanese car manufacturers such as Suzuki or Honda, Lexus does not use the characters or formation of the Japanese syllabary or alphabet, disguising its Japanese origins. It’s even rumoured that the name means “luxury export US’ or ‘ L-EX-US.

A blue Japanese branded car in a showroom.

2. Roland

Roland is a brand that produces music instruments, and software, but specialises in electronic equipment. While the likes of Yamaha is a dominating name in the music industry, Roland has played a big part and made its mark in history. 

It’s a name that was once again specifically designed for the export market and one that was believed to be easy to pronounce according to the founder Kakehashi Ikutaro. 

It was the 80’s where Roland began to get noticed with its focus on electronic equipment propelling the electronic genre, but it was along with the founder Kakehashi and the founder of american company ‘Sequencer’ Dave Smith that together developed MIDI. 

A piece of electronic equipment used in music.

David J from Alingsås, Sweden, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

3. Canon

Japan has always been a hub for world class quality cameras and equipment. In fact if you search for a list of the biggest camera manufacturers in the world, seven out of ten would consistently be Japanese companies — including canon.

Maybe then this isn’t as much of a surprise as some of the others on this list, but considering that its two biggest competitors Sony and Nikon are more obviously and more commonly known to be Japanese brands, there are those that may assume Canon may be otherwise. 

The name Canon is the final alteration of a name that has Buddhist origins; Kwannon, that itself comes from a Chinese variation of the word Guanyin.

Two black Canon branded cameras.

4. Secom

Changing industry again; this time we have Secom which is a well-known security company. Maybe not an industry that is in the public eye as much as the others until now, nevertheless it is a company that is used and relied upon heavily in the UK. 

When I say security I mean it’s a company that provides surveillance, systems, and safety devices for a variety of organisations in different sectors, some of which are quite high profile public venues; they are also available for residential use. 

The point being with Secom is that Japanese companies are prolific in many industries; when your next in work check who is in charge of your security, it may surprise you.

A expansive white office building with 'Secom' branded on the side.

多摩に暇人, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

5. Asics/Onitsuka Tiger

Asics and Onitsuka Tiger are an interesting case, one sounding very Japanese, the other not so much. 

Asics have started to become more prominent over the last decade or so, coming with a rise in popularity. It’s primarily a Japanese sports clothing brand but has begun to specialise in footwear. 

Originally starting out as Onitsuka Tiger which was a popular sports shoe brand, Asics was the result of a merging; two smaller companies and Onitsuka itself. Despite this, Onitsuka survived and is still a Japanese brand that is available under the Asics name, to the point that the two together have become almost two sides of the same coin — Asics appearing as the international face and Onitsuka being the Japanese face of the company.

Fun fact; the gold shoes worn by Uma Thurman in Kill Bill were made by Onitsuka Tiger.

A pair of blue running shoes.

6. Pilot

Now to something many of us will use everyday and give little thought to — Pens. Pilot is a household name when it comes to stationary, specifically pens, and is in fact another Japanese brand that is often unknowingly staring us in the face. 

Pilot isn’t a prestigious brand comparable to the likes of Parker or Mont blanc etc, but that is what makes this entry more surprising. It’s an unassuming brand that has become synonymous with good quality for everyday use. Chances are if you are looking for reliable office supplies, Pilot pens instinctively seem a good choice to many; such is the reputation that has slowly developed over the course of 100 years.

A silver pen with 'Pilot' on the side
Enrique Íñiguez Rodríguez (Qoan), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

7. Bridgestone

Bridgestone is the first brand on this list on which I can say for definite is the biggest in its industry. Primarily a vehicle tyre company, it has been successful in public and everyday motoring as well as contributed success to a variety of motorsports. 

Founder Shojiro Ishibashi first started out manufacturing Tabi socks and later rubber soles for footwear. After finding success in the industry and the evident competency with working with rubber; he moved his focus onto its use in the car industry. Shojiro’s surname Ishibashi literally means stone bridge in Japanese, but to once again appeal to the overseas market more easily he translated it to English and reversed the order giving us Bridgestone. 

It’s a tyre company that has expanded manufacturing operations well beyond its foundations in Japan to 27 other countries, although this does not include the UK; yet, they are highly sought after and accessible. 

A Bridgestone branded tyre on a car.

8. NEC

Lastly we have a I.T company named NEC that has been a part of multiple arms of the technology industry. 

First gaining a name as a PC manufacturer it has since delved into electronic displays, video games, mobile communications, lithium batteries, and internet networks to name a few. It’s a brand that has a presence more behind the scenes than in the public eye but has played big parts in the world. For example many of the projectors found throughout schools in the UK were made and provided by NEC. 

A Japanese branded NEC computer chip
Hannes Grobe, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


The role that Japan plays in the world is much bigger than many may think; I purposefully picked a handful of varied Japanese brands across a range of industries to illustrate this point. Some of these may be more surprising than others and its true that many of these are somewhat hidden by the effort to change their name to something that more benefits an overseas market, but its shows how accessible Japanese brands really are should you look for them.