The Word Subaru Has a Special Double-Meaning in Japanese

In Japan, “Subaru” is the name of the Pleiades constellation. This cluster of stars happens to be the same one depicted in the Subaru brand’s logo. But this Japanese word’s literal translation is “unity.” In a word, it communicates the mission of the five companies that merged to create Subaru.

What is the Subaru constellation?

The Japanese call the Pleiades constellation “subaru,” which means unity. In the Western world many use the Ancient Greek name Pleiades for this cluster, or simply call it the “Seven Sisters.”

Telescope photo of the M45 constellation which  has the name Seven Sisters in the West, the Pleiades in Ancient Greek, and Subaru in Japan.
Pleiades constellation | Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The scientific name of the Pleiades is Messier 45 (or M45). In Greek mythology, these seven stars are actually the seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione, who were nymphs known collectively as the Pleiades. According to the story, Zeus placed them in the sky to protect them from Orion, the hunter.

You can see Messier 45 especially well in the Northern Hemisphere during the month of November. This is because it is actually part of the Taurus Zodiac constellation, which is covered by the sun in the spring. To the naked eye, it does not look like seven stars. Two of the stars are so close together that this cluster looks a bit like one very bright star and five dimmer stars.

What does Subaru mean?

The word Subaru has a double meaning because it translates to “unity” and unity is also the Japanese name for the Pleiades star cluster. The first executives of Subaru chose this name to communicate the company’s history.

Closeup of the Pleiades constellation that gives Subaru its Japanese name, on a car's grille badge.
Subaru logo | Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

In 1953, five major manufacturers combined to form Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd (FHI). This conglomerate built chassis and buses and scooters. But it decided to get into automobiles. So it spun off an automotive brand.

The new company chose the Pleiades as its logo and represented it as one bright star (FHI) and five smaller stars (the five companies that formed the conglomerate). By naming itself Subaru it literally named itself after the constellation, but also communicated the philosophy behind five competitors becoming a single company.

What happened to Fuji Heavy Industries?

Fuji Heavy Industries is known as the manufacturing conglomerate that created Subaru. Because Subaru exceeded beyond anyone’s wildest expectations, and became a major international brand, FHI actually changed its entire corporation’s name to Subaru.

A row of Subarus under a dealership sign with the brand's name.
Subaru dealership | Yichuan Cao/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Next, find out the surprising true story behind the Jeep Wranglers’ name or see CNBC dive into the future of Subaru in the video below:

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