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WWII Japanese tank naming conventions?


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Tishler #1 Posted Dec 01 2012 - 21:53

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As a non-Japanese speaker, most of the Japanese tank names seem like Type [random number] [random syllable]-[random syllable]. Most nations give a name to the tank (generals for the US, big cats for the Germans, etc) or use the date of introduction (Soviets and Chinese) but I can't make heads or tails of the Japanese names. Are they just a random number and two random syllables or am I missing something?

Kankou #2 Posted Dec 01 2012 - 22:00

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There were Two systems: Order System and Classification System, both of which are under the Army Imperial Year System


Army Imperial Year System

The Imperial Year was used as the standard for designating the type, based on the mystical founding of Japan in 660 BC. The accepted practice was to use the last two numbers of the year as a type number, as in the Type 89 medium tank of 1929, with Type 100 for items accepted in 1940. After 1940 only the last digit was used, so Type 2 equipment was accepted in 1942.


Order System

Each tank is given a separate name, based on the order in adapation. The Type 89 medium tank was the “I-Go”, or “first car/model” while the Type 95 light tank was the “Ha-Go”, or “third car/model” (no second model has been identified).


Classification System

Starting from the Type 97 Chi-Ha, the naming system was changed to incorporate the classification of the tank. Each tank would get a two letter name, with the first letter standing for the type of tank and the second for the order in which the tanks were developed.

The majority of tanks fell into three categories – Chi, Ke and Ho, or Medium, Light and Gun, with Chi and Ke used as single character abbreviations for Chiu (or Chui) and Kei. There seems to have been a category for Heavy (O, short for Oo), but this is only "confirmed" in the sense that it was the unofficial name given to the 120 ton tank O-I.


The numbering system used was based on the Iroha, a Japanese poem. This used every character from the Japanese syllabary once, and for a long time was used to put those characters in order (in a rather poetic version of the ABC). The first two lines of the poem, transliterated in roman letters, ran:

i ro ha ni ho he to
chi ri nu ru wo


If we summarize the naming system:

Chi: Medium
Ke: Light
Ho: Gun (Tank Destroyer)
O: Heavy

1- I or Yi
2 - Ro
3 - Ha
4 - Ni
5 - Ho
6 - He
7 - To
8 - Chi
9 - Ri
10 - Nu
11 - Ru
12 - O or Wo


Using the medium tanks as an example:

Chi-I (Medium First): None (most likely Experimental Type 1 Tank)
Chi-Ro (Medium Second): Type 89 I-Go
Chi-Ha (Medium Third): Type 97 Chi-Ha
Chi-Ni (Medium Fourth): Type 97 Chi-Ni (never got out of prototype status)
Chi-Ho (Medium Fifth) Type 98 Chi-Ho (never got out of prototype status)
Chi-He (Medium Sixth): Type 1 Chi-He
Chi-To (Medium Seventh): Type 4 Chi-To
Chi-Ri (Medium Ninth): Type 5 Chi-Ri
Chi-Nu (Medium Tenth): Type 3 Chi-Nu

cwjian90 #3 Posted Dec 01 2012 - 22:03

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The "Type" convention is not random. During World War II, Japan followed their own calenders, the Showa and Koki. The Showa basically started counting years from the year Emperor Hirohito (Showa) was born, whereas the Koki calender starts counting from the mythical Japanese founding in 660 BC. The number after "Type" is the last two digits of the Koki year in which the weapon was put into service (or developed, can't remember). So, the Type 97 tank would refer to a tank put into service in 1937, which is the year 2597 on the Koki calender. This convention was used for all Japanese weapon systems, hence the Mitsubishi A6M 'Zero' fighter's nickname (Type 00, entering service in 1940). The convention remains to this day, but I believe the Japanese have switched to the Gregorian calender, hence the name Type 10 for their latest tank, which entered service in 2010.

As for the names Chi-Ha, Ha-Go, Chi-Nu, etc, there is also a convention to that, but I'll defer to someone more knowledgeable than I am.

There's also a brief explanation here: http://en.wikipedia....nk_designations

Edited by cwjian90, Dec 01 2012 - 22:11.


Tishler #4 Posted Dec 01 2012 - 22:12

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Oh wow, I never knew the calendars thing. That makes sense now.

ohsi #5 Posted Dec 01 2012 - 22:21

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Did you really think they just put "random" numbers and "syllabes"...?

cwjian90 #6 Posted Dec 01 2012 - 22:21

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View Postohsi, on Dec 01 2012 - 22:21, said:

Did you really think they just put "random" numbers and "syllabes"...?

Try Russian tanks, they have nearly no universal naming convention.

squibbon #7 Posted Dec 01 2012 - 22:34

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View Postohsi, on Dec 01 2012 - 22:21, said:

Did you really think they just put "random" numbers and "syllabes"...?
So do the British. Other than "Mk I, II, III, etc.," they just pick names that sound cool. The British have been known for OFFICIALLY naming ANY weapon something that is just pleasant to hear. I am not talking about crew naming their vehicles, you can actually find that British armories label their inventory as "cool" or "pleasant" names instead of numbers. France names their tanks after the factories that make them. America names their tanks in order of design, with "M" standing for main service, and "T" standing for test tank. Italy and Germany just did the Mk. I, II, III names, like the PzKpfw series.

Tishler #8 Posted Dec 01 2012 - 22:53

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Okay, so Japanese tank names are two parts: the first refers to a shortened form of their words for light, medium and gun (light tank, medium tank and TD) and the second refers to a poem that orders the Japanese alphabet (made of syllables) and is used to number them. So it's Type [calendar year] [class of vehicle]-[number].

I'm sitting here chuckling. I would never have guessed they used a poem to number their military vehicles. That's pretty classy.

Okinoshima #9 Posted Dec 01 2012 - 22:55

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Just a correction, there was a Chi-Ni, The Type 97 Chi-Ni which only made it to the prototype stage. It was cancelled in favour of the Type 97 Chi-Ha

http://mtg.domek.org...yp97_chi-ni.jpg

Kankou #10 Posted Dec 01 2012 - 22:56

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View PostTishler, on Dec 01 2012 - 22:53, said:

I'm sitting here chuckling. I would never have guessed they used a poem to number their military vehicles. That's pretty classy.

It was all part of the nationalism thing of the day, where "Yamatoism" ("pure" Japanism) was blooming and there were attempts to completely eradicate kanji (as being of Chinese origins). It's both classy and sad.

cwjian90 #11 Posted Dec 01 2012 - 23:01

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View PostKankou, on Dec 01 2012 - 22:56, said:

It was all part of the nationalism thing of the day, where "Yamatoism" ("pure" Japanism) was blooming and there were attempts to completely eradicate kanji (as being of Chinese origins). It's both classy and sad.

it's actually funny that the Chinese also adopted a "Type" system after 1949.

squibbon #12 Posted Dec 01 2012 - 23:58

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View Postcwjian90, on Dec 01 2012 - 23:01, said:

it's actually funny that the Chinese also adopted a "Type" system after 1949.
India is the only Asian country that does not name their weapons "type." They follow the British naming system of naming original weapons after something relating to Indian imperialism. For instance, India's most powerful tank today is the Arjun, which is named after a character of the Mahabharata, and is an upgraded version of the T-72 to perform as well as the Type 99 of China. "Type" is just a convenient way to organize tank models.

Xlucine #13 Posted Dec 02 2012 - 00:06

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View Postsquibbon, on Dec 01 2012 - 23:58, said:

India's most powerful tank today is the Arjun, which is named after a character of the Mahabharata, and is an upgraded version of the T-72 to perform as well as the Type 99 of China.

Arjun is a new design that shares little with the T-72 - for one the gun (which IIRC is sorta like the L30) has a human loader. You're probably thinking of the Ajeya.

Kankou #14 Posted Dec 02 2012 - 00:07

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Neither does either Koreas. ROKA uses K-Number and separate names ("88" for the K-1 and "Black Panther" for the K-2) and KPAGF uses regular names (Chonma-ho and Pokpung-ho).

cwjian90 #15 Posted Dec 02 2012 - 00:10

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View PostXlucine, on Dec 02 2012 - 00:06, said:

Arjun is a new design that shares little with the T-72 - for one the gun (which IIRC is sorta like the L30) has a human loader. You're probably thinking of the Ajeya.
FWIW, Arjun has more in common with the Leopard 2 than the T-72.

squibbon #16 Posted Dec 02 2012 - 00:16

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View Postcwjian90, on Dec 02 2012 - 00:10, said:

FWIW, Arjun has more in common with the Leopard 2 than the T-72.
  Huh. I did some research. Apparently the Arjun was an original tank design, comparable to the Japanese Type 90. I swear I read somewhere that the Arjun was just an upgraded Russian tank.

HAH! EAT THAT CHINA!

Mow_Mow #17 Posted Dec 02 2012 - 00:30

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View Postcwjian90, on Dec 01 2012 - 22:03, said:

The "Type" convention is not random. During World War II, Japan followed their own calenders, the Showa and Koki. The Showa basically started counting years from the year Emperor Hirohito (Showa) was born, whereas the Koki calender starts counting from the mythical Japanese founding in 660 BC. The number after "Type" is the last two digits of the Koki year in which the weapon was put into service (or developed, can't remember). So, the Type 97 tank would refer to a tank put into service in 1937, which is the year 2597 on the Koki calender. This convention was used for all Japanese weapon systems, hence the Mitsubishi A6M 'Zero' fighter's nickname (Type 00, entering service in 1940). The convention remains to this day, but I believe the Japanese have switched to the Gregorian calender, hence the name Type 10 for their latest tank, which entered service in 2010.

Nowadays Japanese people use both, Gregorian calender for "normal" life and the "reign year" calendar for more "official" stuff. When I registered for the national health service I had to use my "reign year" for my birth date, but in normal living you see the more standard Gregorian calendar for dates. Of course this is probably oversimplifying it.

cwjian90 #18 Posted Dec 02 2012 - 00:44

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View PostMow_Mow, on Dec 02 2012 - 00:30, said:

Nowadays Japanese people use both, Gregorian calender for "normal" life and the "reign year" calendar for more "official" stuff. When I registered for the national health service I had to use my "reign year" for my birth date, but in normal living you see the more standard Gregorian calendar for dates. Of course this is probably oversimplifying it.

So have you all switched to Emperor Akihito's reign year?

Edited by cwjian90, Dec 02 2012 - 00:45.


Kankou #19 Posted Dec 02 2012 - 00:45

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Heisei, yes.

lostwingman #20 Posted Dec 02 2012 - 02:14

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View Postcwjian90, on Dec 01 2012 - 22:21, said:

Try Russian tanks, they have nearly no universal naming convention.
Are you talking about the Object thing? That actually has logic to it compared to the American system of "what number haven't we used yet?" system. The three digit number was a  combination of identifiers containing the factory or group designing it, the type of vehicle, and the model. I can't recall the specifics but it did have a rhyme and reason to it. The "T" naming system referred to year of introduction or some other year of significance to the vehicle. For example the T-34 gets the '34 because 1934 is the year Koshkin devised what would become the T-34.

Edited by lostwingman, Dec 02 2012 - 02:14.