A silhouette of an archer riding horseback past a rope fence. The rider and his mount look deep in Jinba Ittai.

What is the meaning of Jinba Ittai?

Why Mazda Uses the Phrase “Jinba Ittai”

If you’ve been perusing Mazda vehicles, you may have come across the phrase “Jinba Ittai.” This mysterious (to those who don’t speak Japanese) phrase functions almost as a secondary slogan for the automaker. So what, exactly, does it mean?

Jinba Ittai is a Japanese phrase that refers to the experience of a horse rider feeling he has become one with his mount. Over time, a symbiotic relationship develops between horse and rider where it seems, when they’re in action, as if they’ve become a single being. A slight shift in weight or even change in feeling by the rider will cause a reflected reaction in the horse. This phrase comes from Japanese archery and is essential to mastery of the art.

Read More: Where are Mazda vehicles made?

Mazda employee Testsu Kasahara sits in a car and looks out at us from the driver's seat.Jinba Ittai as the Mazda Design Philosophy

Aside from being a part of Japanese culture, Jinba Ittai is also the design philosophy of Mazda. The feeling of driving a Mazda vehicle aims for that feeling of oneness between the skilled horse and rider. When a driver and car become perfectly in harmony, the driving experience is elevated to a new level.

One example of the way Mazda implements this philosophy is in something as simple as the amount of strength needed to move the shift lever. Recognizing that where the lever is positioned will impact the muscles that are used to move it, Mazda optimizes the perfect level of resistance in its lever for each position to keep the feeling of the movement in perfect synchronization with the driver’s body. Many small touches like this combine to convey that desired feeling of “oneness.”

The philosophy of Jinba Ittai is most closely associated with the Mazda MX-5 Miata. The phrase first appeared in the brochure for the first-generation MX-5.

“There was a moment when I was driving that I suddenly no longer felt the existence of the car. I thought, this is it.” -Tetsu Kasahara, assistant manger of the Chassis Dynamics Development Department (pictured).