Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


THE FASHION of automotive styling is an evolving thing, and I sense we were in the midst of a swing from Nikko to Katsura and are now heading back to Nikko. I’ve cited architectural examples in “Aesthetics of Japan,”, and I believe its two extremes are applicable to car design as well.

Briefly, the Nikko aesthetic refers to the temples and shrines in Nikko, about 90 miles north of Tokyo. Honored there is the Tokugawa Shogunate that ruled Japan from 1600 until 1868. The structures are characterized by a richness of surface development and elaborate ornamentation. There’s a folk saying: “Never say kekko [Japanese for ‘I am satisfied,’] until you’ve seen Nikko.”


At left, Nikko Tōshō-gū Yomeimon; right, Nikko Karamon.

By contrast, Katsura Rikyu, near Kyoto in central Japan, about 290 miles west of Tokyo, is a detached palace also built in the 1600s. Its lines are simple and understated, with rectilinear surface development and largely devoid of ornamentation.


At left, a Katsura Rikyu structure; at right, its interior.

Both styles have elegance. However, where Nikko is opulent in its curves, Katsura displays the Japanese analog of the west’s Golden Ratio (see “This Rectangle is Golden,”

To my eye, it’s straightforward to associate either of these aesthetics to car designs.

For example, the Ferrari F40 is Katsura; the Ferrari LaFerrari is Nikko.


Left, Ferrari F40; right, Ferrari LaFerrari.

The Ferrari F40, styled by Leonardo Fioravanti of Pininfarina, is devoid of extraneous lines. To quote the late auto stylist Alex Tremulis, it doesn’t have “its aerodynamic laundry all hung out.”

The Ferrari LaFerrari, also known as the F150, breaks the company’s styling heritage in not being shaped by Pininfarina. Flavio Manzoni, Ferrari’s Senior Vice President of Design, sees the car as developing a new identity for Maranello shapes.

Other companies appear to be part of this Katsura/Nikko trend. To my eye, the Nissan 300ZX is Katsura; its Infiniti sibling’s Q90 Inspiration is Nikko.


Left, the Nissan 300ZX; right, the Infiniti Q90 Inspiration.

Elements of this Nikko/Katsura transition are chronological. Ferrari’s F40 was produced between 1987 and 1992, as was the Nissan 300ZX. The Infiniti Q90 Inspiration and Ferrari LaFerrari made their debuts in 2013. However, cars of any particular era allow similar comparisons.


Left, the 2017 Ford GT; right, the Aston Martin DB10 Concept.

The Ford GT, which is slated to appear as a 2017 production car (and, many hope, at the 2016 Le Mans), stunned everyone at the 2015 North American International Auto Show. See “Automotive News Sums Them Up,” Along the lines of modern Formula 1 cars, complex surface development has not been eschewed.

The Aston Martin DB10 recently made its debut at Britain’s Pinewood Studios, appropriate because it’s intended to star in Spectre, the studio’s James Bond flick scheduled for release in November 2015. The marque celebrates 50 years of association with 007 (and doesn’t this make some of us feel old!). Aston Martin plans only 10 of these Katsura shapes to be built.

The Nikko/Katsura game isn’t limited to high-buck exotics. I’d rate the second-generation Toyota Prius as Katsura; the 2016 Prius V prototype (seen at the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show) as Nikko, on the basis alone of its in-your-face nose.


Left, 2006 Toyota Prius; right, 2016 Toyota Prius V prototype.

A lot of ornamentation and opulence tends to be concentrated in the nose of a car, with less at the rear. Generally, many of today’s German designs tend toward Katsura; current Japanese models, toward Nikko. There are, however, exceptions and others that defy simple characterization.


A selection of cars, old and new. Katsura or Nikko? Clockwise from upper left, Toyota FT-1, Porsche Panamera, Bugatti Type 43 Grand Sport, Delahaye 175S, Mazda MX-5 Miata, Audi Q7, Lamborghini Countach, Chevrolet Volt, Maserati Alfieri.

I’d be interested in your assessments of these. Which are Katsura? Which, Nikko? Or neither? ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2015


  1. Anton Thortzen
    April 9, 2015

    Well, to my eyes the Lamborghini and the Toyota are pure Nikko and the Delahaye, MX-5, Chevy and maybe the Bugatti pure katsura. The Panamera and Audi are too bland to be either. The Maserati looks cool, but It is hard to say – it could be both. But that Delahaye is just jaw dropping gorgeous. Drool!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: