A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

What does YKK mean on zippers?

October 5, 1990

Dear Cecil:

I've climbed the highest mountains, searched the darkest depths of the public library and even asked my mother. Still I come up with a blank. So here's my question: have you ever looked at your zipper? I mean really looked? On 90 percent of them there are the letters YKK. Please tell me what YKK means so I can again know inner peace.

Cecil replies:

It means Yoshida Kogyo Kabushikikaisha. Feeling peaceful? Didn't think so. See if the following bonus info helps. YKK translated means Yoshida Industries Limited. Tadao Yoshida is the Japanese tycoon who founded the company in 1934 and built it into "the foremost manufacturer of closures [zippers, mostly] in the world," the company's annual report notes. It's unfortunate that YKK is not better known, but face it, a zipper isn't exactly the ideal billboard — the only time you get close enough to read the lettering, typically your mind is on other things.

Your idea of a zipper factory might be a couple guys named Izzy and Mort (or the equivalent in Japanese) in some crummy loft in the garment district. Little do you know — this is a mighty industry here. We're talking 54 plants and 114 sales offices in 40 countries with a total of 25,000 employees. (Hey, everybody needs zippers.) We're talking mammoth production lines, giant automatic weaving machines, and barrel oscillation plating equipment. (I don't know what it is either, but it looks impressive in the pictures.) We're talking heavy-duty R&D, as dedicated YKK scientists strive to perfect the zippers of tomorrow. Also the aluminum building materials of tomorrow, YKK having diversified thereinto a while back.

Tadao Yoshida's genius was to understand the poetry of zipper manufacture. (No kidding — the guy even does calligraphy.) The company's charmingly loopy brochures explain that the YKK philosophy is "the Cycle of Goodness." Says here, "the concept means that no one prospers unless he renders profit or benefit to others.  … The people of YKK have dedicated themselves to manufacturing perfection — delivering goods and services that benefit their customers and society as well as their company and their own personal lives. … [They are dedicated] to the continued enhancement of everyday life for citizens throughout the U.S.A."

OK, it's just zippers, but Yoshida's idea is, they might as well be great zippers. One more reason why the Japanese are kicking Occidental butt in the fields of commerce.

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