Nissan recalls the birth of Miss Fairlady

The emphasis in the title is the word "Miss" – this isn't about the Datsun Fairlady (that eventually became the line of Z cars still going today), but the women who were hired to help sell them. Introduced as a concept to accompany a marquee dealership in Tokyo's chic Ginza area, the five Miss Fairladys were given product training so they could answer customer questions, a new thing at the time.

Nissan has made a neat little vid on the beginnings of Miss Fairlady, and it includes an interview with a Miss Fairlady from the early 1970s as well as her daughter, who is the Chief Miss Fairlady in Tokyo and Yokohama today. You'll find the rather attractive history lesson in the video posted below.

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YOKOHAMA, Japan – Japan's post-war economic recovery was underway when its capital Tokyo was selected to host the 1964 Summer Olympics.

Renewed investment had begun to change the landscape of Tokyo, and its business and entertainment center, Ginza, had become a literal crossroads for introducing trends and products to the nation and the world.

Staking its claim, Nissan would soon forge a statement with its own model showroom right in the heart of Ginza, recalls Takashi Tsueshita, an advertising manager at that time.

"We established the gallery on the second and third floor of the San-ai building. At that time, Tokyo was the center of Japan and Ginza was the center of Tokyo. Fashion, culture, and many other things all began their spread from Ginza," said Tsueshita.

"Nissan, as a top-tier company, we wanted to put a showroom here on this Ginza corner."

To attract visitors, the idea of using beautiful female showroom attendants was hatched, only this time with a twist – gallery staff would have product training.

A competition was held, and after several rounds of interviews, five candidates were chosen as the first class of Nissan Miss Fairladys, modeled after "Datsun Demonstrators" from the 1930s who introduced cars.

"My predecessor in Nissan decided to hire professional showroom ladies to interact directly with customers, explain things and help raise the company's image that way," Tsueshita explained.

The Datsun Fairlady 1500 sports car, was introduced in Japan in 1962, with the Fairlady name a link to the popular Broadway play of the era.

Car events and advertising with Miss Fairladys helped to make them a marketing and communications staple, often traveling to dealerships for product launches or events such as sponsored golf tournaments.

The customer-facing jobs offered significantly higher pay than desk work, and often had perks such as loaned company cars.

Yoriko Higano, a Miss Fairlady in the early 1970s, said demand for their presence was high and their year-long contract was often packed with activities.

"We only had one year but we had to go to lots of different places and everyday was so busy that our heads were spinning," said Higano.

"We were dispatched to dealerships outside Tokyo to do presentations when they displayed new models, in locations like Osaka, Fukuoka, and Okayama. I remember being sent to all sorts of different places."

Eventually Higano left Nissan to start her own family.

Her daughter, Atsuyo, decided decades later to follow in her mother's footsteps, and while Higano encouraged her, she learned that the Miss Fairlady job had evolved.

"If she was selected and they trained her, nothing could be better for her. I told her she probably wouldn't get in, but why not give it a try. So I let her apply," Higano said.

"Compared to my time, now they have to learn a lot more. So for my daughter, it was a tougher, much more professional job."

Rigorous training is part of daily work as well as special events such as the Tokyo Motor Show and annual shareholder meetings.

Atsuyo, the younger Higano, a Miss Fairlady at the Yokohama headquarters until last year, said product knowledge is a two-way street.

"During my first year, it was the launch of the new GT-R. Of course, I learned about the product in general as a Miss Fairlady. But it was such an important car and special model, so I really studied the details and technology of the car," she said.

"Many customers who come to us tend to have more knowledge than we do, so there are times we learn from customers."

As the glass ceiling on many Japanese workplaces began to change, the Miss Fairlady program itself saw women become managers.

Yuko Aoshima, now in her fifth year, is Chief Miss Fairlady in the Tokyo and Yokohama district.

"This is my first job since I graduated. I've learned a lot these five years, such as presentation skills, manners and attitude. So, it's not just for my career but also in developing as a person," said Aoshima.

"These skills will serve me in the future, and my experience as a Miss Fairlady will benefit me in whatever future job I have."

Yuriko Yamao, who owns a company that runs the current training program and was a former Miss Fairlady, says the program gives them an edge in their next career.

"Staff receive a very high level of training and education, so after their careers as a Miss Fairlady, many become announcers, celebrities or actors, making use of their presentation skills," she explained.

"On the other hand, there are those who marry and become housewives. Quite a few become entrepreneurs, like myself."

Now nearly 50 years since the Ginza launch, over thousands have donned the Nissan uniform, a heritage spanning families and generations but with one constant since the program's birth – Miss Fairlady is more than just a pretty face.

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