Despite some confusion among fans, Atari is not a Japanese company. But the brand does have a bit of a Japanese vibe.
The word “Atari” / 当たりcomes from the Japanese board game GO, which was a favorite of Atari founder Nolan Bushnell. Atari translates in Japanese to “hit the target.”
The Atari logo is nicknamed the “fuji” logo because it looks like Mt. Fuji in Japan, but according to the logo’s designer there was no Japanese inspiration behind the design.
Still, between the name and the logo, many people assume the company founded in Sunnyvale California is a Japanese brand.
Which leads us to the mystery of this t-shirt design featuring Japanese lettering. Where did the design with Japanese lettering come from? Was the shirt sold in Japan? Not at all. The shirt was inspired by a 1980s British new wave band.
In 1986, Sigue Sigue Sputnik included a song titled Atari Baby on their debut album, Flaunt It.
“Atari Baby, gonna make you mine
Atari Baby, you look so Fine
Atari Baby, I don't mean maybe
(give it a listen on YouTube)
While on tour supporting the album, bass player Tony James was photographed on stage wearing a shirt with an Atari logo. The t-shirt also made it onto the artwork for the cassette release of the album (yes a cassette, this is 1986). Atari in-house Creative Director John Kauderer, an 80s new wave fan, spotted it and tucked it away in the back of his mind.
Ray Mayhew and Tony James of Sigue Sigue Sputnik live at Abbey Road Studios. London, November 29, 1985
24 years later, John was tasked with designing a new shirt to give to all employees for the Atari holiday party. He remembered the Sigue Sigue Sputnik photo and used it as an inspiration to create a new design.
A new shirt, inspired by the original, is available now on Atari.com as a shirt and as a hoodie. Perfect for cozying up to watch the annual christmas eve hijinks at Nakatomi plaza or booting up that brand new Atari VCS you just got as a gift.