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Japanese TLR Background/History

Elsewhere in this website, I discuss the specific histories of various notable Japanese manufacturers which produced TLRs in some numbers.  Many famous firms - Olympus, Minolta, Yashica and others - are discussed in their own pages, accessible from HERE.  However, there are dozens of lesser makes, mostly produced in a period of about ten years from 1950 or so.  The Japanese TLR had its origins before WW2 in the early copies of German models produced from 1936/37, with more appearing after 1939, when German cameras were hard to obtain/import.  Production of course nose-dived just before and after Japan's defeat in 1945.

Then, in the early 1950s, large numbers of American troops were based in (or passing through) Japan during the Korean War. It was partly their spending power which encouraged the development of a proliferation of manufacturers, many very small, to make products for them and for export to the USA. Cameras were a major part of this, which became the "golden age" of the Japanese TLR. There was a thriving pack of parts manufacturers (often making cameras themselves), and it can be very difficult to work out who made what.

To quote one fellow collector: "A whole series of imaginatively-named TLR cameras found their way to America in the duffel bags of occupation troops returning home... Who knows the real story — there are tales of families assembling cameras in their kitchens, and no doubt there is much truth to those stories".

When the Japanese habit of creating new multiple variant names for only slightly different products is combined with the growing opportunity in the late 'fifties to manufacture on a subcontract basis for American and European distributors, pinpointing who exactly made a particular model can be nigh-on impossible.

Therefore, where attribution to an identifiable maker is possible, its name is used to classify the camera here. Key sources for this are Sugiyama and McKeown (see Reference Sources page); the former is pretty reliable where it has something classified, but McKeown occasionally gets it wrong or hedges his bets. In some cases, where information is just unobtainable and the camera isn't clearly the same as a known attributable one, I can only list by the name on the nameplate itself.

One frequent common factor across the various brands (including those on my other "Japanese" pages) is the post-war Tri-Lausar lens set, a Tessar-type lens that the Tomioka Optical Company (Japan's first independent lensmaker) had perfected in the 1920's. They must have been churned out by the million - perhaps half the TLRs from the early 'fifties used them, and many, many other cameras besides. Tomioka Optical Laboratory was founded in Tokyo in 1924, and taken over by Yashica in the 1960s - Yashica itself being finally absorbed by Kyocera in 1983 (the lens division continues in business and acknowledges its Tomioka roots). If you know more of this, EMAIL ME and I'll publish it here and credit you!