Company History

The known history of this company is largely based on advertisements found in various Japanese camera magazines, and chronicled at Camera-Wiki. Briefly ...

 

  • Taiyodo was active as a camera distributor in 1946 [1].​

  • They developed a manufacturing arm which was named Taiyodo Koki K.K (TKK), and their first camera was a sub-miniature called the Meteor, which was announced in January 1948.

  • The company entered the 35mm camera market in 1955  - the subject of this website.

  • By September 1957, Taiyodo Koki "went bankrupt" [2], but was quickly reorganized as the Beauty Camera Company.​

  • The new company continued to make cameras up until 1963, when, for reasons unknown, the firm quietly disappeared [3].​

 

Well - that's the accepted history, however it seems this account may be erroneous in several respects. I'm not out to discredit Camera-wiki: I simply have a different opinion.

 

[1] Taiyodo was not a distributor: it was a shop!

 

A distributor is an agent who supplies goods to retailers (dealers) who in turn sell directly to the public.

 

The Camera-wiki entry begins with "Taiyodo was already active as a camera distributor in early 1946", which is followed by a reference to an advert attributed to 1946, and found in an enthusiasts' magazine. It's reproduced at the top right of this page. But, I think the text translates as a dealer seeking to "buy" and "exchange" at their Kanda-Jimbocho store (as independent shops did before the chain stores dominated).

 

The core "evidence" of Taiyodo acting as a distributor is elsewhere on Camera-wiki, and pivots around Taiyodo's advertising of Gelto cameras (made by Toa Koki). Two examples are sited: one was in a 1948 trade journal, while the other was in a magazine for amateur photographers. According to Camera-wiki, the first advert presents Taiyodo as the distributer, and this assertion is supported by a line of quoted Japanese text (presumably from the advert). That text actually translates as "Gelto Product Dealers", or with the characters for Gelto removed, it reads "Product Store".

 

I have been unable to find copies of either of these adverts, but here's an earlier one (on Flickr) from 1947, which has been translated (here). I can see nothing to suggest that Taiyodo was anything more than a shop selling Gelto cameras and Planet accessories.

 

Other Taiyodo magazine adverts, examples of which date to between 1949 and 1950, were usually in two parts: one half advertising a TKK product, and the other inviting people to sell and exchange cameras at Taiyodo's shop, using phrases such as "exchange welcome" and "highest purchase price".

[2] Taiyodo Koki "reorganized" as the Beauty Camera Company

I feel the explanation of Taiyodo Koki becoming the Beauty Camera Company, as attributed to Gordon Lewis, is possibly a little misleading or even fallacious. Bankruptcy is a procedure whose main purpose is to manage and exchange debtor's property, and distribute it fairly to creditors. Plenty of Japanese companies vanished completely due to bankruptcy (e.g. Aires, Nicca, and Zunow to name a few of the period). However, "reorganization" is when a company renegotiates its debt obligations without going out of business.

 

Taiyodo Koki did not appear to be a failing company prior to 1957. In addition to selling their own cameras (including the rebrands Gen and Photoflex), Taiyodo Koki made models for Santa Monica based photographic equipment manufacturer and retailer "Miller-Outcalt", the Chicago based mail order giant "Montgomery Ward" and the "United States Camera Corporation", plus the Dutch distributer "Fodor", through which almost 99% of Japanese photographic equipment apparently entered the Netherlands (according to Barry Toogood).

 

1957 was a pivotal time for Taiyodo Koki, as early in the year they decided to abandon TLRs, and focus on 35mm cameras, starting with the Beauty Canter. This model was marketed at home, in the USA, Sweden, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, South America, India and other Asian countries. It's not at all surprising that they simultaneously changed the company name to match that of their core product (as did Orion to Miranda, and Nippon to Nikon). Most importantly, the company went on to expand their markets, and deliver products (such as built-in light meters) as planned early in 1957 (see "Tokyo Firm Readies New 35 for Export" from the 23rd March 1957 edition of "Army Times", the link to which can be found on the Canter page). None of this suggests a company on the brink of collapse, nor under new management and changing direction.

 

[3] Camera Taiyodo remained in business until 2013

 

It seems Taiyodo continued as a shop long beyond 1963,  when camera manufacturing ceased. I've found several Blogs written by Japanese camera collectors who have commented on the 30th June 2013 closure of a shop in Chiyoda Tokyo, at the Kanda-Jimbocho crossing (which was the first registered address of Taiyodo). It was called "Camera Taiyodo", was decorated with nostalgic Beautyflexes, and had the atmosphere of an old-fashioned camera shop.

 

While some of the Blogs (and other Japanese web pages) claim that the outlet was first established in 1920, the correct start date for Taiyodo seems to be 1947. The main supporting evidence I have been able to find is obscure ... a 2010 magazine published by Senshu University of Chiyoda, which included a feature on "Camera Taiyodo". This document translates poorly, but contains the unequivocal statement "the company was founded in 1947", and has references to Beauty cameras and a factory.

 

It seems very logical to me that an enterprise selling photographic equipment might become a manufacturer (especially during the post WWII recovery period), and in times of difficulty (the intense competition and rapid innovation of the 1960s, plus the rising popularity of the SLR), a manufacturing company might revert to its origins rather than fold completely. So, I want to believe these anecdotes are accurate and true.

 

Moving-on to the cameras themselves, I have structured the contents of this site chronologically, to avoid repetition of the description of features carried forward from old models to their replacements. Consequently, it is best read in the same way; starting with the 35 through to the Beaumat, and Super L to the Lightmatic SP (or up to any other models of interest).

カメラ = camera 太陽堂 = Taiyodo

太陽堂光機㈱ = Taiyodo Optical Machinery

(Co Ltd)

 

An early advertisement by Taiyodo, found in the January 1946 issue of Ars Camera magazine. This clipping is cited (on Camera-wiki) as evidence of Taiyodo as a distributer, but I don't agree. A translation has been overlaid. Full size image on Flickr here.

taiyodo46.jpg

An advertisement from the May1950 issue of Photo Art magazine. The left panel shows Taiyodo Koki as a manufacturer and seller, while the right is Taiyodo seeking to buy used equipment. It even specifies the brands Mamiya & Konica (マミヤ・コニカ).

Full size image on Flickr here.

vestkam.jpg

And here's another from February 1949 - Ars Camera again. It's staring us in the face; Taiyodo and Camera Taiyodo are one and the same. Full size image on Flickr here.

meteor.jpg

The image below is from one of several Blogs recording the 2013 closure of the "Camera Taiyodo" shop in Chiyoda Tokyo. The font of the sign over the door is unchanged from the 1940s. 

shop1.jpg

Here's the 2010 crew at Camera Taiyodo. From the left, Mr. Koshiro Udagawa, Mr. Kunio Onishi, Mr. Yamashina, Mr. Shuji Fukui.

Camera Taiyodo

Between 24th October  2017 and 18 February  2018, the Japan Camera Museum (managed and operated by Japan Camera Industry Institute) held an exhibition entitled "Japanese cameras that have won the world". The image below is an A-Z exhibition display of post WWII TLRs (with J, U and X missing). The next slide shows the highlighted model to be a Beautyflex III, and the image caption reads that the camera is related to the long-established store Camera Taiyodo, closed in 2013.

jcii.jpg

Japanese cameras were not imported to the UK until 1957, when a yearly quota system limited both the number of units and their value (shown below - information from Hansard, the official report of debates in Parliament). The limits were raised each year until 1st January 1962, when import restrictions on photographic equipment from Japan were completely removed. For this reason, it is highly unlikely that any Beauties came to the UK before 1960.

imports.jpg

Click the PDF icon for a timeline of Beauty 35mm camera models.

 

Why collect Beauties?

I like cameras; in my youth they were objects of desire. But, I don't want to be an obsessive collector; I've never wanted to own examples of each and every camera made. A manufacturer like Beauty offers a realistic and reasonable challenge; ten models is achievable. It is very much part of the British psyche to support the underdog; we identify with their struggle and their resolve. I like observing the evolution of technology; it's life in miniature - everything changes and evolves constantly. I love a mystery, both discovering a conundrum and searching for answers; it keeps my brain active. Beauties are somewhat mysterious. There is enormous gratification to be gained from saving something; in this case, saving a forgotten camera manufacturer from the jaws of oblivion. Finally, and perhaps most bizarrely, I get a kick from correcting the utter nonsense and misunderstandings that are too frequently published and regurgitated around the Internet. 


The flip-side is that, while well made and hefty, Beauties were not Leica/Voigtlander (etc) quality: more often than not, sixty plus years on, they do not work. I don't want the faff of using them to take photos, but it's nice when something actually fulfils its original function. When I began collecting in 2013, almost everything was cheap and abundant, but today Beauties are scarce in the UK and can be (unjustifiably) expensive. Ironically, in Japan they sell for peanuts, but sadly the cost of getting cameras shipped is ridiculously high.

Are they a good camera to collect? Only if you like looking for needles in haystacks. Are they a good investment? Probably not!

Here are links to a few of the "easier to read" Blog information sources for Camera Taiyodo the shop:

Credits & endorsements

All images on this site were edited using PIXLR free online photo editor. Image text has been translated to English using "translate an image".

Copyright & contact

I don't mind my text or images being copied and used elsewhere, but please give me some credit! My email address is at the foot of the Wanted page.