Taiyōdō (太陽堂), later Beauty Camera, was a Japanese camera maker and distributor from the mid-1940s to the early 1960s.
|Advertisement by Taiyōdō in Ars Camera January and July 1946. (Image rights)|
|Advertisement by Taiyōdō in Ars Camera February 1949.  (Image rights)|
Taiyōdō was already active as a camera distributor in early 1946. It was based in Tokyo, at the Jinbōchō crossing. From 1948, its manufacturing branch Taiyōdō Kōki K.K. (太陽堂光機㈱), often referred to as Taiyo-Do Koki, made the Meteor subminiature camera taking 17.5mm film, soon followed by the Vestkam, Epochs and Beauty 14, and by the Spy 16 and Beauty 16 using 16mm film. At about the same time, Taiyōdō was distributing the Gelto 3×4cm camera, the Semi Gelto and other Gelto products, and was using the Planet brand for various accessories. Both the manufacturing and sales companies had an address in Jinbōchō (Tokyo); they would appear as separate companies until 1951.
In mid-1950, the company released the first Beauty Six model. This camera was released later the same year as the Frank Six by Tōsei Kōki; it is not known if the production was transferred to Tōsei or if it produced the camera from the start as a subcontractor of Taiyōdō. The Beautyflex TLR was released by Taiyōdō Kōki in late 1950 or early 1951.
From 1952 or 1953, the sales company was merged into the manufacturing company Taiyōdō Kōki K.K., and the factory was moved to Shimizuchō, the sales department remaining in Jinbōchō. In late 1953, the company released the second Beauty Six. (A very similar camera was later sold by Tougodo as the Toyoca Six; again it is not known if the camera was subcontracted to Tougodo from the start or if Tougodo bought the dies and toolings later.) In late 1954, Taiyōdō released the Reflex Beauty, a 6×6 SLR distantly inspired by the Reflex-Korelle. The bulk of the sales was provided by the TLR models, whose production continued in parallel. The company entered the 35mm camera market with the viewfinder-only Beauty 35 in mid 1955, followed by the rangefinder Beauty 35 Super then Beauty Canter 35.
Taiyōdō went bankrupt in September 1957. It was reorganized as Beauty Camera K.K. (ビューティカメラ㈱), and was active under that name by December 1957. Its address changed a number of times after that date: it was in Shimura Kiyomizuchō in late 1957, in Kayabachō Nihonbashi in 1958–9, in Edobashi in late 1960 and in Miyamotochō in 1962–3.
However - alternative evidence suggests that Camera Taiyōdō was initially a simple shop selling mainly second hand cameras, and which opened in 1947. The advertisement placed by Taiyōdō in the January and July 1946 issues of Ars Camera (a magazine for amateur enthusiasts) actually translates as a call to sell and exchange cameras, and uses phrases such as "highest prices (paid)" and "exchange welcome". There are known examples of similar 1947 advertisements in local theatre programmes.
The launch date of 1947 was specified in a 2010 interview with the veteran staff of Camera Taiyōdō published by Senshu University of Chiyoda.
Camera Taiyōdō did add the manufacturing arm Taiyōdō Koki in 1948 as stated. In their discussion with university journalist, the staff confirmed that Camera Taiyōdō was the seed of Taiyōdō Koki, and that the factory was at the back of the shop.
Whilst Camera Taiyōdō advertised Gelto Cameras from 1948, they did so as dealers not distributers. Indeed, some known advertisements, once translated, specifically state "Gelto Dealers". Other examples of early advertising include Canon and Nikon models, but none have assumed Camera Taiyōdō to have been distributers rather than dealers in Canon and Nikon cameras.
The "sales company" was not merged into the manufacturing company Taiyōdō Kōki K.K. in 1952 or 1953 as stated. Camera Taiyōdō remained as a discrete shop selling to the local footfall, while Taiyōdō Kōki (and latterly the Beauty Camera Company) made products for sale in their shop(s) and via distributers (e.g. Fodor, Miller-Outcult, USC, Ward Montgomery, and Hayashi Shokai Co Ltd in the home market).
Much attention has been given to changes of address. Some of the superficially different addresses are actually one and the same. The shop entrance was on the front of the building facing the Jinbōchō Crossing, but the "Camera Taiyōdō Building" (as it is still known today) is a four-story facility, with separate entrances to the upper levels where early manufacturing of cameras took place (hence the spread of address numbers from 1 to 12). It is unlikely that the factory was moved to Shimizuchō (note 8) as this is an area of town housing. The Nihonbashi address (note 9) would appear to be that of the distributer Hayashi Shokai Co Ltd. Other advertisements known from the time in Ars Camera and Asahi Camera (i.e. not re-publications) retain the Jinbōchō Crossing address.
Some (mainly Japanese Bloggers) doubt the claims of Lewis that Taiyōdō Koki became bankrupt in September 1957, but suspect they simply changed their name to match that of their core product (every model since the first sub-miniatures had been named using a variation of Beauty), in the same way as Canon or Nikon did - to name but a few. If Lewis is correct, Taiyōdō Koki is the ONLY 1950s Japanese Company to have survived bankruptcy, and did so with remarkable speed. But more than that, an article published by Taiyōdō in the 23rd March 1957 edition of "Army Times" described their plans for the manufacture and distribution of the new models and features (e.g. a focus on 35mm cameras, an f/2 lens, integral light metering), and these plans were fully delivered the following year, indicating no change of direction as one might expect of a company in need of reorganisation.
The last camera produced by the Beauty Camera Company was the 1963 Lightmatic SP. All trace of the company did not disappear after that date: Camera Taiyōdō remained in business, at the Jinbōchō Crossing, until 30th June 2013. Camera Taiyōdō is known to have had other shops at various times. Records are not clear but they once had a presence in the local airport and main hotel. There are five stores currently trading as Camera Taiyōdō, but like the original store, their focus is a face-to-face service to local footfall, and not Internet sales.
Taiyōdō Kōki 6×6 TLR
Taiyōdō Kōki 6×6 SLR
Taiyōdō Kōki 6×6 folders
Taiyōdō Kōki 35mm viewfinder and rangefinder
- Beauty 35 (1955) - rebadged as the Gen 35, Milo 35 and Ward 35
- Beauty 35 Super (1956)
- Beauty Canter (F2.8 and F1.9) (1957)
Beauty Camera Company 35mm rangefinder
- Beauty Super II and Varicon branded S II (1958)
- Beauty Super L and Varicon branded SL and Super L (1958)
- Beauty Lightomatic or Beauty LM (1959)
- Beauty Lightomatic II (1960)
- Beaumat (1960)
- Beauty Lightomatic III or Beauty Lite III (1962)
- Beauty Lightmatic SP (1963)
|Vestkam by Rick Soloway. (Image rights)|
Taiyōdō Kōki 17.5mm film
Taiyōdō Kōki 16mm film
As a Manufacturer
- Taiyōdō Kōki also made rebadged 6x6 TLRs sold under the names Fodorflex, Photoflex, USC Auto Fifty and Wardflex, plus a rebranded 6x6 Gen-flex TLR, and rebranded 35mm cameras under the names Gen and Varicon.
- 50 – 100mm f/3 Zoom-Biokor lens. This unusual and rare lens was one of the earliest Japanese zoom lenses built for still cameras. It was introduced at the 1962 Nippon Camera Show. The lens design includes 15 elements in 10 groups, and features an unusual direct lever zoom mechanism that is very different from conventional twist or push/pull zooms.
As a dealer
- Gelto flashgun
- Planet rollfilm holder (6×9cm and 6×6cm)
- Planet filters
- Planet lens caps
- Note that the name "Meteor" is spelled correctly in advertisements until late 1948, but all later advertisements have the name "Meteall" instead. No actual camera has been observed with "Meteall" markings.
- The address was Tōkyō-to Kanda-ku Jinbōchō Kōsaten (東京都神田区神保町交差点). Source: advertisements in Ars Camera January 1946 (p.11) and July 1946 (p.1).
- Advertisements on p.6 of Nihon Shashin Kōgyō Tsūshin April 20, 1948, reproduced on p.84 of Hyaku-gō goto jūkai no kiroku, and advertisement in Kohga Gekkan May 1948, reproduced in Awano, p.5 of Camera Collectors' News no.239.
- The manufacturing company was at Chiyoda-ku Kanda Jinbōchō (千代田区神田神保町) 1–12, and the sales company was at the Jinbōchō crossing. Source: advertisements dated April 1948 to July 1951 reproduced in this page, in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, pp.166–7 and 200, in Hyaku-gō goto jūkai no kiroku, p.84, and in Awano, p.6 of Camera Collectors' News no.239.
- The address was Itabashi-ku Shimura Shimizuchō (板橋区志村清水町) 366. Source: advertisements dated from July 1953 to December 1955 reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, pp.166–9.
- Lewis, p.104.
- Compare the advertisements dated April 1957 (Taiyōdō Kōki) and December 1957 (Beauty Camera) reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.269.
- The address was Itabashi Shimura Kiyomizuchō (板橋・志村清水町). Source: advertisement dated December 1957 reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.269.
- The address was Nihonbashi Kayabachō (日本橋茅場町) 1–18. Source: advertisements dated October and December 1958 and February 1959, reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.270.
- The address was 日本橋江戸橋 1–15. Source: advertisement dated November 1960 reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.270.
- The address was 日本橋江戸橋 1–15. Source: advertisements dated July 1962 and September 1963, reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.270.
- Details can be found on the Omocane World website (written in Japanese).
- Advertisement in Kohga Gekkan May 1948, reproduced in Awano, p.5 of Camera Collectors' News no.239. The date May 1948 appears to be incorrect - see Note 7.
- Advertisement on p.6 of Nihon Shashin Kōgyō Tsūshin April 20, 1948, reproduced on p.84 of Hyaku-gō goto jūkai no kiroku, and advertisement in Kohga Gekkan May 1948, reproduced in Awano, p.5 of Camera Collectors' News no.239.
- Advertisement on p.6 of Nihon Shashin Kōgyō Tsūshin April 20, 1948, reproduced on p.84 of Hyaku-gō goto jūkai no kiroku.
- Ars Camera. Advertisements by Taiyōdō in January 1946 (p.11), July 1946 (p.1) and February 1949 (p.2).
- Asahi Camera (アサヒカメラ) editorial staff. Shōwa 10–40nen kōkoku ni miru kokusan kamera no rekishi (昭和10–40年広告にみる国産カメラの歴史, Japanese camera history as seen in advertisements, 1935–1965). Tokyo: Asahi Shinbunsha, 1994. ISBN 4-02-330312-7.
- Awano Mikio (粟野幹男). "Meteōru, Besutokamu, Epokkusu" (メテオール、ベストカム、エポックス, Meteor, Vestkam, Epochs). In Camera Collectors' News no.239 (May 1997). Nishinomiya: Camera Collectors News-sha. (Shows reproductions of advertisements placed by Taiyōdō.)
- Lewis, Gordon, ed. The History of the Japanese Camera. Rochester, N.Y.: George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography & Film, 1991. ISBN 0-935398-17-1 (paper), 0-935398-16-3 (hard).
- Nihon Shashin Kōgyō Tsūshin (日本写真興業通信). Hyaku-gō goto jūkai no kiroku (百号ごと十回の記録, Ten records, every hundred issues). Tokyo: Nihon Shashin Kōgyō Tsūshin Sha (日本写真興業通信社), 1967. No ISBN number. Advertisements on p.84, corresponding to p.6 of the April 20, 1948 issue.
- Photo Art Advertisements by Taiyōdō in December 1949 (p.2) and May 1950 (p.2).
- Beauty cameras, instruction manuals in PDF format (English) from OrphanCameras.com website.
- 35mm cameras at Taiyodo Koki & the Beauty Camera Company
- Study on Taiyodo Koki TLR's at Barry Togoods TLR Cameras Website
- the Omocane World website for details of the 50 – 100mm f/3 Zoom-Biokor lens (at the bottom of the page)