|Back cover of a catalogue by Asahi Kōgaku Kōgyō, c.1938, showing export destinations. (Image rights)|
Asahi Bussan G.K. (旭物産㈾, Asahi Bussan Gōshi-gaisha) was a Japanese distributor based in Tokyo's Ginza commercial district in the mid-1930s. It certainly owned its own manufacturing facilities, either as a separate dependent company whose name is unknown, or as a mere branch. After the company was absorbed by Riken (predecessor of Ricoh), these manufacturing facilities became Riken's subsidiary Asahi Kōgaku Kōgyō (旭光学工業), which continued the former Asahi Bussan product line. Asahi Kōgaku Kōgyō later became Asahi Musen Kōgyō, then Asahi Seimitsu Kōgyō before it was finally merged into Riken Kōgaku Kōgyō in 1953. (The history of the companies Asahi Musen Kōgyō and Asahi Seimitsu Kōgyō is treated in the main Ricoh page.)
The company started to distribute the Olympic cameras in 1934, and introduced the Super Olympic in 1935 or 1936, Japan's first 35mm camera with a leaf shutter. These might have been produced in the company's own manufacturing branch, as indicated by the AB logo, certainly for Asahi Bussan, appearing on the shutter plate. The name "The Olympic Camera Works" found on the body of Olympic C from 1936 and on the later Olympic Four and Semi Olympic is certainly a misleading dummy name used for advertising purpose only, as other names ending in Camera Works. (The same can be said of the "O.C. Works" cited as the maker of the Olympic enlarger in a 1937 advertisement.) Some recent sources mention a separate manufacturing company called "Olympic Camera" or "Olympic Camera Seisakusho" (a literal translation of "Olympic Camera Works"), sometimes specifying it as a kabushiki-gaisha (joint-stock company). It is possible that these sources misinterpreted the above-mentioned markings and advertisement extracts, but nothing is known for sure.
|Advertisement for the Olympic cameras in The British Journal Photographic Almanac 1937. (Image rights)|
Asahi Bussan was one of the first Japanese companies attempting to sell cameras on Western markets. In late 1936, it placed an advertisement in The British Journal Photographic Almanac, offering the Olympic B and C and Super Olympic, the Asahi Field Camera as well as enlargers and tripods under the Olympic brand. The Asahi Field Camera was a common wooden field camera of unknown origin, and was described as "incomparable with any other make in quality and price", in the typical prose found in advertisements of the time.
|Advertisement for the Olympic cameras in The British Journal Photographic Almanac 1938. (Image rights)|
In late 1937, the company placed a further advertisement in the 1938 edition of the same British publication. In this document, various new cameras are mentioned. The Semi Olympic was another bakelite camera, clearly produced in the same manufacturing facilities as the previous Olympic models. The Vest Olympic was a rebadged version of the Vest Alex, and the Semi Adler was a rebadged version of the Semi Victor, both equipped with Asahi Bussan's own Olympic shutter. A further camera called Regal Olympic was announced but probably never sold.
The company was bought in 1937 by Riken Kankōshi (predecessor of Ricoh), together with the manufacturing facilities. In November, Asahi Bussan's former manufacturing facilities were reorganized as Asahi Kōgaku Kōgyō K.K. (旭光学工業㈱, meaning Asahi Optical Industries Co., Ltd.), a subsidiary of Riken, unrelated to the other Asahi Kōgaku predecessor of Pentax. Asahi Bussan's AB logo still appears on the early examples of the Olympic Four, introduced in 1938, before it was replaced by the AKK initials of Asahi Kōgaku Kōgyō. In March 1938, the parent company Riken Kankōshi got the new name Riken Kōgaku Kōgyō. The same year, Asahi released more Adler cameras, whose bodies were supplied by other manufacturers.
|Catalogue by Asahi Kōgaku Kōgyō, c.1938, with Olympic and Adler products. (Image rights)|
The catalogue by Asahi Kōgaku Kōgyō reproduced above, dated c.1938, mentions the company as a part of the Riken Konzern (理研コンツエルン). It lists 14 export destination countries on all continents, and says that the company was responsible for 90 percent of Japan's total camera export activity. In practice, it seems that the Olympic were the only Japanese cameras routinely available in the West at the time.
|August 1938 and November 1940 issues of Shinkō Graph. (Image rights)|
At the period, the company was publishing a monthly photography magazine titled Shinkō Graph (新光グラフ), sent to the members of the Olympic Camera Club (オリンピックカメラクラブ). The magazine was gradually taken over by Riken Kōgaku Kōgyō, and the club was renamed Ricoh Camera Club (理光カメラクラブ) at some point.
From 1938 onwards, Asahi Kōgaku Kōgyō developed minor variants of the Olympic family, as well as a single new model called Letix, a bakelite camera introduced in 1940. On this model, the metal top cover is similar to that of the Kraft by Echt, and was perhaps supplied by that company. This might be a further hint that Asahi Bussan's former manufacturing facilities were specialized in the production of bakelite cameras. The factory also continued the production of leaf shutters, mounted on a few cameras distributed by its parent company Riken Kōgaku Kōgyō.
The distribution of the cameras manufactured by Asahi Kōgaku Kōgyō was gradually taken over by Riken Kōgaku Kōgyō, as appears in advertisements and promotional documents. The leaflet reproduced below, dated c.1939 and mainly showing Olympic products, is an example of that situation.
|Leaflet by Riken Kōgaku Kōgyō, c.1939, with Olympic products. (Image rights)|
From 1939, the company Rengō Kōki released a bakelite camera called Semi Renky, whose design is extremely close to the Semi Olympic, with which it might share some parts. It is not known if Rengō Kōki was related to the former Asahi Bussan, or if it merely produced a copy of the Semi Olympic.
In 1941, Asahi Kōgaku Kōgyō became Asahi Musen Kōgyō K.K. (旭無線工業㈱, meaning Asahi Wireless Co., Ltd.). Its factory was in Magome, Tokyo, at the location of Ricoh's current headquarters. This company perhaps briefly continued the production of the bakelite cameras inherited from Asahi Bussan, and the last mentions found of the Olympic Four and Letix are dated 1942. It also continued the production of shutters, notably making the Roico III shutter mounted on the Roico. The camera department of the main company Riken Kōgaku Kōgyō was transferred to Asahi Musen during the war, to maintain the know-how.
After World War II, Asahi Musen Kōgyō, soon renamed Asahi Seimitsu Kōgyō, was in charge of camera development and production for its parent company Riken Kōgaku Kōgyō. It notably developed the Steky subminiature camera and the Ricohflex III TLR, before it was merged into Riken in 1953 (see the main Ricoh page).
Factory and manufacturing process
The catalogue by Asahi Kōgaku Kōgyō reproduced earlier in this page shows pictures of the Ōji (王子) plant. It seems that this plant was shared with Riken Kōgaku Kōgyō; the name visible on the building ends in "Kōgaku Kōgyō" and might be that of Riken.
|Ōji plant, c.1938. (Image rights)|
The same document shows pictures of the manufacturing process. Such pictures are rarely shown in Japanese publications of the time.
|Lens manufacturing process:|
The workers wear a uniform, with the company name "Asahi Kōgaku Kōgyō Kabushiki Kaisha" (旭光学工業株式会社) on the jacket and cap.
|Camera or shutter manufacturing process:|
|Press.||Gear making.||Engraving machine.|
Cameras made in Asahi Bussan's own manufacturing facilities, later Asahi Kōgaku Kōgyō:
- Olympic (3×4cm and 4×4cm):
- Olympic A
- Olympic B
- Olympic Junior
- Olympic C and CIII
- Olympic Four I
- Olympic Four II
- Super Olympic (24×36mm):
- Super Olympic D
- Super Olympic DIII and DIIIA
- Semi Olympic or New Olympic (4.5×6cm):
- Semi Olympic
- New Olympic
- New Olympic II
- Semi Kinsi
Camera made by Asahi Kōgaku Kōgyō after the end of Asahi Bussan:
Cameras distributed by Asahi Bussan or Asahi Kōgaku Kōgyō and surely made elsewhere:
- Semi Adler and Adler III (4.5×6cm)
- Adler A (4.5×6cm)
- Adler B (4.5×6cm)
- Adler C (4.5×6cm, perhaps sold by Riken only)
- Adler Four (4×4cm)
- Adler VI (6×6cm)
- Asahi Field Camera
- Vest Olympic
- Regal Olympic
|Advertisement for Olympic binoculars in Shinkō Graph August 1938. (Image rights)|
- T, B, 1–250 shutters and f/3.5 lenses, "supplied on request"
- Olympic rangefinder
- Olympic self-timer
- Olympic hoods
- Olympic filters
- Olympic enlargers:
- Olympic darkroom equipment
- Olympic tripods
- Olympic binoculars and monoculars
|Hoods.||Filters.||Darkroom kit.||Darkroom timer.|
|Olympic accessories in Shinkō Graph August 1938. (Image rights)|
The movie branch (映画部) of Asahi Bussan produced short animation movies around 1935.
- The Japanese word gōshi-gaisha (合資会社) means "limited partnership company", and is normally abbreviated "G.K." In at least one older advertisement placed by the company, the same word was spelt "Goshi Kaisha", using a slightly different romanization which is considered non standard today.
- The address of Asahi Bussan in late 1936 was Kyōbashi-ku Nishi Ginza 8–1 (京橋区西銀座8–1). (The advertisements in The British Journal Photographic Almanac 1937, p.668, and in The British Journal Photographic Almanac 1938, pp.694–5, give this address, though reordered for Western consumption.)
- Advertisement in The British Journal Photographic Almanac 1938, pp.694–5.
- The name "K.K. Olympic Camera" (㈱オリンピックカメラ) is given in Arimura, p.6 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.14. The name "Olympic Camera Seisakusho" (オリンピックカメラ製作所) is given in this article by Matsuzawa in Riken News bulletin no.228, on p.38 of the book Riken Seishin hachi-jū-hachi-nen by the Riken Institute (available here), and in this article of IR Magazine (the latter adds ㈱ for "K.K.").
- Advertisement in The British Journal Photographic Almanac 1937, p.668.
- Arimura, p.6 of Kurashikku Kamera Senka no.14.
- Matsuzawa, article of Riken News bulletin no.228.
- Riken Seishin hachi-jū-hachi-nen, part 1, chapter 2, p.38 (available here).
- Article of IR Magazine about the history of Ricoh.
- Chronology of the Riken Konzern.
- History page of the Ricoh official website, 1936–45 period.
- Catalogue Olympic Products, c.1938, p.3.
- Catalogue Olympic Products, c.1938, back cover.
- Shinkō Graph August 1938. The magazine has no public retail price, and its diffusion is restricted to the members of the club.
- Shinkō Graph November 1940. The magazine was also sold to the general public.
- Leaflet Riken Kōgaku no kamera to sōgankyō, c.1939.
- The address in 1943 was Tōkyō-to Ōmori-ku Magome-chō Nishi (東京都大森区馬込町西) 4–3085. Source: "Kokusan shashinki no genjōchōsa" ("Inquiry into Japanese cameras").
- "Kokusan shashinki no genjōchōsa" ("Inquiry into Japanese cameras"), shutter item 18-P-4.
- Catalogue Olympic Products, c.1938.
- Shinkō Graph August 1938, pp.20–3.
- An unspecified Olympic enlarger appears in an advertisement in Camera Art February 1937, reproduced in Kokusan kamera no rekishi, p.44.
- Catalogue by Ueda Shashinki-ten, dated c.1935.
- Advertisement in Shinkō Graph August 1938, p.3.
- IMDb entry on Asahi Bussan Gōshi-gaisha.
- Asahi Kōgaku Kōgyō. Olympic Products. Catalogue published c.1938 (date not indicated). Document reproduced in this Flickr set by Rebollo_fr.
- "Kokusan shashinki no genjōchōsa" (国産写真機ノ現状調査, Inquiry into Japanese cameras), listing Japanese camera production as of April 1943. Reproduced in Supuringu kamera de ikou: Zen 69 kishu no shōkai to tsukaikata (スプリングカメラでいこう: 全69機種の紹介と使い方, Let's try spring cameras: Presentation and use of 69 machines). Tokyo: Shashinkogyo Syuppan-sha, 2004. ISBN 4-87956-072-3. Pp.180–7.
- Riken Kōgaku Kōgyō. Riken Kōgaku no kamera to sōgankyō (理研光学のカメラと双眼鏡, Riken Kōgaku cameras and binoculars). Leaflet published c.1939 (date not indicated). Document reproduced in this Flickr set by Rebollo_fr.
- Shinkō Graph (新光グラフ) August 1938.
- Advertisements by Asahi Kōgaku Kōgyō on pp.2, 3 and 39.
- "Kamera jōshiki tokuhon" (カメラ常識読本, General introduction to cameras). Pp.20–3. (Contains inserts on Olympic accessories.)
- Ueda Shashinki-ten. Saishin kogata kamera (最新小型カメラ, Latest small cameras). Catalogue published c.1935 (date not indicated). Document reproduced in this Flickr set by Rebollo_fr. The catalogue lists the Olympic A and B, and Olympic enlargers.
- The British Journal Photographic Almanac 1937. Edited by Arthur J. Dalladay. London: Henri Greenwood & Co. Advertisement by Asahi Bussan on p.668. (The 1937 Almanac was certainly published at the end of 1936.)
- The British Journal Photographic Almanac 1938. Edited by Arthur J. Dalladay. London: Henri Greenwood & Co. Advertisement by Asahi Bussan on pp.694–5. (The 1938 Almanac was certainly published at the end of 1937.)
- Arimura Katsumi (有村克巳). "Rikō Ryakushi" (リコー略史, Ricoh short history). Kamera Rebyū: Kurashikku Kamera Senka (カメラレビュー クラシックカメラ専科) / Camera Review: All about Historical Cameras no.14, October 1989. No ISBN number. Rikō kamera no subete (リコーカメラのすべて, special issue on Ricoh). Pp.6–7.
- Matsuzawa Hiroshi (松沢弘). "Benchā no genryū o saguru. Kyodai kigyō Rikō o unda kankōshi." (ベンチャーの源流を探る・巨大企業リコーを生んだ感光紙, Investigating the sources of the venture: the sensitized paper which gave birth to the huge Ricoh company.) In the June 2000 issue (no.228) of the Riken News bulletin published by the Riken Institute.
- Rikagaku Kenkyūjo Historical Committee (理化学研究所史編集委員会). Riken Seishin hachi-jū-hachi-nen (理研精神八十八年, Riken spirit, 88 years). Wakō: Rikagaku Kenkyūjo, 2005. Part 1, chapter 2, pp.38–39. Available in pdf format in the website of the Riken Institute. (The section on Riken Kōgaku Kōgyō closely follows the text of Matsuzawa's article.)