A distributor is person or company that supplies goods to the businesses that sell them (shops and retailers).
Until the 1960s, the advertisement and distribution of the Japanese cameras usually relied on a trading company, called the distributor (発売元). This company was sometimes closely linked to the manufacturer (製造元) but this is not a general rule, and on many occasions the relation between the two was a mere business partnership. The manufacturer was responsible of the design and assembly of the camera. The distributor sometimes advanced the funds, and helped to find suppliers for some parts such as the shutters and lenses.
The distributor was frequently the owner of the brand name, and sometimes used a similar name for cameras made by different companies. It could mention the name of the manufacturer in the advertisements, or invent a fake maker's name, often a Western sounding construction ending in "Camera Works" (see Camera Works).
This system is a source of confusion for today's collectors and historians. Many Japanese cameras are wrongly attributed to their distributor instead of their manufacturer. Some attributions have been mistakenly guessed from name similarities because the cameras were distributed by the same company, and some people took literally the "Camera Works" as the names of actual companies, which they were not.
It is usually possible to guess the role of a Japanese company by its name ending. Here are some examples:
|Japanese name ending||Approximate English translation|
|Kōki (光機)||Optical Instruments|
|Seiki (精機)||Precision Instruments|
|Kōgyō (工業) or Kōgyōsho (工業所)||Industries|
|Kenkyūjo (研究所)||Research Institute|
|Distributors||Shōkai (商会)||Trading Company|
|Shōten (商店)||Trading Shop|
|Shashinki-ten (写真機店)||Camera Shop|
|Shashin Yōhin (写真用品)||Photo Supply|