Koichi Sugiyama

Sugiyama is the most often quoted reference by collectors in regard to Japanese camera models. After I first started this project, I was shown the relevant Yashima/Yashica entries of Sugiyama’s “Collector’s Guide to Japanese Cameras”. I am not sure which edition this was or how many there have been (there seems to be a special edition currently available from his website but I don’t know if this has been updated). Since I am somewhat at odds with him, I felt that I needed to say something.

Initially, I thought Sugiyama was the source of much of the incorrect thinking about the early cameras but by this revision, I am starting to think that whilst there are some problems, his main flaw from the collector's perspective is the omission of key models, particularly those that were primarily export focused.

The following are my comments in order of camera models.

Yashima’s Pigeonflex (2212) should be 1953, not 1954 and should come before Shinano’s Pigeonflex I (2211). Sugiyama contradicts himself by putting the Yashimaflex (2307) as earlier (1953 – correct year) than the Yashima Pigeonflex (1954 – wrong year according to Camera-wiki.org) and then saying that the Pigeonflex made by “Yashima Optical was the forerunner of Yashica – see Yashimaflex”. Perhaps this was a simple typographical error or he has become confused with appearances or the numbering of the Pigeonflex models. In terms of forensic examination of the cameras themselves, the Yashima Pigeonflex is clearly the earliest, followed by the Shinano Pigeonflex IA with similarities to the Yashima Flex. The only Shinano Pigeonflex Sugiyama identifies is the later model I, the budget companion to the slightly more upmarket IB. Yes, the model I does look primitive compared to the others and model I sounds as if it may come first but its focusing hood (minus sports finder), camera back locking mechanism and knobs match the model IB which has the cover plate for the shutter and is generally accepted as the last type (the IC is the same except with different lenses).

The pages I have been shown do not include the early Yashica Flex B or Yashicaflex A-I, AS-I or AS-II. The Yashicaflex S image (2287) displayed is of the correct 1954 early model with NKS-FB shutter but that particular example is fitted with the hood from a 1959 or later model camera – it has the narrow “Y” logo on a dark background (almost certainly blue) and single silver square. Early and late versions of the Yashicaflex C are shown when arguably bigger changes in other models (e.g. shutters, early/late bodies, shutter release type) are ignored. Both the Yashicaflex model A-II and model C were very big sellers in Japan.

There is no mention of the Yashica A but he does identify the “Yashica-AIII” (2300) which seems to be a predominantly grey version of the Yashica A (also can have black or brown metalwork) but without hood logo. Yashica documentation refers to a “Yashica AIII”, see here. I have seen a number like this and believe that it’s a domestic Japanese market version (there are no examples with focusing scales in feet). The date of 1959 is clearly not the Yashica A introduction date which Yashima’s advertising puts at 1956 but could fit with the introduction of coloured models into Japan.

His 1960 release date for the Yashica 44A is at odds with a mountain of evidence placing the date mid-1959 or slightly earlier. However, my database also indicates that for 1959, there were no examples with confirmed focusing scales in metres apart from four Burgundy (brown metalwork) cameras that have appeared on the Swedish Tradera auction site and one example with black metalwork which is also likely to have been European export. Therefore, a deferred Japanese market release in 1960 looks very plausible, but not certain. A tiny niggle is that there is a 1959 Japanese brochure with all three models advertised.

Again, the pages I have been shown do not include the following models: Yashica C, LM and B; Yashica Mat-LM; Yashica Mat-EM; Yashica 24 and Yashica 12 which all came before the Yashica Mat-124 (2302). And there is no Yashica Mat-124G. Such omissions are not unusual for collector’s guides which tend to focus on key or rare models of interest but there are an awful lot of missing, dare I suggest significant, models here.

In discussing the Yashicaflex/ Yashica name change, I postulated that Sugiyama may have been concentrating, consciously or not, on actual models produced for the domestic Japanese market and tending to ignore models with an export focus. Whilst I believe that there is at least circumstantial evidence to support this idea with earlier cameras, I don’t have enough information on later cameras with both dual ASA/ DIN and metres/ feet scale knobs.

It is not my intention to be critical of Sugiyama (or McKeown, who some believe has relied on Sugiyama) or to try to debunk him. The task he set himself was to compile a collector’s guide of Japanese cameras (there has been an awful lot of cameras) for Japanese collectors (and maybe that means domestic market models only), not document the model history of Yashima/ Yashica, and that he has done very well. However, for understanding model development and history, his book is one tool, a starting point, it is not “the bible”.

One important legacy of his is the identification of the Yashica Auto 44 including the only known photograph.

For those that don’t know, Koichi Sugiyama is a classical trained musician and conductor who is famous for, and known as the godfather of, Japanese video games music. He is a busy and very talented man and photography and camera collecting are just two of his many hobbies when he is not composing, conducting or involving himself in politics.

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