Yashica - Success & Failure


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The Japanese Photographic Industry 1952 - 1953
A Language Observation
The Japanese TLR

The Yashica Story

The Beginning & Success According to Yashica
The People
The Yashica Story as it is Generally Known
Disaster & Ultimately, Failure
Volleyball Parallels Yashica's Fortunes
The Factories
1956 Booklet
1957 Review of the Japanese Photographic Industry

Design Heritage (The Rolleicord DNA)
Recipe for Success

The Rollei Comparison - Can Yashima Match Franke & Heidecke?
Marketing Campaigns

Early Export Markets


Hong Kong Production
Brazil Production
Yashica Worldwide Offices

The Japanese Photographic Industry 1952 - 1953

Between the two World Wars, Japan had developed a photographic industry but it was still feeling its way, still a long way from being a player on the world stage. As an example, because of scale, or the lack of it, and raw materials costs, Japanese lenses were often more expensive than the more highly regarded German optics.

The second World War left much of the Japanese photographic industry destroyed or damaged. However, things changed quite quickly. Whereas before the War, photography had been the past-time of the wealthy and well to do, post-War, it was adopted by the masses. By early 1952, Japan was again an independent nation but the Korean War was in full swing. A snapshot of the Japanese love of photography and the impact of United Nations service personnel (the great majority being US servicemen) is provided in an article, “Japanese Camera Sales Boom” by an unknown AAP-Reuter correspondent, which appeared in the small New South Wales country town of Lismore newspaper, The Northern Star, on 17 November 1953:

(Article displayed in accordance with National Library of Australia policies)

(Click on article for full size PDF of both pages)

Clearly, at the time of writing, camera production was booming and export markets were already being developed by existing manufacturers. To put the Japanese photographic industry into perspective, quoting from the article, Japan produced 402,769 cameras in 1952 of which 72,483 were sold to United Nations forces. Whilst representing approximately 18% of production, it is likely that United Nations personnel would have been buyers of the more sophisticated and expensive models (some of the data in the article regarding monetary value does not compute for me). Also, I assume that the 18% represents “official” outlets like the US Army PX stores. In fact the article below puts forward quite a different set of figures. The scan is from the April 1954 first edition of “Orient Photography” and the article initially appeared in the 20 March 1953 edition of “Stars & Stripes”:

(Scan courtesy of Chris Whelan)

(Click on article for larger image)

Whilst the first article quotes 72,483 Japanese cameras sold in 1952 to United Nations forces (in Japan only?), the second quotes 227,620 cameras sold through US PX stores in 1952 in both Japan and Korea. Presumably, Kodak and other US makers are well represented and PX stores may have carried European cameras as well. Quite a lot of 1950's Rolleis and Flexarets, not to mention Leicas, etc turn up on Japanese auction sites. Both figures could be right but measuring different things, or one set might be wildly inaccurate. Regardless, we can accept that photography was very popular for both the Japanese population and overseas service personnel.

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A Language Observation

Up to the end of the 1950s and probably beyond, there were few English speakers in Japan. Even today, the percentage of English speakers remains relatively low. In his book, “TLR Compendium”, Australian journalist and author Andrew Fildes notes that he is not aware of any Japanese camera, from at least the 1930s onward, that uses Japanese characters for its name and/or lenses and/or shutter, even those intended only for the Japanese domestic market. His question “why” remains unanswered but it does make life a little easier for linguistically challenged researchers.

In my experience, that applies to Yashima/Yashica products as well. It extends to all text found on the camera itself and most of the text on boxes, including boxes for domestic only models. One exception is the Yashicaflex C box which on one side of the lid has a large red rectangle with white Japanese characters “ヤシカフレックス” (“Yashicaflex”). This is in addition to the English name. On the other hand, early Japanese market brochures and user manuals use mainly Japanese characters - an early circa 1954 Yashica Flex brochure for models B and S only has the “B” and “S” in English as well as the shutter name “NKS-FB” and “B” for Bulb. By the release of the 1957 Japanese market Yashicaflex AS (new model), the user manual cover has the name in English. Contemporary brochures continue with Japanese characters with only model descriptors in English, e.g. “A-2”, but by 1958, the camera names, e.g. “Yashica” and “Yashica-Mat”, are in English too.

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The Japanese TLR

Pre-War, 35 mm cameras were uncommon in Japan. There was the Leica inspired Canon with interchangeable lens, focal plane shutter and rangefinder. Also some odd side by side 35 mm TLRs produced by prolific post-War 6x6 TLR maker Tougodo. Post-War, the current Olympus website claims that the Olympus 35 I released in 1948 was “the first 35mm camera sold in the Japanese market.” What does that mean? The first without interchangeable lenses, focal plane shutter, rangefinder or a TLR viewing system. In other words, the first with fixed lens and between the lens leaf shutter, the basis of the modern 35 mm compact camera. Much like the Pigeon 35 in fact. After that, the momentum started building fairly quickly. The main reasons for the initial slow take up were the quality of film emulsions, the need to enlarge whereas many people made do with contact prints from the larger formats and quality 35 mm cameras were more complex and expensive yet with potentially inferior results to their rivals.

Although the number of TLR models exploded post-War, pre-War there were up to 20, and maybe more. However, copies of German folding cameras seemed to have the larger share of the market, mainly in 6x4.5 cm format, known as “Semi” models in Japan, but also 6x6 cm. Of course, there were also fixed focus box cameras etc.

Why did Japan produce so many TLR models after the War? Obviously, the demand must have been there, probably helped by value for money considerations. Like the folders, the 6x6 TLRs used the larger 120 film. TLRs were represented by the German “hero models” of Rolleiflex and Rolleicord from Franke and Heidecke whilst the folders were “copies of”, “inspired by” or “adopted the features of” a range of European models by makers such as Zeiss, Balda and Welta. In other words, the folders represented greater variety, less standardisation and hence less opportunity for shared componentry. With TLRs, it was relatively easy for small firms with no previous photographic industry experience but with some technical skills to buy in parts from larger suppliers and simply assemble them into a working camera. Lenses and shutters are the two most obvious and complex components bought in but there is also evidence of common die cast aluminium bodies and shared focusing hood components, camera backs and other parts. Design was easy – most TLR designers didn’t stray far from the early Rollei and in that early post-War period, pre-War German patents had little currency. Perhaps this type of production was even encouraged as part of the demilitarisation process.

One Japanese website lists 85 separate TLR brand names but there are probably more - some claim “hundreds”. As impressive as that sounds, according to Camera-wiki.org, the camera maker Tougodo, as well as producing the “Hobiflex”, used at least 21 of those names for its “Toyocaflex” TLR (mainly to give distributors their own brand)! Taiyoda and the company that became Topcon also used a number of brand names. And to put all that into perspective, there is a list of something like 135 brand names of pre-War and post-War Japanese Semi models (many from very small makers with no surviving examples).

At one end of the spectrum of “real” TLR models (with matched, focusing viewing lens as opposed to the simple non-focusing viewfinders of cheap “pseudo” TLRs) were the pressed metal Richoflex models with geared lenses which owed more to the post-War Kodak Reflex interpretation of a TLR than any direct link to Franke & Heidecke. Nevertheless, quality shutters and respectable lenses featured and helped to popularise the TLR in the consumer end of the market. Many consider that it was the Richoflex that ignited the TLR explosion. There were quite a few Richoflex imitators too. From the top end of the market to just above the Richoflex and its clones were the models that, by and large and except for minor trim and lens and shutter specs, looked like either the Rolleicord, the Rolleiflex or something in between. From a distance, the similarities are remarkable, close up and in detail it is fairly obvious that some examples were better built, and hence more expensive, than others. Unlike the Rolleis, many featured film advance by red window and Bay 1 lens mounts were even rarer. Price was also somewhat reflected in their operational feel. However, the biggest quality and price differentiators were the lenses and shutters.

As an example, in August 1952, Olympus produced its first TLR. With control wheels, it looked like a cross between the 1958 Yashica D and trim wise, the Rolleiflex Automat. It also featured the Rolleiflex type viewfinder with a drop down mirror to allow horizontal eye level viewing through a lens in the back of the hood. Both viewing and taking lenses were f/2.8, the taking lens an F.Zuiko six element type. Impressive. As was the price, 52,000 yen. Compare this to the 14,800 yen of the first Yashima camera. Despite lowering the specs and removing features in subsequent models, the last Olympus TLR was released in June 1956. The 1954 Fujicaflex was the only model produced. It was the Rolls Royce of Japanese TLRs, its Art Deco flourishes and some novel design at least differentiating it from the ubiquitous Rollei look-a-likes. It cost 65,000 yen whilst at the same time the Yashicaflex A-II cost just 9,500 yen. There was simply no space in the Japanese marketplace for expensive domestic TLRs.

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The Yashica Story

The rise of Yashica is a fascinating story, amongst all the post-War camera maker startups, it was the only one to succeed long term and then became one of the major photographic companies in Japan. Only to be the first of the major companies to come crashing down, the seeds sowed by corporate greed and skulduggery in the early 1970s. It would make great reading but whilst we have a synopsis, no one has stepped up to write the detail.

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The Beginning & Success According to Yashica

The following article appeared in the English language The Free Singapore Express, 24 November 1960, page 14. It is republished with the kind permission of Singapore Press Holdings Limited. I also want to thank contributor Chris Whelan for bringing it to my notice and retyping the article for me:


The Yashica Company, within less than a decade, has risen to become in terms of production and sales the largest manufacturer of cameras and exporter of photographic products in Japan.

The driving force behind Yashica's amazing climb to this position is its president, 37-year-old Yoshimasa Ushiyama.

Mr. Ushiyama and his younger brother, Jisaburo, started things rolling when they established their factory at Suwa in 1946.

They expanded into watch parts and optical instruments and incorporated the business in 1949 as the Yashima Precision Machinery Company. Shortly after Mr. Ushiyama theorised that mass-produced, low-cost, high quality cameras would effectively break through the luxury barrier and take advantage of the deep, widespread popular interest, actual and potential, in photography.

Large Sales

The success of the early Yashica reflex cameras led to the company's decision to concentrate on the camera field. The large volume sales were the result of competitive low prices which in turn came from efficient mass production.

At the time when the top monthly production of rival companies was 500 cameras, Yashica was turning out 3,000 to 5,000 a month. The firm's cameras quickly moved to the top among some 40 competing brands.

The company's many firsts include the Yashicaflex A, and the Yashicaflex S, introduced in April 1955, which was the world's first reflex to incorporate an exposure meter.

Yashica still maintains its leadership in the twin-lens reflex field. Its cameras of this type still outsell all other brands combined in Japan. Yashica reflexes accounted for 68.8 per cent of all Japanese cameras of this type exported in 1959.

Note: All other sources claim that the Yashicaflex S was released in 1954. Independent corroboration comes from a December 1954 Swedish ad and a photograph of the camera taken in Australia in October 1954 (photograph and supporting evidence held by the State Library of NSW, Australia - see Yashicaflex S). My research provides circumstantial evidence, based on comparing trim features of contemporary models, that it was earlier still.

A portion of a slightly earlier article in English (unattributed as far as I know) is included in the Japanese language Yashica A III user manual published 5 April 1959:

(Document image courtesy of Chris Whelan)

The text, including missing parts of words, is as follows (some I have only been able to guess at and some I just don't know):

The Yashica Story

The Yashica Company, within less than a decade, has risen to become in terms of production and sales the largest manufacturer of cameras and exporter of photographic products in Japan. The rapid progress of the company can generally be credited to the concentration of its research, design, engineering and production resources to satisfying one very important person - the customer.

Yashica's main offices in Tokyo have (quite?) possibly the only board room in (Japan, or, the world?) with colored charts showing by (age?), sex, occupation and other classifications what the customers for the (various?) Yashica cameras are like. In (an, or, the camera?) industry which has in the past (....?) stuck to traditions of limited production, high prices, passive methods of merchandising, and research along (classic?) lines, Yashica's policies of volume production, popular prices, up-to-........

........ with the development of precision industry in the area in which Yashica has played a major role, has earned for it the name of Japan's Switzerland.

The Ushiyama brothers, who (had?) considerable experience in ma(king?) valves and military precision instruments during the war, began turning out communications components and electrical testers (and?) meters. They expanded into w(atch?) parts and optical instruments(. They?) incorporated the business in 1949.......

Note: The first sentence of each article is the same. I would not be surprised if Yashica had some input into the stories. The claim that by 1959, Yashica was “the largest manufacturer of cameras and exporter of photographic products in Japan” has taken me somewhat by surprise. The obvious question is, “by what measure?” So far I have not been able to confirm or deny the claim. Also the reference to the unnamed area as Japan's Switzerland is taken to be the Lake Suwa region of Nagano Prefecture (see The Factories below).

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The People

Very little is known about the people involved except that, as noted above, the business was started by two brothers, Yoshimasa Ushiyama and younger brother, Jisaburō. Brazilian visa records from 1957 tell us that Yoshimasa was born in Nagano on 18 July 1922 to parents Yasumasa and Takeko Ushiyama. Yoshimasa went on to become president of the company and later, as company chairman, had a key role to play in our story to come. He died on 5 November 2000.

Not much is known about Jisaburō. He is listed as publisher of Yashima's Yashicaflex and Yashica Mat Photography guides until at least the 1 December 1957 reprint of the Yashicaflex B version. According to Camera-wiki.org, he headed up Yashima Kōgaku, a much later and short-lived optical company that was a division of a Yashima company producing OEM audio components. In 1976, Yashima Kōgaku produced an auto exposure, aperture priority M42 screw mount SLR called the Yashima EMC750, also sold as the Osanon Digital 750 and Rony EMC 750. The company went bankrupt in the early 1980s.

The photos below are of Yoshimasa Ushiyama (thanks to Chris Whelan for identifying him in the first place and the document scans):

  1. From Yashicaflex Photography, Yashicaflex model B edition, 1957
  2. Almost certainly Yoshimasa Ushiyama on right, could be anybody on the left, perhaps even Jisaburō, Yoshimasa's brother - from Yashicaflex Photography, Yashicaflex model B edition, 1957
  3. Early 1957 visa document
  4. From Yashicaflex Photography, Yashica A III edition, 1959

(Photos 1, 2 and 4, document scans courtesy of Chris Whelan)

The two years between the first three photos and the fourth look like they have aged Yoshimasa about 10 years. In that period, there was an incredible expansion of the product line into the 44 models, movie cameras, 35 mm, the Y-16 sub-miniature camera, consumer electronics with transistor radios etc, not to mention the litigation with Franke & Heidecke over the “Baby Grey” 44.

Note: Japanese names are usually written with surnames first. I have followed the European convention based on the first English language article above. Also, for anyone doing research, Google and and other machine translations seem to translate “Yoshimasa” as “good government”.

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The Yashica Story as it is Generally Known
(with the gaps filled in)

The various wikis tell us that the company's origins were as a small munitions related fuse making sub-contractor dating from the last months of the War. Camera-wiki.org says that it was founded as Yashima Seiki Seisakusho (Yashima Precision Works) in May 1945. It incorporated as Yashima Seiki Co., Ltd., (Yashima Precision Machinery Company according to The Free Singapore Express article above) in 1949 and initially with eight employees, produced parts for electric clocks and other equipment at a facility in Nagano Prefecture on Honshu Island, Japan. Yashica's own description of “communications components and electrical testers and meters” sounds more plausible along with the expansion into “(watch) parts and optical instruments” but one may have led to the other. (There is more on the early links to valve maker Kitazawa Industry Co., Ltd., and munitions in The Factories below.)

With “optical instruments” being a tantalising clue, it is still not known why or how but in early 1953 (advertised from March 1953), Yashima Seiki produced its first camera, a basically specified Rolleicord copy TLR utilising 120 film. This was marketed as the Pigeonflex by Endō Kamera-ten (Endō Camera Stores), to become Endō Sashin Yōhin (Endō Photographic Supplies) in June 1953. The Endō company marketed and distributed Pigeon branded photographic products manufactured for it by others. Subsequent versions of the Pigeonflex were manufactured by Shinano Kōki and perhaps others (this site has a page devoted to Pigeonflexes in general - The Pigeon Loft). In June of the same year, Yashima Seiki Co. changed its name to Yashima Kōgaku Seiki Co., Ltd., (Yashima Optical Precision Instruments Company). The change was also reflected in the company name which appeared under “Pigeonflex” on the nameplate.

Later in 1953, it introduced a mildly revised version of the Pigeonflex under its own name as the Yashima Flex and, it is claimed, in a very short time, this changed to Yashica Flex (“Yashi” from Yashima and “ca” from camera, a practice made popular by Leitz with the legendary Leica). In reality, this Yashica Flex, called the model B, and revolutionary Yashica Flex model S with built-in selenium cell exposure meter, were both probably released towards the middle of 1954 (there is ample evidence, see Yashica Flex B and Yashica Flex S, to support this proposition). A succession of Yashicaflex models followed and in 1956, the first “Yashica” named models appeared, although the “Yashicaflex” name would also continue in parallel for the next few years. Also in 1956, the company name was changed to Yashima Kōgaku Kōgyō Co., Ltd. (above company and date information based on Camera-wiki.org and other net sources with similar details). On subsequent boxes and when the name first appeared on the side of the Yashica-Mat, it was in the Anglicised form of Yashima Opt. Ind. Co., Ltd. (Yashima Optical Industries Company, Limited).

In 1957, Yashima released the Yashica-Mat with crank film advance and control wheels for setting aperture and shutter speeds; effectively, a Rolleiflex clone, at least in appearance and operation. The same year, it established its first overseas subsidiary, Yashica Inc., in New York and released its first non-TLR camera model, the 8 mm “Yashica 8” movie camera (this is the single lens mount version that was soon advertised as the “Yashica 8S”, confusingly, the two lens turret version released at or near the same time was advertised first as the “Yashica Turret-8”, then “Yashica T-8” and finally, “Yashica 8T” with one lens mounted or “Yashica 8T-2” with two lenses mounted).

By the late ‘50s, the TLR boom was well and truly over and the only Japanese company to persevere through to the 1980s with a “traditional” TLR was Yashica. (Mamiya made it to the 1990s with its more sophisticated, interchangeable lens professional models but these are in a different league to the other Rollei inspired copies.)

The Nicca Era

Yashima continued to prosper as it got into the 35 mm business by fortuitously acquiring the financially struggling Nicca Camera in May 1958 and then releasing the fixed lens “Yashica 35” rangefinder model “for the masses”. Many western websites claim that Nicca actually went bankrupt. The longer Japanese story is that to avoid any delay, Yashima bought the company before bankruptcy was declared and that Nicca became the wholly owned subsidiary, Taiho Optical Co., before finally being fully absorbed into Yashica 8 years later in 1966 (some sources say 1968). The lengthy merger period is said to be due to religious influences on company president Yoshimasa Ushiyama and a belief that merging immediately would not have been fortuitous for Yashica. A legacy of that period seems to be a fairly rare 13.5 cm lens marked both “Nicca Lens” and “Taiho Optical Co.” which has turned up very occasionally on auction sites. The versions I have seen appear to have a M42 mount for SLRs.

Also in 1958, Yashima changed its own name to Yashica Co., Ltd. The existing Nicca 33 interchangeable lens Leica copy continued and the Nicca III L variant was released in June. Both were re-released in 1959 as the mildly updated Yashica YE and YF models respectively. However, the real value of the Nicca acquisition was access to Nicca's focal plane shutter and other 35 mm camera expertise and resources for SLR development. Production of both rangefinder models ceased in 1960. Other milestones were the release of its first 16 mm sub-miniature model, the Y16, in 1959 and the first 35 mm SLR, the Pentamatic, in early 1960. Whilst competent products, neither model was particularly successful in terms of sales and Yashica went back to the drawing board with both, replacing the proprietary bayonet lens mount Pentamatic with the M42 screw mount Penta J in 1961 and the proprietary cassette Y16 with the Minolta cassette 16EE in 1964.

Pentamatic Heralds the New Age (sort of)

(Note: The release date for the historically rather important Pentamatic is contentious. Occurrences on the net are roughly divided between 1959 and 1960 with perhaps 1959 favoured, usually in conjunction with the word, “introduced”, however, there is another claim of a “Yashica/Kyocera sourced” date, March 1960. The Trademark filing date in Japan was 18 September 1959 and in the US, it was 12 February 1960. The official Kyocera Optec website of today lists Tomioka SLR lens production as commencing in 1960. Contributor Chris Whelan believes that he has decoded the Pentamatic serial numbers, with which I concur, and that the camera in the user manual is from December 1959, almost certainly a pre-production example. Series production seems to have commenced in January 1960. Release could have happened at any point from then on. Page 48 of the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper of 4 May 1960 contains an ad placed by Yashica which tells us that the new Pentamatic, and also the new Yashica Mat-LM (plus some others), can be seen at the Delaware Valley Photo Show, or “at your local Yashica dealer”, and this was “their first public showing” after the “introduction at the trade show in St. Louis.” Note, the linked ad has been edited for easier viewing. According to Chris Whelan, this was “the 36th annual trade show of the Master Photo Dealers & Finishers Association convention in St. Louis, held March 21-25, 1960.” So perhaps announced in 1959, released in 1960 with March-April pretty close to the mark in the US.)

Rather than a story about Yashica's first SLR, this is a tale about how a TLR company suddenly wanted to cover every niche in the market and didn't pay enough attention to the most important segment that emerged in the post-War period - the Japanese SLR. The original Pentamatic was actually a handsome, up-to-date, modern looking mid-spec/mid-price camera, a little late but not too late to market:

Nearly every reference source implies that the Pentamatic's “proprietary” bayonet lens mount was an impediment to the camera's sales success. Well, yes, but what has to be understood is that every successful bayonet lens mount, including the Nikon F mount, was/is “proprietary” and were usually accompanied by an ever increasing selection of matching lenses designed for the system. In 1960, only two major brands were using the still to become “universal” M42 screw mount, East German Praktica and Japanese Asahi Pentax (admittedly, there were also the smaller but already declining German Edixa and Contax brands). However, the problem for Yashica was the abysmal paucity of its own lens portfolio throughout the camera's life. Much was made of the camera's automatic aperture stop down ability but only the standard f/1.8 5.5 cm lens was “automatic” and even that was a marketing stretch - yes, the aperture automatically stopped down at the time the shutter was released but the return of the aperture to fully open for viewing was only accomplished by cocking the shutter again. At best, a compromise between fully “automatic” and manually cocked “semi-automatic” lenses (the rare and short-lived Pentamatic II was advertised to be fully automatic). Initially, according to the user manual and first English system brochure, only two accessory lenses were offered, a 35 mm moderate wide angle and a 100 mm short/medium telephoto and both of these were of the manual pre-set type. The camera was not available without the standard lens, i.e. body only:

(User manual scan courtesy of Chris Whelan)

By June 1960, a 135 mm was added and 180 mm and 250 mm lenses followed. When the first M42 models were released, lenses in both Pentamatic and M42 mounts were advertised in focal lengths up to 400 mm (the longer telephotos appear to be new types designed primarily for M42), but still no wider than 35 mm. In comparison to major competitors, a very limited range. Incredibly, given the ability of the camera, they all remained pre-set types.

So either Yashica chose to not develop auxiliary lenses with automatic diaphragms for some management reason, or there were technical issues still to overcome with the implementation. Unfortunately, we don't know how Yashica's external lens supplier(s), assumed to be Tomioka in the main or exclusively, fitted in. Tomioka had not produced SLR lenses previously, and possibly not interchangeable rangefinder lenses either (the relatively low volume YE and YF lenses are unknowns). These required relatively complex machined barrels plus the addition of aperture mechanisms, not to mention the “automatic” aperture of the standard lens, compared to the simple threaded tubes of TLRs and leaf shutter viewfinder/ fixed lens rangefinder cameras that were Tomioka's bread and butter at the time. Yashica did offer adaptors for Praktica M42 screw and Exakta bayonet mount lenses but like Yashica's own preset lenses, they could not use the camera's headline automatic aperture stop down feature that customers were paying for. Also, compared to other brands hungry to get their models noticed, marketing material and user manuals were hardly any more inspiring than Yashica's already basic approach to export TLRs and looking back, there didn't seem to be much of it to get customers interested.

A Pentamatic II with a different f/1.7 5.8 cm standard lens and claimed fully automatic aperture was released around September 1960, perhaps in Japan only, and both the Pentamatic and Pentamatic II seemed to be replaced by the Pentamatic S in early 1961. This reverted to the original specification and standard f/1.8 5.5 cm lens but added a split-image rangefinder focusing aid, self-timer and an external exposure meter mounting plate and shutter coupling key-way. By 1962, the Pentamatic mount was history. The first M42 model, the Penta J, was released in 1961 already, indicating a degree of panic and lack of commitment to fixing whatever the issue with the Pentamatic was. Although similarly styled and solidly built, the Penta J cut costs by reducing the maximum shutter speed from 1/1000 to 1/500, dropping the newly added self-timer and the faux-automatic lens aperture in favour of a manually cocked semi-automatic set-up styled along earlier Asahi Pentax lines, increasing the maximum lens aperture to f/2 and of course, changing from the bayonet mount to M42 mount. When advertised together, the Pentamatic S was “under” US$200 and the Penta J, “under” US$130, firmly back in the more budget mass market territory that Yashica was familiar with (the original Pentamatic had been initially advertised at US$159.95, plus in the small print, US$15 for the case and as low as US$94.50 on run-out). The ensuing models remained well built but were comparatively ordinary until perhaps the late 1960s TL Electro-X with electronically controlled shutter. Sales were also relatively lack-lustre.

To me, it seems as if the Pentamatic was designed by engineers who understood what was necessary to compete in the SLR market as it was developing but that it didn't really fit with the TLR marketing strategy that made Yashica successful - good quality at prices that others could not match. With other new products at this time, this still seemed to be management's guiding principle whereas the Pentamatic was somewhat in the middle with both specs and price and at the bottom in terms of suitable lens availability. The Pentamatic was not perfect but certainly seemed to have promise which was not realised for one reason or another.

M42 Mount Mystery

One other not so well known mystery is that why Yashica, having decided to embrace the M42 mount and refer to it as the “Praktica” mount, it then chose to deploy it using the aberrant Edixa implementation of rotating the mount clockwise by some degrees. Note, the rotation is not related to the lens register as claimed by some, that remains the same. Edixa's reasons are presumed to relate to the external diaphragm coupling on some of its lenses. Yashica didn't use external coupling and seems to have had no reason whatsoever. This was brought to my attention by correspondent John Farrell who noted that “the lens from a Yashica Reflex 35, fitted to a Pentax SV, has the focusing index mark at 11 o'clock - and a Pentax lens on the Yashica, has the mark at 1 o'clock.” There are posts about this on the net and I have also confirmed this behaviour but with a Takumar on a later TL Electro-X, the rotation was closer to 2 o'clock. Manual lenses are unaffected, apart from the normally centered scales being oddly offset, but with automatic and pre-set lenses, the issue is about the ability of the camera to hit the stop-down pin when Edixa mount and non-Edixa mount cameras and lens are mixed and matched. It is a decision that defies explanation.

The opportunity to become one of the SLR design and market leaders had briefly been almost within grasp but had withered away nearly as quickly. Failure to make an early impact in the booming SLR market and capitalise on that may have contributed to Yashica's future problems more directly than is commonly recognised.

The Zunow Connection

Although many sites repeat the claim that Yashica acquired bespoke camera and lens maker Zunow (famous for its f/1.1 50 mm Leica mount lens and maker of the “Zunow” 35 mm SLR, the first SLR with fully automatic aperture diaphragm) and its undoubted technical skills, some have questioned this and suggest that Zunow simply shut its doors. According to Japanese Wikipedia, Zunow went bankrupt and was acquired by Yashica in January 1961. The Pacific Rim Camera site has examples of “Yashinon-V Zunow” cine lenses found on a Yashica T3 movie camera thus confirming at least some level of business tie-up. There are also references to these lenses on other sites and a casual search of auction sites will easily turn up combinations of Yashica movie cameras with Zunow lenses. A circa 1958 Japanese Yashica Brochure displays a pair of accessory “Zunow Optical Co.” cine lenses so the addition of the Yashinon branding may have appeared with the Yashica T3 release in 1959 and the fitment of these as standard lenses (all T3s that I have found have the Yashinon-V Zunow lenses). A Japanese blog site compares a Zunow Cine f/1.9 13 mm lens to a similar spec Cine Yashikor and at least the barrels are identical.

(Note: There is a statement in Wikipedia that “With the assistance of Tomioka Optical Works, Yashica adapted Zunow lens designs into its own 8 mm turret cine (movie) cameras.” That is patent nonsense but unfortunately repeated verbatim on many other sites. The lenses concerned predate the claimed acquisition by Yashica but in any case, they are standard D mount cine lenses used on many other brands as well as Yashica, e.g. Elmo and Arco, i.e. there was nothing to adapt!)

There is a tendency to assume that Tomioka was responsible for all Yashica's lenses but clearly, that seems to be only partly correct and who knows whether Zunow contributed to some 35mm lens designs. Indeed, there are persistent rumours on Japanese blog sites that some Lenses fitted to the Lynx 1000 rangefinder released in mid-1960 were made by Zunow. Chris Whelan and I have have done some investigation and Chris has even acquired two of the cameras. We don't know whether there is any truth to the claims but this is what we do know. Early lenses starting with “3” for the serial number (mostly 6 digit but one with 7 digits) until about November 1960 (we know that from the camera serial numbers) have a different font for the text on the front of the lens to nearly all other Yashica lenses (both earlier and later). On the early Lynx lenses, “Number” is abbreviated as “No” (note, no period, or full stop). Also, the lower case “a” is different. Early Lynx lens on left, later on right (all later lens numbers are 7 digit, starting with “5” or “6”). The front element also sits deeper in the left early example and there are other physical differences inside.

(Images courtesy of Chris Whelan)

Why is that interesting? As noted, the font on the right lens is representative of most Yashica lenses (assumed to be made by Tomioka, later lenses changed to mostly capitals) whereas the font and spacing on the left earlier lens, and in particular the “No” but also the “a”, are absolutely more typical of Zunow made lenses than not (less so with cine lenses). The only other Yashica lens featuring this font (with either, or both, the “No” and different “a”), is the short lived f/1.7 58 mm lens released with the Pentamatic II in about September 1960 with the last example of the camera being made in January 1961 (last that I have found). This lens, differed from the Pentamatic and Pentamatic S f/1.8 55mm version by featuring a stop-down depth of field preview button, 10 bladed aperture versus 6 and with the aperture ring spinning in the Zunow-like opposite direction (smallest aperture, biggest number, to the right when holding the camera).

Is it merely coincidence that both the early Lynx lens and the f/1.7 58 mm lenses disappeared at about the time of Zunow's bankruptcy? In all honesty, I can't answer that but it is worth thinking about. Just to confuse the matter more, if the f/1.7 58 mm lens was killed off, it seems to have been resurrected as the standard lens for the unrelated Mamiya Prismat WP, also rebadged as Argus, reputedly released in July 1962 (first identified by the sharp-eyed contributor, Chris Whelan):

(Right photo, detail from lager web image)

The only differences between the two lenses are the bayonet mount, the colour of the scales and the Pentamatic II lens has a button on top as well as a sliding switch on the side (not visible) whereas the Prismat WP lens doesn't have the button but does have the switch in the same place as on the Pentamatic lens. Both lenses have 10 bladed apertures and an aperture ring that spins the same way (there was an earlier Exakta mount Mamiya Sekor f/1.7 58 mm with 9 bladed aperture and an aperture ring that spun in the opposite direction - the appearance of this was quite different). Whose design and who made it are complete unknowns but if it was a Zunow design, it is possible that the original tooling etc was re-used, perhaps by Tomioka via Yashica, or even by Mamiya via Yashica. The subsequent Mamiya Sekor M42 f/1.7 58mm looks completely different but the 10 bladed aperture and aperture ring direction are retained so the two generations may be related. Whilst most of this is guess work, the existence of the two nearly identical lenses and possible Zunow connection are part of the greater Pentamatic mystery.


There was also a commercial arrangement with Polaroid Corporation of the US with Yashica manufacturing the Pathfinder 120 instant camera for international markets outside of the US between 1961 and 1965. The Pathfinder 120 was fitted with a “Yashica Yashinon” lens in a Seikosha shutter whereas the equivalent US domestic market Pathfinder 110A was fitted with a Rodenstock lens in a Prontor shutter. The Pathfinder series used 40 series roll film, were of steel construction and fitted with sharp lenses and a rangefinder. They were considered to be part of Polaroid's more professional range. Between 1962 and 1965, Yashica also manufactured the similar bodied Model 160, which was the international version of the earlier US domestic Model 150 (lens name not marked, only indicator is “Made in Japan”). The 1965 Model 180 featured a Tomioka Tominon lens, the name perhaps suggesting that there was no direct involvement by Yashica with this model.

Other Models, Success and the Carl Zeiss Connection

1961 also saw the release of Yashica's first half-frame camera, the Rapide, a quirky start followed by other unusual offerings such as the Sequelle, and later, the movie camera or cam-corder like Samurai models. In between, there were more main stream models too.

There was a flurry of 35 mm rangefinder releases but it wasn't until 1966 before Yashica found the magic formula with the various fixed lens Electro 35 rangefinder models - eventually a very big number were were sold. Wikipedia claims 8 million, the source quoted is Ken Rockwell. Perhaps more reliably, Japanese Wikipedia claims 5 million and the Yashica Guy has details and a photo of a gold commemorative camera engraved with that number. Yashica finally took its place, albeit tentatively, as a large and respected player in the modern Japanese camera industry until under Kyocera ownership, its demise as a camera manufacturer in the digital age (production ceased in 2005 and the “Yashica” brand sold to an unrelated Hong Kong based business in 2007). Along the way, it bought its lens maker, Tomioka, in 1968 and in 1973 developed a relationship with Carl Zeiss in an attempt to re-boot its aspiration to become a leading SLR manufacturer. Yashica licensed the CONTAX name (note capitalisation) for the premium versions of its new electronically controlled 35 mm models released in 1975 (the CONTAX RTS debuted at Photokina in 1974) which signaled a return to a bayonet mount for the SLRs. The introduction of the excellent, if niche focused, CONTAX G series of electronically controlled, interchangeable lens, 35 mm rangefinder cameras in 1994 is also noteworthy. For a last “hurrah” and returning to Yashica's 120 medium format origins, the impressive CONTAX 645 Auto Focus SLR system was released in 1999.

Although some of the other post-War start-ups had also produced very good product, they didn’t have the initial business and marketing skills and perhaps luck of Yashica and disappeared quickly from the marketplace along with other older and less agile camera makers - the late 1950s and 1960s was a period of rationalisation and consolidation in the Japanese photographic industry.

A 12 page catalogue by Australian Yashica importer Swift & Bleakley Pty. Ltd. from around 1962 illustrates how quickly Yashica's focus had turned from TLRs which five years earlier had been its only product. The catalogue contains only the Yashica 635 and Yashica Mat-LM plus a Yashica-Mat used to highlight accessories (5 items listed, 3 of which are filters). There are also some 44 series accessories but no cameras. The total space given over to TLRs and their accessories is less than one page. The rest of the catalogue is given over to 35 mm cameras, movie cameras, binoculars and general photographic accessories.

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Disaster & Ultimately, Failure

Although the 1983 takeover by Kyocera has been widely reported, one aspect of Yashica's operations not covered in the various English language wikis and many references is Yashica's bankruptcy in 1975 which ultimately led to Kyocera control. According to the Google translation of the Japanese Wikipedia Yashica entry, the company was beset by a “perfect storm” of embezzlement by its accounting manager, over-investment in new plant at Okaya, Nagano, and recession caused by the the 1973-1975 “oil shock”. There is also reference to issues with investment in a television receiver business. Reading from a different source which seems to be related to this entry, I understand that with government urging, Kyocera was involved in the initial 1975 bankruptcy bailout with the merger of Yashica into Kyocera finally occurring in 1983.

An earlier article by Richard Halloran of the New York Times which appeared in a number of regional US papers including the St Petersburg Times of 18 November 1974 and The Ledger of 21 November 1974, starts with:

TOKYO - Yashica, one of Japan's most widely known camera manufacturers, is skirting the edge of disaster because of poor management, troubles in the Japanese camera industry and overall economic pressures here.

The article notes that the problems began four years earlier when Yashica last paid a dividend and a director of the company was charged with having embezzled about $1.8m. Apparently, matters came to a head earlier in 1974 when company founder and previous president, Yoshimasa Ushiyama, now company chairman,

publicly accused Yashica's managers of doctoring financial statements to make the company's position look better than it was.

The company president denied the charges and Yoshimasa Ushiyama was voted out of office. According to a similar article in the Wall Street Journal uncovered by contributor Chris Whelan, the president, Yoshihiro Miyata, was responsible for the effective “sacking” of Yoshimasa Ushiyama. The New York Times article tells us that Yashica was running a deficit and using bank loans to stay afloat. The Nissho-Iwai Trading Company, which handled much of Yashica's trade, was asked by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry to help bail Yashica out. By January 1975, the trading company had replaced Mr. Miyata with their own Shiro Kaneko (date provided by Chris Whelan). I understand that this all occurred before Yashica actually became bankrupt.

The New York Times article goes on to note how Yashica, apart from a failed attempt at branching into desktop calculators, had not diversified into other products in the way that Canon, Minolta, Nikon and Olympus had. I think that is a little harsh - there is some evidence of other attempts, although perhaps half-hearted and certainly not overly successful outside its photographic endeavours. Yashica started from virtually nothing to become a TLR company, then towards the end of the 1950s, it began to reinvent itself as a manufacturer of all types of quality consumer still and movie cameras. That took a great deal of investment and determination. Its US catalogue from around 1959 already includes a Yashica YT-100 transistor radio. An article in the Singapore Free Press of 21 July 1960 notes that Yashica “has also become a household word in the sphere of radios and radio-phonographs.” Ads for these, tape recorders, hearing aids and microscopes (not related to “Yashima”, a different Tokyo company well known for microscopes) appeared in various editions of the paper until at least 1962. There are also “Yashica” branded binoculars and telescopes with one catalogue featuring 13 astronomical telescope models. We also have the evidence of the problems with the television receiver business mentioned above. So, from having expanded its TLR business into a full range of consumer cameras and other optical products, consumer electronics is where Yashica was heading but for one reason or another, it never reached its goal.

Kyocera ownership was not kind to Yashica. Profitability continued to be a problem and Kyocera embarked on many cost-cutting measures at a time when competitors were looking to technology for a competitive edge. As a result, Kyocera/Yashica was late to market with auto-focus SLRs and success largely eluded it (it's a little more complicated than that, initially, Zeiss was reluctant to adopt the light weight construction necessary for auto-focus lenses). After four models, the Yashica name pretty much disappeared. Surprisingly, Kyocera's CONTAX N Digital, its first and only 35 mm digital SLR (DSLR), was also the first DSLR with a full-size 35 mm sensor. It was announced in 2000 and released in 2002 before the Canon EOS 1Ds made its debut. Unfortunately, it had some shortcomings and was withdrawn from sale in 2003. The history of half-baked solutions and abandonment seemed to repeat several times during the 35 mm SLR period and not only just under Kyocera's stewardship. Film cameras plus Kyocera and CONTAX branded digital point and shoot cameras soldiered on for another two years.

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Volleyball Parallels Yashica's Fortunes

Various Japanese sources refer to Yashica's involvement in volleyball competitions. Japanese Wikipedia tells us that volleyball had been popular in the Suwa area since 1951 and that Yashima established teams at the Shimosuwa factory gym in 1955 and in 1960, also at the Tokyo head office. The teams merged in 1963. Only the women's teams are mentioned, I don't know if there was a men's team but I suspect not. The Yashica team was rated highly in the national league and it is noteworthy that the Japanese women's team won gold at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics ( the men won bronze). In 1967, Japan's women won the World Championship with a team featuring many Yashica players.

Following Yashica's bankruptcy, the volleyball club (as it now was) was abolished in 1978 with the director and 13 players moving to the newly formed NEC Electric Girls Volleyball Club, these days known as the NEC Red Rockets, which has recorded six championship wins in the intervening period up to 2015.

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The Factories

Although offices were quickly established in Tokyo and elsewhere, Yashica's starting point and spiritual home was the Lake Suwa region of Nagano Prefecture on Honshu, Japan's largest and most populous island. As the crow flies, it is about 160 km (100 miles) west-northwest from Tokyo. In the late 19th and first half of 20th centuries, the area was known for its silk reeling factories.

Silk production also involves dying which is very water intensive. Reliable valves are key component and a local Nagano company, Kitazawa Manufacturing Works, and 1938 spin-off, Toyo Valve Industry Co., Ltd., developed world class products at a time when Japanese manufacturing was not known for high quality. The successful valve industry and relocated war-time industries provided a ready source of skilled workers and technicians and supporting activities for precision engineering based businesses to establish and flourish. Several sources link Yashica (Yashima) with Kitazawa (Kitazawa Industry Co., Ltd., from 1943), one academic work in English even claiming that “in the late 1940s, Sankyo Corporation and Yashica Corporation were spun off from Kitazawa Seisakujo”, but as far as I can make out, Japanese sources only make the link as the presence of the successful Kitazawa being an enabler and Yashica as an example of a beneficiary.

(Note, the Yashica Story above refers to the Ushiyama brothers gaining experience making valves during the War and Japanese Wikipedia confirms that Yoshimasa worked for Kitazawa. Japanese Wikipedia also mentions that Kitazawa made 88 mm gun barrels for the military and a “timepiece timed fuse”. Many references claim that Yashima started as a sub-contractor making fuses for munitions and afterwards was said to make parts for electric clocks. “Spun off” may be overstating what happened but the links may have been stronger than is readily evident from the material I have access to.)

During World War II, Olympus relocated its microscope and camera business to the Nagano area, Seikosha (Seiko) established its watchmaking factory at Lake Suwa, and later, Chinon and Cosina established nearby factories too. The region is also famous for music boxes. In Yashica's 1956 booklet, translated further below, it is referred to as the “Switzerland of the East”.

The Free Singapore Express article of 24 November 1960 (above) states that the Yashima company founder, Yoshimasa Ushiyama, established a factory at Suwa in 1946 (as noted earlier, other references claim that the origin was a small munitions related business originally established near the end of the War in 1945 - as a subcontractor, he and any employees may have worked on-site so there may or may not be a contradiction). On sale on a Japanese auction site, a framed Yashima Flex ad in English and claimed to be from an unnamed 1954 US publication, identifies the following addresses:

Head Office: 244, 4-KU OHWA, SUWA CITY, NAGANO PREF.

Presumably, the Head Office address was the factory location at the time.

The 1956 Yashima booklet, detailed in the next section, refers to the “new factory” and “new Yashima optical factory” with photos of operations and an artistic rendering of the factory site. Japanese Wikipedia identifies the location as one of the old Katakura Industries Co., Ltd., silk reeling factories in the town of Shimosuwa, on the opposite side of the lake to the city of Suwa, and that Yashima took it over in 1955. Another smaller 1956 brochure has a double page spread of the same rendered factory image and along with the Yashica Rookie user manual, confirms the Shimosuwa location:

(Document scan courtesy of Chris Whelan)

The significant addresses are:

Yashica Head Office: Nihonbashi-Muromachi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Suwa Plant: Shimosuwa Town, Nagano Prefecture

Below is a later aerial photo of the factory site. The image is is taken from an interesting brochure which also features factory operations and production lines. The viewpoint is turned 90 degrees clockwise from the above artistic rendering and shows the back of a new multi-storey office building in the top left quadrant and to the left of that, a new curved roof hanger-like building (note, either the second chimney has moved or the artist got it wrong - perhaps it was still only being planned at the time). The office sits in the area of the two storey flat roofed building and twin flagpoles at the bottom of the above image. The front of the office block is shown in the next image.

(Document scan courtesy of Chris Whelan)

This office block on the Shimosuwa factory site was presumably the Head Office at the time. This image is from the circa 1959 brochure printed in the US but a night-time image from the same viewpoint features in at least one Japanese document and a different angle features in another.

The aerial photo below of the full Yashica site is from a 1964 brochure or later (the Yashica Mat-EM is a featured model). The viewpoint is similar to the first factory image. Note that the central office block now has a three storey extension added along its right hand side and this continues along the back of the building in an “L” shape.

(Document scan courtesy of Chris Whelan)

According to Japanese Wikipedia, in 1972, Yashica opened a new factory (see Disaster, Almost Failure above) on the former Katakura silk mill site in neighbouring Okaya City, also on Lake Suwa in Nagano Prefecture. The site had been bought from Okaya City in 1959. The translated Wikipedia entry seems to be suggesting that Yashica “transferred completely” to the new Okaya factory, i.e. ended operations at its Shimosuwa facility.

Contributor Chris Whelan notes that the translated 1972 manual for his Yashica TL Electro-X ITS SLR lists both the “Suwa Plant” at the Shimosuwa site and the “Okaya Plant” but that the 1973 Yashinon Lenses & Accessories booklet (for 35 mm SLRs) only mentions the Okaya facility, seemingly confirming the Wikipedia translation. Both booklets now list Yashica headquarters as:

HQ, 6-27-8 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo Pref. 150

Both booklets also refer to a third production facility, the “Sagamihara Factory” in coastal Kanagawa Prefecture, the capital of which is Yokohama, not far from Tokyo (Sagamihara itself is actually inland, northwest of Yokohama and southwest of Tokyo). I have no knowledge about the purpose, or operations, of this facility nor have I seen earlier references to it. However, there is subsequent mention to turmoil surrounding its closure in 1974. The New York Times reported on 22 October 1974 that the head of the union at the plant had attempted ritual suicide after learning that Yashica would dismiss 900 workers from other plants to offset the redeployment and voluntary redundancy of the 900 workers in Kanagawa that he had negotiated in good faith. In the highly protected Japanese labour market, this was undoubtedly seen as an act of treachery by the Yashica management team led by president Yoshihiro Miyata at a time when embezzlement, mismanagement and poor decision making were about to lead the company into bankruptcy. Apart from acting as a whistle blower, founder and deposed chairman, Yoshimasa Ushiyama, seemed to have no reported role in these matters.

How, or where, the Japan based factory(s) operated after this time is not something that I have spent time researching. However, it is likely that camera production continued at the Okaya factory until the end. Today, Kyocera lists a Nagano Okaya Plant amongst its Japanese assets. It's likely that this was Yashica's factory and although as a westerner, I find it hard to reconcile the exact address as given in the 1970s with the address as given today, the telephone number at least is unambiguously the same. Previously, Yashica acquired Nicca Camera Co. Ltd. in 1958 and Zunow in 1961. Where they were and what happened to those factories is not clear to me. In 1968, Yashica also added Tomioka to its acquisitions. Its main plant was in Osoki, Ome City, Tokyo and most of its earlier history was centred on the Tokyo area. The current headquarters and main factory of successor company, Kyocera Optec Co., Ltd., is at 3-1778 Osoki, Ome City, Tokyo so it is probably still the same site.

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1956 Booklet

The 28 page booklet (including covers) below has a publishing date of 15 December 1956 and advertises the Yashicaflex C, Yashicaflex A2 and Yashica Rookie and quotes a December 1956 US review of the Yashica C and LM. It also offers a fascinating glimpse into the “new” Yashima factory and marketing:

(Click on cover for full downloadable PDF)

Below are selected translations from the booklet, very kindly done by Haruko Eaton. The translations, including layout, are pretty much as given to me with any editorialising by me in italics:


News from Service Department

Majority recommended by friends
Purchase reason for Yashica users
Results of survey on choosing Yashica shows that majority of buyers have been recommended by their friends as shown on the graph. It proves that Yashica has reputations of superiority from our customers using our products not just from our advertisements.

A: Recommended by friends (45.3%)
B: Recommended by shop (29.6%)
C: Chose by themselves (20.2%)
D: Other (4.9%)

Photograph above – Service department Osaka
Photograph below – HQ service department

Date published      15 Dec 1956


Birth of Twin Lens Reflective Camera

Our new Yasu optical factory is situated on 10000 tsubo (approx. 8.155 acres) of vast land alongside of beautiful Nagano Suwa lake known as Switzerland of the East. We are proud of our practical production system being one of the best in camera industry, but let us show you here just a small part of more than 3000 precise procedures we do.

Production Procedures

Material Warehouse              Factory      Receiving, Dye cast, Press

Plate coating factory                   Quality Control                        Parts Warehouse

Lens factory (Tomioka)        Shutter factory (Copal etc)

Assembly factory     Final QC               Shipping


(Click on image for larger view)

Images from bottom right, anti-clockwise (note corresponding image numbers):

Main picture: Overview of new factory

1: This is a shot of our machinery factory. We produce various parts in this clean and bright environment.

2: Production of lens is done very carefully because it is, after all the soul of a camera, and after strict selection of raw material, lenses are produced going through hundreds of steps.

3: Shutters are made out of more parts than you'd expect. This is a part of our QC department.

4: Finished parts mentioned above are brought to the assembly department. They are assembled going through many hands on a conveyor belt.   

5: Completed twin lens reflex cameras are transferred to QC department and there, focus adjustment is performed using collimator.

6:  After passing strict resolution measurements and final inspections for finished products, our twin lens reflex camera is born.


From US camera published in December

This splendid camera has superior lens just like expensive counterparts have, also it's advantage is that the price is very reasonable. Yashica has proved that anyone can afford good quality twin lens reflective camera. Yashica C has the same functions as more expensive cameras.

Without being too relaxed with the positive feedback, we would like to keep producing better cameras.

(Background US article text also mentions Yashica LM and another camera but with the text cut-off, presumably the Yashica A)


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1957 Review of the Japanese Photographic Industry

The April 1957 edition of US magazine, Popular Photography, included a “Special Section” titled “The Japanese Photo Industry”. It starts with “In Japan the People Love Photography” and notes the widespread Japanese adoption of photography as a pastime and a way to keep moments alive, much as in the 1953 article above.

The magazine had visited Japan and various factories and found that the focus on quality control was evident everywhere, including at the delivery of the raw material stage. Comments were made about operations at factories, those about Yashica on page 149 are quite interesting. The number one slogan was “quality through happy employees”. To this end, music was piped throughout the factory and varied in style through the day to suit the mood of the worker. Semi-classical in the morning was to help workers forget about their personal situations. This was followed by Western semi-classical and in the lunch hour, there was classical such as Bach or Beethoven. In the afternoon, there was a period of popular Japanese tunes followed by “juke-box jazz”. “Sections of the plant's interior walls are painted in pink and light blue for effect. And when the day's work is over, every employee can take a dip in the plant's own hot spring.”

Page 154 discusses the establishment of the Japan Camera Inspection Institute (JCII) in 1954 and its government backed industry-wide role in quality control of photographic and optical exports. In the beginning, the seal of approval was a small circular paper certificate with “PASSED”. JCII was later renamed the Japanese Camera Industry Institute (retaining the same acronym), and was responsible for the oval gold “PASSED” quality stickers common on Japanese export cameras from the mid 1960s to late 1980s.

Japanese manufacturers belonged to the Japan Camera Industry Association (JCIA). JCIA established the Japan Camera Information and Service Center in New York “in the shadow of the Empire State Building” (page 158) at an address I believe was 329 Fifth Ave, the address also used by Yashica for its first brochure featuring the Yashica A, C and LM trio. The Center's role was marketing, product information, liaison, servicing and spare parts support for its members.

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Yashica TLR Design Heritage (The Rolleicord DNA)

It is interesting that not only the general design and layout but the body casting in particular of the original Pigeonflex was very similar to both the Rolleicord models of 1936 to 1938 and to other Rollei clones from post-War startups at the time e.g., Cosmoflex, Nikkenflex, Malcaflex, Manonflex and others. I have seen at least two Yashicaflex Cs for sale on Yahoo Japan fitted with a perfectly natural looking backs similar to those commonly found on some Tōkyō Kōgaku, or Tokyo Optical Co., (later Topcon) made Laurelflex and Primoflex models - obviously the designs, dimensions and tolerances were very close. The smaller companies were more likely to have started as assemblers of parts than designers and manufacturers - how the early Yashica fits into this spectrum is not known. The more established brands often showed more individuality and innovation but the clear link to Franke & Heidecke design was common to all.

It would be a mistake to think that copying was a post-War phenomenon. Pre-War and early War TLR models were much more likely to be a carbon copy of a Rolleicord down to trim and feature-set, some perhaps introduced as the originals became difficult to obtain.

1953 Yashima Pigeonflex on left, right image is of a pre-War Rolleicord II. Note the body casting detail - early Rolleicord type for both. The nameplate with underlined name channeled the later Rolleicords.

(Left image courtesy of Tom Heckhaus, right, detail from larger web image)

By the early 1950s, some Japanese TLRs were already based more on the 1940's Rolleicord type bodies (the differences were mainly cosmetic around the focusing lens board panel surround) and the remaining makers, including Yashima, seemed to move to the newer design as one (see “Bodies & Trim”). Below left is a later Rolleicord II from probably the early 1940s with the newer style casting which Yashima adopted in 1955. The first Yashima models didn't include some of the contemporary Rolleicord's more advanced and costly features such as the auto-stop film wind with film counter and Bay 1 lens mounts, even though auto-stop film winding had been common on pre-War Japanese clones. The 1955 Yashicaflex C on the right has these features already (plus also the sports viewfinder and flash sync which first appeared on Rolleicord III models in 1950 and an accessory shoe which is missing from all Rolleicord models).

(Left image courtesy of Göran Årelind)

The copying of Franke & Heidecke TLRs was more than skin deep. Below are film spool knob side castings and mechanisms from both makers:

(Image 1 is detail from larger web image, images 2 and 3 courtesy of Göran Årelind)

Image 1 is a 1953 Yashima Pigeonflex with early body. Image 2 is a post-1958 Yashica 635 with late body. Image 3 is a 1940s Rolleicord II with late body. Pretty much everything looks the same and fits in the same place in all three cameras. The only significant differences are that the Pigeonflex doesn't have the spring and other parts associated with the film counter shaft even though the casting makes provision for it (slot left of top spool knob), the Yashica cameras have an additional part at the bottom to assist with the focus mechanism adjustment (there on later Rolleis, presumably from before 1953 and copied by Yashima) and the 635 has a hole for the 35 mm rewind release (middle of the right edge). The Rolleiflex shows a similar heritage to the Rolleicord but it's castings are more complex and the mechanisms, although operating in a similar way, are more refined. In comparison, the Yashica-Mat is virtually identical to the Yashica 635 except that the focus shaft is extended for mounting the focusing knob on the spool knob side (in place of the retaining screw for the brass focusing cam in the centre).

In that context, it is important to appreciate that the Rolleiflex is a more expensive and sophisticated professional tool than the Rolleicord. The Yashica crank wind models, starting with the Yashica-Mat, may bear a passing resemblance to the Rolleiflex and operate in a similar way but in reality, they are typical Yashica 66 models with the crank wind adaptation bolted on. Mechanically, the most generous comparison to a Franke & Heidecke model would be to think of them as crank wind Rolleicords.

Superficially, the Yashica-Mat gear train on the left seems to replicate the early Rolleiflex on the right quite closely (later Rolleiflex models are very similar). Rather than re-inventing the wheel, Yashima took a proven design and adapted it for low cost mass production. It's not a Rolleiflex competitor in the sense that most people buying a Yashica-Mat couldn't afford a Rollei even if they wanted one and the people buying a Rolleiflex were either well-heeled enthusiasts or already successful professionals needing a robust and reliable tool.

(Detail from larger web images)

The differences between the two can be summed up by that well-used saying, “the devil is in the detail”. The Yashica's pressed metal linkages appear simpler, thinner and with more basic pivot points. The soft brass intermediate gears are cheaper to produce and machine and don't require as-close tolerances to mesh smoothly with harder metal components. The downsides are that larger tolerances reduce smoothness, increase noise and the soft brass wears quicker. For its intended market, the Yashica-Mat was perfectly adequate, even for light professional use. We are talking about degrees here, not night and day differences.

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Recipe for Success

The established Japanese camera makers like Minolta, Ricoh (later), Olympus, Fujica, Mamiya, even new maker Kowa with its sophisticated Kalloflex and possibly others such as early maker Elmo, arguably produced some more sophisticated TLR products with more highly regarded optics (although the Lumaxars and Yashinons are very good) but what made Yashica successful was excellent value for money helped by using the same effective and reliable basic body structure to plug every possible price point in the market. Features and specifications varied between models but there is no evidence that there was additional cost cutting with the more basic ones. The period articles referred to earlier confirm Yashica's commitment to value for money and good quality to be achieved through automation and high volumes. Also, there appears to have been a clear recognition of the importance of understanding the mass-market customer.

Below is a table of early 1950s prices for Japanese TLRs compiled from www.tlr66.com and other sources. It seems that in the beginning, the quite ordinary specification-wise Pigeonflex, Yashima Flex and Yashica Flex B were priced at a level commensurate with their features and similar to equivalent competing products. The exposure meter and other specs improvements of the Yashicaflex S placed it at a reasonable premium above the others. However, by late 1954 with the release of the Yashicaflex A-II, the value for money approach was quite noticeable and the 1955 Yashicaflex C was remarkably affordable for its specs and quality. In the meantime, Endō Sashin Yōhin had not altered either the price or basic specs of the Pigeonflex models it sold. The Yashicaflex C offered a higher shutter speed, auto-stop winding, Bay 1 filter mounts and probably better lenses, all for 3,500 yen less. It should also be noted that quite a few of the competitors' models at the bottom end, including the Hobiflex III, Amiflex, Silverflex and Richoflex VII listed in the table, had cheap pressed metal bodies and simple geared together lenses with helical focusing.

Brochures and catalogues from the late 1950s continue to show a considerable price differential in favour of Yashica cameras against the “old order”. For example, the 1960 Olden Camera and Lens Company catalogue lists the top of the line Yashica-Mat at US$75.50 and the Minolta Autocord (without meter) for US$99.50. The difference in quality was almost certainly much less than the price differential suggested. Also, at the lower end, Minolta had already abandoned the knob-wind market by the mid-1950s. The Yashica value proposition was often emphasised in early marketing material in Japan and then in the US, particularly with the release of the Yashica A, C and LM trio in 1956 and the Yashica-Mat in 1957 but also throughout TLR production.

Having taken the value for money route also ensured that there were neither the resources nor culture for engaging in expensive research and development activities and no room to make extensive or costly changes to components. The inspired grafting of a Sekonic CB-1 exposure meter to the side of something which was still 85% Pigeonflex is by far the most innovative piece of design that Yashima/Yashica ever attempted with its TLRs. Elegant it wasn't but the Yashica Flex model S certainly got them noticed, and then the market rewarded the company for its conservative, cost conscious approach. The evidence also seems to be that quality levels were more than satisfactory. In other words, consumers were happy to pay for what they were getting.

It should be noted that whilst Yashica's TLR output remained more of the same with tweaks here and there, its move into other photographic products was accompanied by much greater risk taking and original design. No doubt profit margins were expected to be higher.

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The Rollei Comparison - Can Yashima Match Franke & Heidecke?

Inevitably, comparisons are also made with comparable Rolleiflex and Rolleicord models. Certainly the photographic concept is the same and the Yashicas have a strong design and functional relationship to the earlier Rollei models. Is the comparison favourable? Of course not! In regard to crank wind comparisons, I have already partly answered that above. Webb's Photographic Gift Guide (c1964) lists the then top of the line Yashica Mat-EM at “less than” US$85, the Minolta Autocord at US$109.45 and the Rolleiflex 3.5F at US$299.50. If more than three times the price did not buy better lenses, more reliable mechanics with a better precision feel and consistently excellent quality, then Rollei would not have sold many cameras at all. What is surprising is that for amateur use, the Yashicas weren't that far from the Rolleiflex experience but for professional use, their crank wind mechanisms were perhaps too fragile.

The differences were less between knob wind models, although the Rolleicord V upped the sophistication levels somewhat and the Tessar type Xenar lens became standard on Rolleicords before Yashima made its first Pigeonflex. It all depends on which models are being compared.

There is probably not a lot to choose between the Tomioka triplets, especially the Yashikor, and the similar but earlier Zeiss Triotar. Whilst Yashica's Tessar lens designs (Lumaxar 75 mm and 80 mm and Yashinon) were respectable, they couldn't match the Rolleis in either choice or sophistication (Zeiss Tessar and the equivalent Schneider Xenar and the more complex Zeiss Planar and Schneider Xenotar in both f/3.5 and f/2.8 forms) but again, the real world differences were not as great as maybe expected and even less when stopped down.

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Marketing Campaigns

“Yashicaflex Photography” and Other Japanese Marketing Initiatives

Contributor Chris Whelan now has three of the Japanese language books, “Yashicaflex Photography” as well as one for the Yashica 8 movie camera (there are at least two versions) and I have one also plus the equivalent “Yashica Mat Photography”. They are part user manual, part full photography guide with all manner of techniques including lighting, setting up a darkroom and film processing. They contain photos by well known Japanese photographers and of popular personalities. The first Yashicaflex Photography covers the Yashicaflex models S and A-II and was first published on 10 August 1955. The 20 October 1955 reprint added the model C. It is some 170 pages compared to the English language Yashicaflex Directions for Use Model A & C from a similar time which covers a few more models but is simply a fold out sheet.

Chris also has similar Yashicaflex Photography books for the Yashicaflex B (new model) and Yashica A III (more of a booklet than book). They have the same title, follow the same style but are limited to one model each. There is also a 158 page 1958 Yashica D version, the description of which I found on an auction site. Later user manuals seem to be like the export versions.

Yashica also produced some early advertising booklets which were more of a general photography guide than standard sales brochure. Examples from 1956, 1957 and 1958 are on the Brochures page.

As it grew, the export market clearly became more important for Yashima/Yashica but the company's initial success was based on its growth in its home market and it appears that the company went out of its way to promote photography for the masses and develop a lasting relationship with its customers. Perhaps this is the main reason why after Yashima adopted the “Yashica” name for export models, it continued with “Yashicaflex” models in Japan (albeit, called “Yashica” in advertising).

The Cowboys are Coming!

Almost from the start of the introduction of “Yashica” named models into the US in the second half of 1956, US ads and brochures featured the heavy serif style font associated with the “Wanted” posters and US wild west as popularised in Hollywood westerns. In 1958, Yashica created a new focusing hood logo using this font and also used it for the name between the lenses. There is little doubt that the prime focus was shifting to the US market.

The Yashica Sailor Boy

Marketing Paraphernalia contains various examples of Yashica promotions but the most enduring was the Yashica Sailor Boy which in various forms seemed to last from its introduction as a plastic figurine in 1962 to probably 1970 in cloth patch form. Whether he contributed to Yashica's success is an unknown but Yashica clearly thought that it was on a winner.

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Early Export Markets

Little seems to be known about Yashima's early marketing push. We can speculate that in the early 1950s, the domestic market was still somewhat constrained economically and that as cashed-up servicemen began leaving Japan after the Korean War, companies like Yashima would have been seeking alternative markets to sell to, particularly for their more expensive models. Obviously the US, as the world's greatest consumer society, would have been at the forefront of planning. However, there is one much smaller market which has been a real surprise; Sweden.

In parts of Europe, post-War import restrictions were in place for a long time. Here is a note on a UK importer Photax brochure from 1961:

(Document image courtesy of Leigh Harris)


The first evidence of a US push is a review of the “Yashicaflex” (actually a Yashicaflex S, but the “S” is never mentioned) in the March 1956 edition of Popular Photography. The review seems to be introducing the brand to the magazine's readers for the first time:

(Document image courtesy of Tom Heckhaus)

(Click on article for larger image)

The Chicago Trade Show report in the June 1956 edition of Popular Photography noted:

"A Yashica-flex Automatic camera with crank-operated film transport and shutter-cocking facilities, M-X synchronisation and shutter speeds from 1 to 1/300 second was presented by Intercontinental Marketing Co., at $79.50."

An early forerunner to the Yashica-Mat, or more likely, a prototype?

A forum discussion on photo.net in 1999 refers to an ad for the Yashicaflex S and AS models found in a 1955 magazine. I have found no other US references to Yashicaflex. The first confirmed ads for any Yashica model are in November 1956 for the Yashica A, C and LM which state: “Three months ago, many camera store owners had a preview of the Yashica cameras.” A book, Yashica Guide by Richard Lowell, claims that the Yashica name was first introduced to the American public in September 1956, presumably as the Yashica A, C and LM. Next to the initial November 1956 ad below, found in several publications, is a different one from December 1956 which was re-run at least the following month as well.

(Second ad is detail from larger web image)

(Click first ad to view both sides as PDF, click second ad for larger image)

This is an early brochure for the “new” Yashica A, C and LM. Printed in Japan but with US address already, 329 Fifth Avenue, New York. I believe that this is the address of the Japan Camera Information and Service Center set up by the Japan Camera Industry Association. Note that there is no reference to Yashica Inc. yet (see 1959 brochure below) which I believe was at 234 Fifth Avenue.

(Scan provided courtesy of Tom Heckhaus)

(Click on cover to view full brochure as PDF)

The Yashica-Mat was released in April 1957 and in the same year, Yashima established the subsidiary, Yashica, Inc. in New York. The ad below still refers to the US address as “Yashima Optical” but at the new 234 Fifth Avenue address.

(Click on ad for larger image)

From this point forward, there are regular ads for the three Yashica models plus the new Yashica-Mat. In 1958, the Yashica 635 and Yashica 44 TLRs and Yashica 8 movie cameras started appearing.

Below is a USA Brochure from about 1959. Two things to note are the range of cameras already in addition to the TLRs and the prices of TLRs both in comparison to each other and to the 35 mm and other cameras. In terms of the quality of negative obtainable from them, the TLRs were absolute bargains.

(Click on cover to view full brochure as PDF)


Whilst the focus on the US is expected, why this small European country? The evidence from ads is that Yashica cameras were being actively marketed in Sweden from 1954, that is less than 2 years after the Pigeonflex first saw light as a camera to be marketed by someone else. The first ad found is for the Yashima Flex and Yashica Flex S in the December 1954 edition of Swedish photography magazine Nordisk Tidskrift för Fotografi (the Yashima Flex and Yashica Flex S together is strange, the Yashima Flex is thought to be from an earlier period):

(Document image and information courtesy of Göran Årelind, also appears in Model Names and 66 Models)

(Click on ad for larger image)

Molander & son AB (aktiebolag or company) was the first Swedish importer of Yashima models. This ad was followed by the Yashicaflex B (old model) and Yashicaflex S (note the new single word form) in the March 1955 edition of competitor photography magazine, Foto:

(Document image and information courtesy of Göran Årelind, also appears in 66 Models)

Next, in May 1955, came a Yashicaflex AS ad (probably for an AS-II) but the ad below is actually from August 1955:

(Document image courtesy of Göran Årelind, larger image appears in 66 Models)

And then in April 1956, the MolfoReflex (by trim, probably released in 1955):

(Document image courtesy of Göran Årelind, larger image appears in 66 Models)

The MolfoReflex is unique as the only known rebadged Yashica model (see also MolfoReflex in 66 Models). It seems that maybe only a couple of ads were run, the second one in June. The “Generalagent” (importer/ distributer) is identified as Molfo Aktiebolag (company), the name “Molfo” is likely to simply be a contraction of “Mol”anders and “Fo”toagenturer (Molanders Photo Agency), a subsidiary company of Molander & son. This company had no other connection to Yashica products.

Molander & son's Yashicaflex S and AS ads, now combined with other photographic products, continued into 1956. In 1957, it was the Yashicaflex S by itself and in the last ad in August, Molander called it the “Yashica S”. In December, Molander was advertising the Yashica-Mat and by May 1958, also the Yashica A, C and LM. However, a different importer, A. B. Fritz Weist & Co., began advertising the Yashica-Mat, Yashica A, C and LM in April 1957:

(Document image courtesy of Göran Årelind)

Below is a Yashica TLR brochure, printed in Sweden in 1961. Note, that the trim details of the Yashica-Mat on the cover and inside are of earlier versions.

(Original brochure provided courtesy of Göran Årelind)

(Click on cover to view full brochure as PDF)

The Yashica commitment to Sweden was substantial, here is a 1959 ad and Göran's translation below it:

(Document image courtesy of Göran Årelind, also appears in Yashica 44 Series)

YASHICA are Swedish-controlled quality!
Factory manager Werner Falkner at our facility in Jacobsberg – Sweden's second largest plant for photographic products – has the responsibility for the quality control of all Yashica cameras imported to Sweden.
He is the one who knows the most about Yashica cameras, how high and consistent the quality really is of these cameras. This is documented in more than 16,000 tested cameras, plus the same number of pleased Yashica-owners all over Sweden.
Swedish Yashica inspection consists of 23 check-points including: mechanics, film-feeding (with film in the camera) optical (in autocollimator) and exposure times. For film-cameras, also magnifier control of film-feeding and stroboscope-check of film-speed and, finally the finish of the camera.
All Yashicas have 1 year Swedish warranty!  

Look at the camera……..look at the price:
Yashica 44 is a super modern mirror-reflex camera with the smooth format 4x4.
Small, light and easy to handle with advanced technical features.
Crank-feeding, of course, shutter with 10 speeds and advanced optical lenses that guarantee extremely good results, both with B/W and color film.
The price is a sensation………268:-
Sweden's most sold mirror-reflex camera is
YASHICA   Ask Your photo-dealer for a demonstration!!

The establishment of such a facility and number of cameras sold is impressive in the context of Sweden's population, 7.5 million in 1960. The Yashica 44 price is interesting, it is even more expensive than the Yashica 635! I don't know if this facility lasted very long though, it is not listed in later Yashica documents.

Evidence may also surface about early export activity in other countries but for the moment, Sweden is unique regarding Yashicaflex models. Having been neutral in World War II, in the early 1950s, Sweden was in a relatively healthy state whilst much of Europe was still rebuilding and coping with the start of the Cold War.

Whatever the reasons, Sweden is interesting from a Yashica point of view. However, I didn't know this. Like many people, I knew a little bit about the existence of the MolfoReflex and that was all. Correspondent and now significant contributor, Göran Årelind, is of course Swedish and he has done some very good research into the MolfoReflex background, the Yashica TLR presence in Sweden and the general Swedish TLR marketplace in the 1950s and early 1960s. That is 50 to 60 years ago - not a simple task!

The end result is this excellent document:

Göran sees this as a work in progress, particularly regarding the MolfoReflex material. I also have to add that Göran's contributions have been used elsewhere on the site and it is his Swedish ads, along with the Dutch ad provided by Norman Beierle, that have narrowed down the release dates of the Yashica 44A and Yashica 44LM to the middle of 1959.

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I know little else about Belgium apart from the fact that I have a Belgian brochure that is probably from late 1955. It lists three models; Yashicaflex models A-I, AS-II (mistakenly claimed to have Heliotar lenses) and S.

(Click on cover to view full brochure as PDF)

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Leigh Harris has pointed me to a guy in Denmark that has scanned ads and other bits and pieces from Danish magazines dating from 1934 to 1990. This is the link to the relevant page. I don't know yet whether Denmark received any special attention or it was broadly representative of western Europe. Following reluctant cooperation and then Nazi occupation, Denmark had escaped World War II relatively unscathed compared to other European countries. I don't know whether that is relevant or not.

The first Yashica ad is in April 1957 for the Yashica C and LM. There is a separate ad in the same month for the Yashica-Mat (its month of release) and the Yashica A. There are combined ads for all four models in June and December. Similar ads appear in March and October 1958. After that, there is no mention of the Yashica C and LM. In 1959, the focus is on the Yashica 44. An ad in September 1961 lists the Yashica A, D, Mat, Mat-LM, 44A and 44LM. There are no more Yashica TLR ads. I don't know if Yashica TLRs left the market, simply weren't advertised or whether the owner of the site felt that the ads didn't introduce anything new. Certainly, ads for TLRs in Sweden also petered out in the mid to early 1960s.

Clearly, when Yashima unleashed its export drive into the US with first the Yashica A, C and LM followed closely by the Yashica-Mat, the move into Europe wasn't far behind. Whereas the knob wind models were slightly slower to arrive than in the US, it seems that the Yashica-Mat hit key world markets simultaneously in April 1957, quite a marketing feat back then.

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I am embarrassed to say that I know little about Yashica's activity in my home country. The earliest connection is this photograph from NSW State Library archives. It is of a Yashica Flex S taken in Sydney in October 1954 (see also Yashica Flex S entry) and appears to be a product shot of some sort. Was it to do with marketing in Australia or elsewhere or nothing to do with Yashima (Yashica) at all?

(The image is from the collections of the State Library of NSW and displayed in accordance with the Library's policies as at 24 Mar 2014)

The full page ad below appeared in the 24 July 1958 edition of the “Australasian POST”, a general interest periodical. The magazine was much more likely to feature pictures of bikini clad girls than articles about photography. It had quite a large readership and was often found in waiting rooms and barber shops. What I find intriguing is that there is no other information than the picture of the Yashica-Mat on the Yashica background - no specs, no contact details, no importer. What does it mean? Could you buy one or was it part of some sort of awareness raising marketing campaign? The serial number, 7074x (last digit could be 0, 6, 8 or 9) and Lumaxar 80 lenses put the camera in mid-1957 production. There is no ® mark so the camera is likely to be a Japanese domestic example. In other words, I assume the image was supplied by Yashica Japan.

I am not conscious of TLRs having a large popular following in Australia in the 1950s and 60s let alone later, however, that is just an impression, not necessarily a fact. The brochure below by Australian importer Swift & Bleakley, circa 1962, pays little attention to TLRs:

(Click on cover to view full brochure as PDF)

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Hong Kong Production

Whilst it is well known that Yashica started assembly of 35 mm cameras in Hong Kong to reduce labour costs in an ever more aggressively competitive market, it is not so well known that some TLRs were assembled there as well (originally pointed out to me by Leigh Harris). So far, only very late model Yashica Ds have been found which places them in the 1970 to 1973 period. Like the 35 mm cameras, these examples have an “H” prefix for the serial number. The locking knobs on the base have “Hong Kong”, or in two cases simply “Japan”, instead of “Made in Japan” (see Yashica D in “66 Models”). Whether any of the Yashica Mat-124Gs were assembled there is not known but I have not found any obviously identified in this regard. Where visible, the locking knobs all have “Made in Japan”.

I have found very little information about Yashica's Hong Kong operations. Both Contax NX and late Yashica Mat-124G user manuals have the following Kyocera address listed amongst worldwide offices and subsidiaries; UNIVERSAL OPTICAL INDUSTRIES LTD. 14/FL. Piazza Industrial Building, 133 Hoi Bun Road, Kwun Tong, Kowloon, Hong Kong.

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Brazil Production

I am indebted to correspondent Tony Kwong for alerting me to this episode of Yashica history. Quite frankly, I still don't know anything about why, when or how Yashica first established a presence and then a production facility in Brazil, although the assembly of cameras was most likely related to import restrictions and/or tariffs. From the article at the top of this page, it is known that South America was already a significant export market for the Japanese camera industry in 1953. From 1908 until after World War II, Brazil was a major destination for Japanese emigration with now the largest concentration of Japanese descent people outside of Japan.

We also know from Brazilian immigration records that Yashima company president, Yoshimasa Ushiyama, obtained a visa in 1957 and therefore we can reasonably assume that he visited the country for some reason, or at least planned to.

There is a Yashica commercial address, Yashica do Brasil Indústria Comércio Ltda, registered at Rua Yashica, 65 (65 Yashica Street), Sorocaba, São Paulo, Brazil. The Google street view shows some buildings behind a cement block wall without any clue to any previous activities. A Yashica Mat-124G user manual lists the following address amongst worldwide offices and subsidiaries; YASHICA DO BRASIL INUSTRIA E COMERCIO LTDA., Rua Cruz e Souza 59, Aclimacao, São Paulo. A later Contax NX user manual lists; KYOCERA YASHICA DO BRASIL-INDUSTRIA E COMERCIO LTDA., Av. Bernardino de Campos No. 98, 5-Andar Paraiso, São Paulo, Brazil.

A search of the net doesn't bring up much information but there are quite a few examples of images of Yashicas with “Brasil” engraved on the bottom. Of the 35 mm cameras, the earliest seems to be the ME1 from around 1977 followed by the MF-1 and then MF-3 in about 1985 (first and last identified in Camera-wiki.org and all three noted in the “Yashica/Kyocera Battery Chart” floating around the net).

There is also a unique TLR model, the Yashica Mat-124B (see Yashica Mat-124B in “66 Models”). Its presence is identified in the Yashica/Kyocera Battery Chart with the word “Brazil” next to it - somehow, I have missed this model in the past. The Mat-124B seems to be identical to the Mat-124G except that the CdS exposure meter assembly has been deleted and replaced by a plain nameplate unit with the new name. The battery compartment cover is retained but not the compartment itself. The locking knob has “Brasil” engraved on it. None of the cameras that I have seen so far have have lens numbers and all have the later Mat-124G slotted battery compartment covers so I would say they are almost certainly from 1979 or later (i.e., after the ME1), although Wikipedia claims 1975. Compared to 124G serial numbers, I would have guessed a release in 1980 or 1981. The Yashica/Kyocera Battery Chart says 1981 - that looks like a close match. Production may have finished towards the end of 1983 or the beginning of 1984.

These turn up on the Brazilian auction site from time to time but not in great numbers. Usually, there are quite a few more 124Gs but these seem earlier, all, or almost all, with plain battery covers from 1979 or earlier. There is a smattering of other models as well, earlier Yashica-Mats being well represented and even the odd Yashicaflex.

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Yashica Worldwide Offices

This is the list of Yashica's international offices on the back of a post-1983 Yashica Mat-124G user manual.

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