Japanese External Reverse Porro Prism Binoculars. VIRTUAL MUSEUM


Text Box: Nippon Kogaku Kogyo NIKKO MIKRON Binoculars
日本光学工業株式会社 Mikron 小型双眼鏡 .

While the origin of the miniature external reverse porro prism binocular design was part of the immediate post WWI German optical industry, the design in Europe faded away with the onset of the great worldwide depression (starting circa 1929-1930). So the popularity of this design primarily due to it’s development in the immediate post WWI Japanese optical industry by famed Japanese optical company Nippon Kōgaku Kōgyō Kabushikigaisha (now known as Nikon). It was sold in the interwar years as the NIKKO Mikron. Interwar production seems to have been aimed at the domestic Japanese market, and surviving interwar examples are exceptionally uncommon (and coveted), both in Japan and elsewhere. The huge explosion of this pattern of binocular in terms of popularity, production, manufacturers, and brands came after WWII as part of the post WWII Japanese reconstruction and development of exports.

Japanese NIKKO MIKRON 6x binoculars made by Nippon Kōgaku Kōgyō Kabushikigaisha. Serial no 34972. The logo  “NIKKO” was used 1921-1945, and this second variation of the logo was used 1932-1945. Collection of Nico Westphal, Netherlands, obtained in the UK.

The seminal Japanese miniature binocular designs were made in the interwar years under the NIKKO acronym by Nippon Kōgaku Kōgyō Kabushikigaisha (日本光学工業株式会社). (today this company is known as Nikon). 

Though largely absent from US school lessons, Japan declared war on Germany in WWI Aug. 1914, nearly 4 years before the US. Japan seized German territory including assisting Australian and NZ troops capture the Caroline, Mariana, & Marshall islands. Japanese marines supporting the British put down a mutiny by Indian troops in Singapore; sent ships to help guard South Africa and Malta; and in 1918 joined US troops supporting white Russian armies against red armies in Siberia. In fact, my great uncle, a British citizen, (but not Irish) joined the 2/18 London Rgt: the 2nd London Irish Rifles (a UK Territorial Army unit) on the declaration of war in 1914. He carried a Japanese Arisaka rifle from Sept 1914 until Jan 1916, until SMLE Lee Enfield rifle production caught up (the British purchased 150.000 Japanese type 30 & 38 rifles). When he was shipped to Egypt/ Palestine to fight Turkish forces, his British convoy was protected by a Japanese destroyer. These illustrate the Anglo Japanese alliances that lasted from 1894 to 1923, and were only withdrawn due to heavy U.S. pressure. Japanese UK relations remained good until the Tiensin Incident in China in 1939. (This is probably the reason Japanese  inter war Japanese miniature binoculars are found in the UK and dominions). Japanese [naval] military experiences in during the First Sino Japanese war of 1894-1895 in which Japan destroyed the Chinese Beiyana fleet, and during the Russo Japanese war of 1904-1905 in which Japan  destroyed the Russian navy with superior gunnery and optical targeting and ranging, and during in WWI, made Japan realize the critical role that naval optics played. The famous pictures of Admiral Togo in the Russian Japanese war in 1905 on the British built battleship Mikasa show him holding German Zeiss binoculars and standing in front of a British Barr and Stroud optical rangefinder. Japan undertook a concerted effort to develop an advanced domestic Japanese optical and optical glass and optical weapons industry even before the conclusion of WWI. This effort was officially promoted and encouraged by the Japanese government. Germany had previously dominated those industries. Nippon Kōgaku Kōgyō Kabushikigaisha was created on July 25 1917 to be an optical weapons manufacturer, by merging the optical measuring division of Tokyo Keiki Seisaku-sho, the reflector division of Iwaki Glass Seizo-sho, and Fujii Lens Seizo-sho. In July of 1919 while traveling in defeated Germany, Ryuzo Fujii (who studied optics in Germany for 3 yrs prior to 1900)recruited eight German engineers under a 5 year contract for Nippon Kōgaku KK, and the engineers arrived in Japan in January 1921. (per Nikon Corporate histories) They included Ernst Bernick, Hermann Dillmann, Karl Weise, Albert Ruppert, Max Lang, Adolf Sadtler and Otto Stange, working under Heinrich Acht. (Lang and Stange died in Japan in 1923 and 1924 respectively. Bernick, Dillmann, Weise, Sadtler & Ruppert returned to Germany in 1926, and Acht in in 1928). Four German engineers were assigned to the 3 year old Ohi factory in the Ō district of Shinagawa-ku Tokyo, and four to the Shiba factory. While they worked on military oriented lenses, lens polishing, and processes they also helped develop microscopes, camera lenses, and in 1921 they developed the [civilian] miniature Mikron 4x and 6x external reverse porro prism binoculars. These were of a very similar configuration to, and almost certainly were inspired by the German Fata Morgana and Optistar binocular design of 1919. These are sometimes cited as Nikon’s “first binoculars”, and are so in terms of being a company design. Actually Nippon Kōgaku KK inherited a number of conventional binocular models and brands from Fujji Lens (such as the Asahi, Fuji, Yamato, Sakura, Nippon models) plus an opera glass and the Victor export model which was renamed Tenyu under the new company, and was primarily a military model. Early Nippon Kōgaku KK binoculars of various types appear branded as “Joico”, which is an abbreviation of “Japan Optical Industries Corporation”, which in turn is a westernized translation of Nippon Kōgaku Kōgyō Kabushikigaisha. According to Nikon historian Hans Braakhuis, from 1921 the brand Nikkō (日光) was used on binoculars. NIKKO is believed to be an abbreviation of the romanji name Nippon Kōgaku Kōgyō. Nikkō  also means “sun”. The Japanese name for “Japan” is Nippon or Nihon (日本. ), which means “origin of sun”, sometimes expressed as “land of rising sun”. Certain binoculars, including the miniature binoculars, were also designated “ Mikron”, which is a Greek word indicating miniature or small size. The company reportedly produced over 21 variations of these small binoculars over the next 91 years, and these are generally regarded to be among the highest quality and most desirable of this type of binocular. A center focus (CF) model was developed in 1948 for the US market, which has always preferred center focus binoculars, and which was certainly the largest and most affluent market immediately after World War II. While my research on the origins of the design proves the German Fata Morgana binoculars were developed prior to the Japanese Mikron binoculars, and were presumably the inspiration for the Japanese designs, my searches of Japanese patent databases has given no indication that Alfred Baumann ever patented his designs in Japan. Nor does it seem likely that the Nippon Kōgaku Mikron miniature designs were initially intended to be or were marketed outside Japan until long after all the Fata Morgana and Optistar and their European and US patents were long defunct. The Fata Morgana (indirectly), and the miniature Nippon Kogaku (Nikon) Mikron 4x and 6x binoculars were the direct precursors of a small number of similar ultra small prismatic binoculars with form fitting external prism covers that were produced in fairly small numbers in Japan in the inter-war years. They were produced for export in large quantities in the late 1940’s and in the 1950’s (including the middle to end of the occupied Japan period of 1945-1952) as well as in the 1960’s, 1970’s, 1980s, and to a lesser degree subsequently. While I refer to these binoculars as “miniature”, and most were, some models were scaled up to be full size or even rather large binoculars (Simor, Vixen, & Super Zenith in 15x50), particularly for UK/European markets. The design was also widely used for monoculars, and occasionally for spotting scopes. Some binoculars of this design are still actively produced. And Nikon released “anniversary models” of the original Mikron 6x15 binoculars in 1997, and they are still in production and quite popular and very well regarded in 2014, ninety three years after their initial introduction.

Text Box:   Miniature Binoculars and JAPAN (and Nikon)
  小型双眼鏡と日本  ( 本光学工業株式会社) . Miniaturferngläser und Japan (und Nikon). 
   Jumelles Miniatures et le Japon (et Nikon). Миниатюрные бинокль и Японии 
    (и Nikon). Los Prismáticos en Miniatura y el Japón (y Nikon)

Japanese NIKKO MIKRON 6x binoculars made by Nippon Kōgaku Kōgyō Kabushikigaisha with Original case. Serial no 36541. Second variation “NIKKO” logo used 1932-1945. Collection of Mike Symons, British Columbia, Canada, Photos courtesy of Mike Symons

Text Box: A History Lesson Die Geschichte betreffend Miniaturferngläser in Japan. L'histoire des jumelles miniatures au Japon. De geschiedenis van piepkleine verrekijker in Japan. 日本の小型双眼鏡の履歴.Historien om miniature kikkert i Japan. La historia de Japón los prismáticos en miniatura История в отношении японского миниатюрного бинокль.Η ιστορία των μικροσκοπικών κιάλια στην Ιαπωνία. Historie ohledně japonských miniaturní dalekohled La storia in miniatura binocolo in Giappone.


Text Box:  Understanding Early Post War US Importation of Japanese  
 Miniature Binoculars: Bushnell & Asahi Kōgaku Kōgyō  
 Kabushiki-geisha ( 旭光学工業株式会社) 米国の日本小型双眼鏡の早期の歴史,  
 Einfuhr Von Japanischen Miniaturferngläsern in Die US in  Den Fünfziger Jahren.  
 Importation des Jumelles Miniatures Japonaises Aux Etats Unis Pendant les Années 1950.  
 Импорт японских миниатюрные бинокль в США в 1950-х. Förstå Import av Miniatyr
 Japanska kikare till usa: Före 1950. Importación de prismáticos en Miniatura Japonés en
 los Estados Unidos después de 1950

In 1948 David P. Bushnell (March 31, 1913 – March 24, 2005) was an influential pioneer of importing Japanese binoculars into the United States. Richard Buchroeder and Peter Abrahams interviewed David and Nancy Bushnell in Oct 29, 1999. This [transcribed oral history] gives fascinating direct insights into why and how the post WWII US binocular market and specifically the market for miniature binoculars developed the way it did within the political and economic factors present at the time. And it gives interesting insights into distribution, gaming the tax system, and naming products. Richard Buchroeder and Peter Abrahams deserve enormous credit for capturing and preserving this glimpse into binocular history, and for sharing it. David Bushnell to Richard Buchroeder and Peter Abrahams. “...This was 1947. I was 34 when I discovered binoculars. I looked all over, you couldn’t buy binoculars, because they had been given to the military during the war…”

David Bushnell in 1949

1950 Bushnell Ad in a Hunting Magazine

Asahi made Bushnell binoculars

Asahi made “AOCo” and Bushnell marked binoculars, “made in occupied Japan”, presumed manufactured between 1949 and April 1952.

Early post war Hercules 6x15 binoculars made by Asahi Optical of the type David Bushnell carried to Bangkok Thailand in 1948.

For full David Bushnell interview with Richard Buchroeder and Peter Abrahams see: http://www.europa.com/~telscope/bushnell.txt

US WWII Posters which were put in public places to collect civilian binoculars for the war effort. The binoculars were to be “loaned” and returned after the war. A few were returned. The solicitation for German Zeiss binoculars helped establish a quality image for Zeiss and a brand identity in the US among a huge number of people who otherwise knew little about binoculars.

“...I found a used pair of 6x30s at a pawn shop for $50, made by Universal Camera in Minneapolis. December 1947 to January 1948, was my first trip to Japan. So, off I went to the Orient...We sailed into Manila Bay, [Phillipines] going around the sunken ships and into the berth. I was standing on the deck, and someone on the deck called out ’do you want to sell those binoculars?’ I said ’sure’, I didn’t want them anyway after I got off the ship. He said ‘I’ll give you a hundred dollars for them.’ That was my first sale, and a profitable one. That shows how scarce binoculars were at the time. I delivered the steel and flew on to Shanghai. [China] At  Shanghai in the hotel, there was a Dutch trader who had just come back from Tokyo. He showed me the samples of products that he had bought there, and one was a nice 7x50 binocular. I asked him what he paid, and he said eighteen dollars. It was a military binocular converted to civilian use, and a good one. To get into Japan I needed a permit from Washington. Fortunately I was able to get a permit, having traded with Japan before the war. I was one of the first commercial traders in Japan after the war. A couple of New York importers arrived shortly after my visit. We landed in Yokohama, and everything was flat all the way to Tokyo, bombed out. The only things standing were a few chimneys. MacArthur was quite a character over there, we’d see him arrive and leave, with crowds around him, he was a real showman. I did not meet him. Later, I had to wait until MacArthur left Japan to make riflescopes. In Tokyo one building had an exhibition of all the products Japan had available for export, and there were the binoculars. I looked through several and they looked all right to me. I bought some samples and had them sent back to my office in Los Angeles. At that time I had about six employees. They were busy exporting a lot of chemicals to China. I continued around the world. I flew on to Bangkok, [Thailand] and carried a little pair of 6x15s. I thought they were wonderful, that these were what the spies carried during the war. I was fascinated with them. The brand was Hercules, made by Asahi Optical...”

“...This was before Asahi made the single reflex camera… So I got back to Pasadena, and they had taken some orders from dealers for binoculars, based on the samples. About 400 pair of binoculars were sold. The first binoculars we imported were Asahi 6x15, open frame, pocket binoculars. [Japanese external reverse porro prism miniature binoculars]. This was in ‘48, but there was a long strike by the steamers [ 95 day Nov.1948 ILWU longshoreman’s strike], which lasted for months, and we couldn’t get them off the ship. After Christmas, they [resellers& dealers] said you couldn’t sell Japanese products, the stigma was too strong, and the French [binocular makers] will be back, and eventually the Germans as well. The merchants thought they could not sell the Japanese products. Late in December, I was able to get them off the ship, in time for the Santa Anita [horse] race track to open. I put an ad in the Los Angeles Times [newspaper], 7 x 50s for $49.50. I wrote my own advertising. Then came my first ads in the American Rifleman [National Rifle Association magazine sent to all members], especially the 4” ad featuring the 8x30 for $30, which started the whole mail order business. In Pasadena, I bought a small building at 41 Green St, right across from the old Green Hotel, but the building is no longer there. I opened a retail store in front of the building and had merchandise inventory in the back. It was solely a retail business. After I sold the original pair, I ordered more and sold them. Another secretary said ‘why don’t you put your name on the binoculars?’ I said ’I don’t know how long it’s going to last, and there’s many other products for us besides binoculars’. But with the next lot, I told Asahi Optical to put ‘Bushnell’ on the cover plate, and I drew a nice little lens, a cutaway of an achromat, and put ‘triple tested’ on it. One customer asked ‘what does triple tested mean?’ I said ‘it is tested by the factory, it is tested by us, and it is tested by you’ . We did test a few of each shipment...

“...Asahi was run by very good people. I knew Mr. Matsumoto, the chairman. Every time I came over to Japan he was out in the yard looking through a camera with a hood over his head. The first time, he said ‘look down in that ground glass.’  Another time he said ‘Now look, you can look straight through there, you don’t have to look down, we use a pentaprism.’ We had lunch, and he said “We’ve got to think of a name for this camera.’ We were coming up with all kinds of names for the camera, Cyclops and others. He thought of Pentax, and we said , that’s it. For those early orders [of binoculars] we advertised on radio...When I saw there was a market here, in 1950, I talked with the sportscasters, Tom Harmon and others, and asked what they wanted as an ideal binocular. They said wide field [of view], light weight, and reasonable price. I also corresponded with the editors of outdoor magazines, and they gave me their input. Then I went to Germany, in 1949 or 1950, and called on Hertel & Reuss, Leitz, and Beck Kassell. They said ‘Mr Bushnell, we were making binoculars before you were born. We will make what we feel the market wants.‘ I took the next plane to Tokyo, which went through Moscow and across Siberia to Tokyo. The flight across Siberia in the winter was really something, especially with those noisy airplanes. The stewardess, instead of passing out food and drinks, was tightening fasteners in the plane! We landed in Tokyo. The engineer said, ’Tell us what you want, anything you want.’ So in two or three weeks, they had a prototype made. Day and night they’d work. The first one was a 7x35, a Japanese design with an aluminum body, it turned out well….My vision was that everyone in the Rose Bowl [college football] on New Year’s day should have a Bushnell binocular. The Rose Bowl Commission always bought a hundred binoculars, paid for them, and gave me 6 seats on the 50 yard line. They thought I was doing them a favor. We engraved them ‘Rose Bowl participant’... A neighbor in the office building was an advertising representative for Sports Afield magazine said ‘David, you’ve got to advertise in our magazine. It will cost around $800, it will appear just once, and it will take two months before it appears. It costs $200 to make the [printing] plate, and then you’ve got the artwork. I asked, ’All that , just to appear once? He said ‘Trust me’. So we put a four inch ad in Sports Afield, offering 8x30s for $30. After that the checks came in every mail. We had to add 20 percent luxury tax, which I didn’t have to pay until the end of the year, so I had that 20 percent capitol to use during the year, plus the profit...We billed the binocular cases separately because that didn’t require luxury tax, and saved the customer a dollar or two. That was my first experience in mail order.

Then we began to get inquiries from dealers, and there wasn’t enough margin through dealers, so I raised the [retail mail order] prices. I began to sell through dealers, but continued to sell directly to the consumer. At one time, I had a separate product line for dealers, not the Bushnell name, but that didn’t go at all, they wanted the name. American Rifleman was my best advertising medium. Later I set up Aries Agency (because I’m an Aries), instead of paying 15% to an advertising agency. [Advertising agencies got a commission or kickback for booking ads]. We wrote all our own ads and pocketed the commission. At one time I had about a dozen corporations because the first $25,000 earned by the corporation was assessed at a lower tax rate. I had a company that bought binoculars, a company that shipped binoculars, that inspected binoculars, retail, wholesale, and the U.S. optical laboratory: the inspection and further guarantee outfit that gave us the seal of approval. Before long, someone who had read an article in American Rifleman about coated lenses, asked us a bout them. I inquired around and found a fellow in Hollywood who was coating lenses for the movie makers, and for a while we would bring them to him and he would coat the inside of the objectives only, [objective lens] so we could use the term ‘coated optics’...The second trip to Japan was in spring of 1952. The third was in 1954. The forth was in 1956. I’d go to Japan, sit in a hotel room, and they’d [binocular companies] be lining up in the lobby. I’d give them about 15 minutes each, and one after the other would come in. I would visit all the plants. Some were mom and Pop operations, but they wouldn’t complete the binoculars, they’d be making prisms or eyecups, bodies & so forth; and they’d be assembled by another firm. We would say, ‘can you try a certain field of view’, and they would say ‘how about this?’ They would try to do anything we asked them to. For example, the birders wanted close focus...It was all gentlemen’s agreement, they trusted us and we trusted them. Running the business was always fun...One lady sent a binocular back to us and said, ’for heavens sake, please fix these in a hurry & get them back to my husband, he’s a dedicated birder, he specialized in golden crested double breasted mattress thrashers [blond bimbos]... In 1971, we were selling 10 million [binoculars] a year.

Bushnell’s “Triple tested” blurb was intended to address US consumer concerns about Japanese origin and quality.

Text Box:  Japanese Companies Involved in the Manufacture of Miniature Binoculars          
  小さな日本双眼鏡生産する企業. Japanische Firmen die Miniaturferngläser Herstellten. Sociétés Japonaises Qui Ont Fait les  
     Jumelles Miniatures. Японские компании, вовлеченные в производство миниатюрных бинокль. Las Empresas Japonesas
    Involucradas en la Producción de los Prismáticos en Miniatura

The following list is of manufacturers I have observed to have been involved in the manufacture of the many various brands of these Japanese (miniature) External Reverse Porro Prism Binoculars, either as the assembling manufacturer of record, or as the parts manufacturer of record. Please note that some manufacturing efforts in the 1950’s and 1960s were essentially consortium group efforts so that there were almost certainly many other manufacturers in addition to the assembling and/ or parts manufacturer of record. So the list should be regarded as accurate but incomplete. Where possible the companies are listed in their “translated” form, and in rōmaji, and in Kanji (see the section “Understanding the Name Variations” on the page ”INTRODUCTION” for a complete explanation). Addresses, where available, are given from a 1959 list of binocular makers published by the Japan Binoculars Export Promotion Co and made available by Peter Abrahams at:

http://home.europa.com/~telscope/j-list.txt  Be aware that if a company had more than one location at the time, then this address is probably a sales office address, rather than a factory address, but could be either.


Akebono Optical Co., Ltd. (Akebono Kōgyō Seisakujo) (曙光学工業 ) : 1-956 Nogata-cho, Nakano-ku, Tokyo

Asahi Optical Co.Ltd.(Asahi Kōgaku Kōgyō Kabushiki-geisha)(旭光学工業株式会社) 980 Shimura-maeno-cho, Itabashi-ku,Tokyo

Carton Optical Industries Ltd (カートン光学株式会社)

Fuji Photo Optical Co,. Ltd:  1-24 Uetake-cho, Omiya-Shi, Saitama

Furukawa Kōgaku Seisakujo (古川光学製作所)

Hoya Optical Co, Ltd. (Hoya Kōgaku Kōgyō Kabushiki-geisha) (保谷光学株式会社) 38 Oyama-Kanai-cho, Itabashi-ku, Tokyo

Ibuki Kōgaku Co. Ltd. (伊吹光学株式会社 )

Iikura Optical Works (Iikura Kogaku Seisakujo Inc.) (飯倉光学製作所): 43 Tokumaru-cho, Itabashi-ku, Tokyo

Kamakura Optical Co, Ltd: 2-51-2 Shimo-machi, Kita-ku, Tokyo

Meiji Seiko Co, Ltd. (明治精工株式会社 ) : 803 Yukigaya-cho, Ota-ku, Tokyo

Nikkei Optical Co, Tokyo (日経光学株式会社 )

Nippon Kogaku Kogyo Co.Ltd. (Nippon Kōgaku Kōgyō Kabushiki-geisha) (日本工学株式会社)Oi-Morimae-cho, Shingawa-ku, Tokyo

Oei Kōgaku Co Ltd. (応永光学株式会社)

Ofuna Optical Instrument Co., Ltd (Ofuna Kōgaku K.K.)(大船光学工業株式会社 )659 Dai, Kamakura-shi, Kanagawa

Oji Optical Machine Co. Ltd (Oji Kōgaku Kikai K.K.)(王子光学機械株式会社 ) 5-34 Inatsuke-Nishi-machi, Kita-ku, Tokyo

Okaya Optical Co, Ltd (Okaya  Kōgaku Kikai K.K.)岡谷光学機械㈱,  (Vista brand binoculars)

Omiya Kōgaku Kikai Seisakujo, Tokyo (大宮光学機械製作所)

Omori Sogo Kōgaku Kōgyō Ltd.( 大森総合光学工業 ) : 202 Ikegami-Honcho, Ota-Ku, Tokyo

Oshimoto Kōgaku Co Ltd

Otake Optical Co (Otake Kōgaku Kōgyō Kabushiki-geisha(大竹光学工業株式会社 ) 

Pentax Corporation (Pentakkusu Kabushiki-geisha )(ペンタックス株式会社, )

Rikken Optical Co., Ltd. (Riken Kōgaku Kōgyō K.K.) (理研光学工業㈱)

Sankyo Optical Co Ltd. (Sankyo Kōgaku Kōgyō Kabushiki-geisha) (三共光学工業株式会社) : 2-8 Naka-Jujo, Kita-ku, Tokyo

Siewa Optical Co. Ltd. (Seiwa Kōgaku Kōgyō Kabushiki-geisha ) (清和光学株式会社 ) : 5-1617 Naka-machi, Nerima-ku, Tokyo

Tanaka Optical Co Ltd (Tanaka Koki Seisakujo) (田中光機製作所 ) 4 Fujimi-cho, Itabashi-ku, Tokyo

Toa Optical Co., Ltd. (Toa Kōgaku Kōgyō Kabushiki-geisha )(東亜光学株式会社 ): 1-7 Chihaya-cho, Toshima-ku, Tokyo

Tochihara Optical Co (栃原光学株式会社)

Tokuhiro Micro Binocular Co: (Tokuhiro Koki Seisakusho Inc)(徳弘光機製作所株式会社)9-1101 Nippori-machi, Arakawa-ku, Tokyo

Ueta Seiki Co. Ltd

Yashica Co Ltd (Yashica Kōgyō Kabushiki-geisha ) (ヤシカ) plus U.S. subsidiary marketing firm Yashica Inc.

Yoshimoto Optical Co Ltd. : (吉本光学株式会社 ) 1-3340 Nishi-Sugamo, Toshima-ku, Tokyo

Zuiho Optical Instrument Co Ltd. (Zuihō Kōgaku Seiki K.K., Tokyo )(瑞宝光学精機工業株式会社)3-7 Kyobashi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo


David Bushnell’s blurb “Triple tested”, though pure marketing nonsense, was later adopted by many other brands, as was his style of logotype, which is rather amusing.

Saburo Matsumoto, chairman of

Asahi Kōgaku Kōgyō


These binoculars are believed to be a pre production prototype of the Japanese MIKRON 6x binoculars made by Nippon Kōgaku Kōgyō Kabushikigaisha. If pre production, they would date to around 1921. Collection of Nikon Corp , 株式会社ニコン, Kabushiki-geisha Nikon

All photos courtesy  of Hans Braakhuis, all rights reserved (middle photo is sectional enlargement of left hand photo)

Noted Nikon historian and authority Hans Braakhuis took these photographs at the Nikon Ohi  West factory during a visit in 1977

1949 Bushnell magazine advertisement

    After WWII, the United States occupied the main Japanese islands, commencing around August 28 1945. SCAP (Supreme Command Allied Powers), which was effectively the US military, governed Japan, with as many as 350,000 occupation troops at one point. Economic reconstruction was a primary goal, in part because of the high cost of supporting the damaged economy and infrastructure (the US provided $15.2 billion in assistance to Japan during the period, as calculated in 2005 adjusted dollars according to the Congressional Research Service). Japanese manufacture and the export of certain types of goods was strongly encouraged. According to Peter Abrams in Outline of Japanese Binocular Production  “Japanese manufacturing and marketing businesses were permitted to deduct from their income taxes 80 percent of their income from exports.” During the occupation period that lasted until Apr 28 1952, many products made in Japan for export were marked “occupied Japan” or “Made In Occupied Japan” These are now commonly referred to by the acronym “MIOJ” items. The regulation that required this marking was SCAPIN 1535, of Feburary 20, 1947, signed by General McArthur. Subsequently SCAPIN 2061 of December 5, 1949 officially rescinded the marking requirements of SCAPIN 1535. (data cited per Peter Abrahams in The Outline of Japanese Binocular Production). But for the great majority of items intended for the US consumer market, which was certainly the most affluent in the immediate post war period, US consumers were probably much more receptive to purchasing Japanese goods at the time if they were marked “made in occupied Japan”, with the implication of US military rule over Japan, and also perhaps conveying the impression that it was facilitating Japanese repayment of war reparations to the US. As a result, MIOJ markings were still commonly being used until the military occupation actually ended in 1952. This is one of the reasons that one commonly encounters a binocular marked “made in occupied Japan” accompanied by  a case marked “made in Japan” or “Japan”, probably reflecting the marking preferences in regards to the occupation of the two manufacturers in the period 1949-1952 when either marking was appropriate. A fair number of early post war versions of miniature binoculars of this type are encountered marked “occupied Japan” or “made in occupied Japan”, and it is very well documented that virtually all of the early post war binocular production went to the US consumer market. 

   Another influence of the US military on binocular production is that the occupation troops in Japan created sales demand for binoculars. According to Norman Stanley Roberts, there was a “pronounced desire” by members of the US occupation forces to acquire cameras and binoculars. (Japan: Economic and Commercial Conditions in Japan, HM Stationary Office 1953). The carry cases of a few of the miniature binoculars that I have obtained are specifically marked to indicate they were the gift of a soldier. In addition to the occupation troops during the occupation era, Japan was also a primary R & R (rest and recuperation) destination for US Korean war troops (June 1950-July 1953), and then for US Vietnam war troops (1965-1975), and also hosted large US military bases for long periods of time, which also were staffed with large contingents of “DAC’s” (so called Dept of the Army Civilian). Additionally it was common for the US military PX (Post Exchanges, or military base shops) located all over the world wherever there were US military bases, to sell goods from Japan (cameras, binoculars, dolls, stereos) to US troops and their families. For example. my brother in law served with a US Army in an armored (tank) battalion posted in Germany in the 1970’s, and came home with a vast assortment of Japanese high end stereo equipment and a Japanese 35mm camera purchased at very favorable pricing at the US Army PX in Germany.

   Just as the rise of the Japanese binocular and optics industry after WWI was largely influenced (encouraged) by the Japanese military, the rise of the post WWII Japanese binocular industry for the consumer market was substantially influenced in various ways by the US military.

Text Box:  Japanese Miniature Binoculars, The US Military, and MIOJ
  (Some thoughts, opinions, conjecture & speculation). Japanische Miniaturferngläser und das US-Militär. Jumelles 
   Miniatures Japonaises et les L’armee Americaine. Японская миниатюрная бинокли и американских военных.   
   Prismáticos Japoneses en Miniatura y el Ejército de los Estados Unidos

Excerpt from a 1950 US magazine ad for Japanese binoculars

Text Box:  A Study Of The Post War Japanese Binocular Industry
  Eine Studie der Japanischen Fernglas Nachkriegsindustrie. Une Étude de l'industrie en Jumelles Japonaise 
  Après la Guerre.日本は、双眼業界第二次世界大戦後に. В период после окончания войны японский бинокли 

Hiroshi Fukushima, a professor of the Faculty of Economics, Quantitative Economics, and Information Systems at Saga University, conducted an excellent study of the post war Japanese binocular market, entitled ”On the Formation of Production Networks of Small Binocular Manufacturers in Japan’s Early Postwar Period”.  It is at the time of this writing available in English at:



Professor Fukushima notes that between 1954 and 1973, Japan averaged over a 90% share of the US binocular market. He attributes that to product quality and lower prices. He notes that the competitive success was partly due to a wartime developed press-molding method of optical glass processing, which increased yield rates of optical glass processing from 40% to 80%, with attendant cost advantages, compared to machining blocks of optical glass. He further notes that price competitiveness additionally “derived mainly from a flexible manufacturing system of specialized firms which were agglomerated as a cluster in the northern part of Tokyo [Itabashi] after the war. This production system as a network was formed by small assembly and component manufacturers”. The clustered network of small binocular firms were formed from the 8,000 employees of Tokyo Kogaku who had been involved in wartime optical production. He notes that binoculars were a leading export item (together with other light machinery products like bicycles and sewing machines) in the early postwar period. And that nearly 100% of binoculars produced in Japan in the first few post war years of binocular production went to the US. And that manufacturers operated on a build to order system. We may recognize that as similar to the JIT production model. It allowed flexibility in design changes and accommodated volatile demand (dependent on the US consumer Christmas market). This is an interesting study that is well worth reading.


Typical early Bushnell dealer newspaper ad,  Binghamton New York, 1953.

Asahi Optical Co Factory & Employees 1953

1948 Christmas ILWU Longshoreman’s strike

Attractive unusual Chocolate Brown and Gold Bushnell 6x15 center focus binoculars, no Asahi markings, no manufacturer code

Bushnell embossed leather case

“BOL” stamping found on some Bushnell binoculars, for Bushnell Optical Laboratory Inc. 2828 East Foothill Blvd, Pasadena Ca 91107, incorporated on 1/02/1952. “I had...the inspection and further guarantee outfit that gave us the seal of approval.” David Bushnell interview

Text Box:  Early Nippon Kogaku Kogyo “MIKRON” miniature binoculars 
  日本光学工業株式会社 Mikron 小型双眼鏡  Frühe Produktion Nippon Kogaku “MIKRON” Mini Fernglas, Начало производства
  Nippon Kogaku “MIKRON ”. миниатюрные бинокль, Producción Temprana en Miniatura Nippon Kogaku “MIKRON” Prismáticos.

Japanese NIKKO MIKRON 6x binoculars made by Nippon Kōgaku Kōgyō Kabushikigaisha. Serial no 39554. Second variation “NIKKO” logo used 1932-1945. Collection of Mark Ohno, USA, Sourced in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada (but not from Mike above)




Japanese NIKKO MIKRON 6x binoculars made by Nippon Kōgaku Kōgyō Kabushikigaisha with original case (with broken catch). Serial no. 36110. Second variation “NIKKO” logo used 1932-1945. Collection of Mark Ohno, USA, obtained in the UK.

Logo of Nippon Kōgaku Kōgyō Kabushikigaisha 1917-1932

Ursprünge der Japanische Miniatur Fernglas

Origines des Japonais jumelles miniatures

Истоки японского миниатюрного бинокль

Los orígenes de los prismáticos Japoneses en miniatura


“The Rose Bowl Commission always bought a hundred [7x35 aluminum body] binoculars,…We engraved them ‘Rose Bowl participant...”  - David Bushnell

“Rose Bowl Participant  1957” marked Bushnell 7x35 binoculars and case.

Collection of Mark Ohno

On case

PhotoS: Nico Westphal


Ryuzo Fujii

1930’s Nikko Mikron 6x binoculars

Heinrich Acht, engineer at

Nippon Kogaku, 1921-1928