The word “Asahi” was a common theme among Japanese companies as Asahi loosely translates to “morning sunrise” which was a symbol of the Japanese people, and was the inspiration for the red circle on the Japanese
flag. There were more companies that used the name “Asahi” in their name.
Asahi Optical Co. Ltd, was originally called ‘Asahi Kogaku Goshi Kaisha'. It was established in November 1919 in a suburb of Tokyo, called Toshima. The
company didn’t produce camera’s at that time. Asahi started with the production of eyeglasses.
In 1923 they used their skills in polishing glass to produce projection lenses, binoculars, and other scopes. They sold their products under
the name “AOCO” which was an abbreviation for Asahi Optical Company.
In the 1930s Asahi started to make camera and photographic lenses. In 1932, Asahi commenced to make lenses for the Molta Camera Company. A company that
is now known under the name Minolta. In the page under Minolta you can find more about this famous camera company. The lenses were ment for a 6,5 x 9 cm folding plate cameras.
In 1933 they began to supply Konishiroku, a compagny which was in the second
hallf of the 20th century known under the name, Konica. Asahi produced a range lenses for their Pearl and Pearlette series of cameras.These lenses were not sold under their own name, but were produced under the names Zion and Optor. It is unclear whether Asahi
designed the lenses, or just manufactured them to the specifications of their customers, but whatever the case, their previous abilities with eyeglasses and projection lenses gave them ample capacity and speed to make the lenses quickly, allowing both Konica
and Minolta to establish themselves in Japan’s early camera industry.
In 1938 the company was reorganized by the Japanese government to produce optical products for the Japanese military up through the end of the war. There is little known
about Asahi’s exact role during the war. It is not clear if they produced lenses to be used in military products manufactured by other companies, or if they supplied complete optical assemblies such as binoculars or other kinds of scopes for the
By the end of the war, nearly all of Asahi’s factories in Japan were destroyed, and the company was forced to close. But not long after the war the president of Asahi, Matsumoto, convinced the occupying Americans to help re-establish
the company in a new factory. The company was now named Asahi Optical Company, Ltd.
Asahi’s first product after the war was a telescope specially made for viewing the eclipse of the sun that year, 1948, in Japan. Because of the shortage in supplies
the telescope was made out of cardboard, but the telescope was popular because of Asahi’s high quality lenses that were used and was quite popular. Also in 1948 they realised binoculars which were of high quality and helped to establish Asahi as
a serious competitor in the Japanese optical market.
This was for Matsumoto, president of Asahi, the moment to expand the production into cameras. The market was overflown with German rangefinders and their Japanese copies. Before the war Matsumoto himself
had owned a Reflex-Korelle 6x6 SLR. One of the first, and arguably the first, SLR ever to go in production. In 1949 he decided to go for this concept, the Single Lens Reflex.
Asahi had no experience in building cameras and the first designes were not
successful. Matsumoto contracted some camera builders he knew from the past and with the help of this two men, Ryohei Suzuki and Nobuyuki Yoshida, Asahi succeeded in building the first prototype of the Asahiflex.
Then in 1950 a new war broke out, the
Korean War. Japanese cameras became more and more popular. Especially the Leica and Contax coupled rangefinder copies that were produced by Nikon and Canon.
In 1949 the Asahi designers had developed a prototype of a 35mm SLR camera, the Asahiflex.This
camera wasn't based on the Leica or Contax rangefinders. Although 35 mm SLR’s existed in Germany, like the Contax D and the Kine Exakta, Asahi did’t copy these cameras either. These cameras were not exported to Japan and so not easily available.