Short history of

Nikon Corporation™


Nikon and Nikkor are registered trade marks of Nikon Corporation. In April 1946 the name Nikon was derived from the company’s name NIpponKOgakuN. Nikkor was used since 1932 for its lenses.

As per April 1, 1988 Nippon Kogaku K.K. adopted its new company’s name Nikon Corporation*.


 

In the beginning......

Emperor Mutsuhito**

The development of the Japanese optical industry is very much linked to the expansion policy of the Japanese government in the 19th and 20th century. Emperor Mutsuhito (1852-1912) came to the throne in February 1867 and at once dispensed with the restraints imposed for centuries by the military leaders (shoguns) on successive emperors. This restoration marked the beginning of Japan’s modernization, known as the Meiji Period and lasting until the end of Mutsuhito’s reign. Restrictions on foreign trade were removed, and the Japanese borrowed heavily from Western methods. A new Army was modeled on the German; a new Navy on the British. Higher education was formed on the principles of the German philosopher Wilhelm von Humboldt; a centralized bureaucratic government was set up, and the country began a swift process of industrialization. The second half of the Meiji Period saw the beginning of Japanese expansion on the Asiatic mainland, marked by the penetration of Korea and Manchuria and by victory in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5. During the reign of the Emperor Yoshihito (1912-1926), known as the Taisho Period, Japan emerged as one of the Great Powers and as an emerging economy, running behind the industrial revolution of the western world. Economic growth was hampered - however - by various military conflicts with continental-Asian enemies, the open rebellion in Korea and a considerable industrial unrest (intensified by the suffering caused by the great Tokyo earthquake of 1 September 1923). Many industries in Japan were set up by national and local governments to supply governmental organizations with special equipment.

After many centuries of importing optical instruments - mainly from Europe - Japanese government advocated and ordered the establishment of a national optical industry. On 25 July 1917 two optical industries {in fact a special department of both Tokyo Keiki Seisaku Sho (Tokyo Measuring Instruments Works, established 1 May 1896) and Iwaki Glass Manufacturers (founded 24 October 1883 by Taijiro Iwaki) merged and formed a new company: Nippon Kogaku Kogyo Kabushiki Kaisha, abbreviated to Nippon Kogaku K.K. (Japanese Optical Industry Company). In December 1917 Fujii Lens Seizo Sho (founded by Ryuzo & Kozo (aka Mitsuzo) Fujii in 1909) joined the new company, which became official early 1918. The new company opened a factory in Ohi in the Shinagawa district in Tokyo, Japan. This Ohi-factory was the main office of Nikon Corporation until November 2014, which nowadays also has factories and production units in other towns in Japan, and in other countries like Thailand and China. Nikon Corporation also has two sales departments outside Japan: one in Europe (Lynden, the Netherlands) and one in the United States of America (New York). Nikon Corporation is member of the Mitsubishi keiretsu.

Nippon Kogaku K.K. was actually set up to serve the Japanese armed forces. It was Ryuzo Fujii, graduated from Tokyo Institute of Technology after a 3-year study in Germany, who invited in 1919 a group of 8 German specialists***. They arrived early 1921 and started to make optical surveying equipment (telescopes, microscopes, binoculars, and range finders) and (Anytar) lenses for the Japanese imperial navy, army and - later - air force only. In April 1924 the Fujii brothers resigned. In the 1930´s photographic lenses (Nikkor) were produced for fellow camera manufacturers (like Katsura, Canon and others) too. In Japanese internal history, the so called Mukden Incident (18 September 1931) marked the beginning of a militaristic reaction until the defeat of 1945. War time increased the need of high end instruments in large quantities. Marketing, consumer relations, public relations and cost effectiveness were not an issue. Nippon Kogaku became one of the largest optical industries in Japan - maybe even in Asia - with some tens of thousands of employees. On 25 November 1936 an agreement (Anti-Komintern Pact) between Germany and Japan was signed; Italy adhered to the Pact in November 1937. On 27 September 1940 the rulers of the so called Axis Powers {Adolf Hitler of Germany, Benito Mussolini of Italy and Hirohito (aka Emperor Showa) of Japan} signed the so called Tripartite Act in Berlin (later some Balkan countries signed, too). In the framework of that mutual assistance treaty Germany gave nearly all Carl Zeiss' patents for free to Japan! This 'knowledge bank' was very much welcomed by the optical engineers.

* The brand/name Nikon has nothing to do with the clerical name of the Russian monk Nikita Minim (1605-1681), who became Patriarch of Moscow in 1652.

** a print of this painting (by an Italian artist) was distributed in the 1870's to all public schools in Japan.

*** In 1921 Heinrich Acht, Ernst Bernick, Hermann Dillmann, Karl Weise, Albert Ruppert, Max Lange and Otto Stange arrived on a 5-year contract in Japan. Mr. Lange died in Japan in 1923 and Mr. Stange in 1924 in Japan, too. Mr. Acht, who was leading the German delegation, extended his contract until 1928. The other 4 Germans went back to Germany in 1926.

After World War II.........

After WWII foreign currency was desperately needed to feed domestic economy. Military equipment was not needed, not even allowed to be produced. Nippon Kogaku - considerably slimmed down - carefully stroke out upon new paths: camera market.

German patents on various industrial thus optical designs and instruments became null and void. In 1948 its first range finder camera was introduced (partly cribbed from Leitz and Contax as all German patents were annulled with the country's defeat). Because of the ´Nippon´ film format (24 x 32 mm.) and its relatively high price the camera wasn´t a success on the domestic and export market. An unexpected but welcome introduction on the American market by a few enthusiastic American photojournalists and by a gifted public relation professional (Joseph Ehrenreich) Nikon cameras and Nikkor lenses gathered an almost indestructible reputation in Northern America. The import of Nikon products into the USA was in the hands of the Overseas Finance and Trading Company in San Francisco from 1949-1953. In 1954 Joseph Ehrenreich*, owner and CEO of Ehrenreich Photo-Optical Industries acquired the import of Nikon products, which led to an enormous boost in sales in the USA.

In 1959 Nikon´s first single lens reflex camera - Nikon F - was introduced: a real workhorse like its successors Nikon F2, F3, F4, F5 and Nikon F6. In 1986 the first auto focus SLR (F501/N2020) for amateurs and in 1988 the professional AF-camera - Nikon F4 - was introduced. For amateur photographers the (unsuccessful) Nikkorex, the very tough Nikkormat-series, compact FM/FE-series and a whole range of AF-, APS-, compact, underwater (Nikonos), movie and video cameras - with varying success - were marketed. In 1997 the first Coolpix (digital compact camera) was introduced, followed by Nikon´s first professional digital SLR camera, the Nikon D1 in 1999. After the German camera industry had to bow its head in the early 1970´s for the constantly improving Japanese optical industry, the (late 1980´s) re-named company - Nikon Corporation - became the world´s second most wanted camera and lens manufacturer. To date Nikon, together with its rival Canon, is still one of the leading optical companies in the world. It produces cameras, lenses, binoculars, steppers, sports optics, measuring instruments and almost everything else fitted with an optical lens. Nikon Corporation is - since its foundation - division/member of the Mitsubishi Keiretsu, one of the world´s largest industrial groups. It has production facilities in (among others) Japan, China, Thailand, (South-)Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Philippines and official representations in all major countries all over the world.

 

Despite its presence in all continents and the 2004 announced Consumer Relations Management, Nikon's head quarters in Tokyo remain almost - due to the inscrutable Japanese communication culture - inaccessible for most foreigners.

Present financial position

As second most important player in the world of photography Nikon Corporation is confronted with serious problems. Earlier this century Nikon went into the red. With the introduction of an interesting series of digital cameras and lenses Nikon was saved by the bell. Luckily Nikon became a ‘paying concern’. But not for long as competitors were not sitting still and consumers preferences were unpredictable. Mobile phones and (later) tablets were fitted with cameras and lenses equalling many compact digital cameras in performance. In 2004 a Consumer Relation Management was unrolled to follow market trends. Unfortunately the latter effort was not yielding as expected.
The overall imaging business went down by 30%, while the sales of Coolpix cameras even went down by over 50 %*. Not only by changing markets but also by the before mentioned disasters, causing delays in supply and production. Luckily the exchange rates of the Yen versus USDollar and Euro were (a bit) profitable.
In May 2015 a 3-year management plan was introduced, but Nikon stated in its November 2016 financial results data that Nikon ‘misread market trend’ and that it ‘acknowledge the issues of current targets and will discontinue the existing medium-term management plan’. In its new restructuring plan Nikon is striving for break-even on Lithography and Imaging Products business and it is developing the Microscope Solution, Industrial Metrology and Medical Business. To achieve this, serious changes in Nikon’s management and production units have been taken. Some 1143 persons solicitated for voluntary retirement. The last quarter of the fiscal year ending March 31, 2017 has been a tough one, due to one-time restructuring costs of nearly 53 billion Yen. By the end of March 2017 financial data published by Nikon Corporation show that the precision equipment business was profitable, where the imaging business went down by 26.4 % and the operating income decreased by a hefty 39.4 %. In its 2018 forecast (imaging business) there will be a 10 % decrease in sales and an operating profit of -2.6 % as Nikon is expecting the imaging business will continue to shrink.

*November 2016 financial data.

Production of Nikon cameras and lenses (10,000 units)

               

Camera/lens

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018 (forecast)

D-CIL* - world

1,633

1,923

1,678

1,357

1,304

1,177

1,070

Nikon

474

698

575

461

404

310

250

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IL** - world

2,641

2,964

2,628

2,200

2,134

1,920

1,800

Nikon

713

971

823

668

590

462

370

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

C-DSC*** - world

9,933

6,808

4,118

2,803

2,079

1,260

1,040

Nikon

1,737

1,714

1,116

769

623

319

230

               

* = Digital Cameras with Interchangeable Lenses - ** Interchangeable Lenses - *** Compact Digital Still Cameras

(Source: Nikon presentation material)

BTW: To compare these financial data with the financial data of Nikon's most important rival Canon is difficult, since Canon's Imaging System Business Unit includes cameras and lenses but also cinema cameras, printers, scanners, projectors and calculators. In the financial data as per December 31, 2016 sales in the ISB-Unit went down by 11.3 %.

 

Nikon Corporation's HQ

Since late November 2014 Nikon Corporation's head office - and all main departments and affiliated companies - are located in the 32-storeyed, 140 meters high, Shinagawa Intercity Tower C in Tokyo (see below).

For more information please visit the company’s web site

 

Nikon Museum

On October 17, 2015 Nikon Corporation opened a very nice museum, in Tower C (see above map), in which "you will see how Nikon has progressed to what it is today".

Location: Shinagawa Intercity Tower C, 2F, 2-15-3, Konan, Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-6290, Japan
Access 7 min. walk from the Konan Exit of JR Shinagawa Station
10 min. walk from Keikyu Shinagawa Station
Opening hours 10:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. (last admission at 5:30 p.m.)
Closed Sundays, Japanese national holidays, and other days determined by the Museum
Admission Free
Contact TEL: +81-3-6433-3900 FAX: +81-3-6433-3901

See for more information the Nikon Museum website.

Apart from photographic equipment Nikon Corporation is one of the world's leading producers of so-called steppers. In 1980 Nikon Corporation introduced the world's first production-worthy step-and-repeat photolithography tool for semiconductor fabrication. With a stepper it is possible to reduce integrated circuits down to microscopic sizes via a complex process called photolithography, enabling to manufacture chips for computer processors, memory sticks, etc.

In its conference on May 14, 2015 Nikon Corporation presented its Medium Term Management Plan under the slogan "Next 100 - Transformation to Grow". It is striving 'to be a corporate entity having 6-business portfolio for sustainable growth'. Those 6 businesses are lithography, imaging products, semiconductors, micrsocopes, industrial metrology and medical business. Unfortunately in that plan nothing is mentioned about public relations or about the above mentioned consumer relations management.

 

Quality control........

Manufacturing with clockwork precision and with minimal tolerance, based on intelligent engineering and artistic design, may be a prerequisite to produce high-end cameras and lenses, but quality control always remains an important factor in a production process. Nikon Corporation has a reputation of employing inexorable inspectors who are testing each product tenaciously. In addition to that Japan has - since 1954 - created an institute which is unique in its kind:

Japan (Nippon) Camera and optical instruments Inspection and testing Institute, famous for its golden JCII sticker (see above) on many cameras, lenses and other photographic gear. It was formed to inspect all cameras exported from Japan in order to maintain quality standards. It is said that when of one production run of 300 cameras 5 or more cameras did not meet the minimum requirements of the JCII the whole party was sent back to the manufacturer! In 1969 JCII was re-named Japan Camera Industry Institute and started to preserve 'Historical Japanese Cameras'. A very interesting collection of these historic cameras and many proto-types are shown in the JCII museum in downtown Tokyo, open to the public since 1989. The museum has also a 'Photo Salon' and a large library.


* Joseph Ehrenreich (born 10 July 1907, died 1 February 1973), owner and CEO of Ehrenreich Photo-Optical Industries (EPOI) in New York, became the exclusive US importer of Nikon products in 1954. He had an excellent nose for publicity and public relations. He introduced Nikon camera's and Nikkor lenses to professional photographers in the USA. He also visited the Nikon headquarters in Tokyo several times a year to demand for special products. Various camera's, lenses, projectors and other Nikon gear were produced by his order. In 1962 the Japanese government honored him with a citation of outstanding promotion of Japanese American trade. Joseph Ehrenreich died of a heart attack during a plane trip in the USA. After his death EPOI was sold to Nikon Inc., nowadays Nikon USA. Joseph's wife Amelia (born 20 March 1908, died 5 June 2002) sponsored young photographers by granting an annual scholarship since 1976 (NPPF Joseph Ehrenreich Scholarship), now managed by the Ehrenreich Family Trust. Without exaggerating one can state that Joseph Ehrenreich has given Nikon its leading position in US' photography.


Disasters

The Japanese archipelago is located in an area where several continental and oceanic plates meet. This is the cause of frequent earthquakes and the presence of many volcanoes and hot springs across Japan. If earthquakes occur below or close to the ocean, they may trigger tidal waves (tsunami). Nearly every month an area in or around Japan is hit by an earthquake. Some earthquakes were devastating, hitting also Nippon Kogaku alias Nikon Corporation. The Great Kanto earthquake in September 1923 with a death toll of over 100,000 destroyed a large part of the premises of Nippon Kogaku. Also the Hanshin earthquake hitting Kobe in January 1995 caused a lot of damage. The Great East Japan Earthquake - as the Thohoku earthquake of March 2011 is called by Nikon Corporation - that mainly hit the Sendai region with a death toll of over 24,000, was devastating for Japan's industry and infra-structure, too. By the end of March 2011 Nikon Corporation reinstated all its factories, running to a total damage of 2,313 million Yen. Not all production facilities were fully operational, and some supply companies were not able to operate at full power.

Just after these problems were solved Nikon Corporation (and others unfortunately) was hit by the devastating flooding in Thailand mid 2011. Operations (stopped per October 6) resumed from January 2012. Suplliers of parts for Nikon photographic products were affected by the series of earthquakes mid April 2016 in Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan.

 


Many books have been written on Nikon Corporation and its products. An interesting list of books and publications can be found on the web site of the Dutch Nikon publicist Hans Braakhuis).

An interesting book has been written by the Dutch journalist and professor Karel van Wolferen, titled 'The Enigma of Japanese Power' in 1989. (ISBN 90-6766100-7), which has been translated into twelve languages and is generally considered to provide the most elaborate intellectual support of what has been called the "revisionist" view of Japan. His analysis is well-known and appreciated among the most prominent reformist politicians of Japan. He has gained a large Japanese readership with some sixteen books (with a total of well over one million copies sold), on political, economical and historical issues relating to Japan as well as on problems of political change and global compatibility among economic systems.