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This is a past article published in Hiragana Times. Each Japanese paragraph is followed by its English translation or vise versa, and furigana are placed above each kanji to make Japanese study even easier. [Magazine Sample] [Subscription Page]

Pioneer in Optical Devices Soon to Celebrate its Centenary

[From March Issue 2015]



Founded in 1917, Nikon Corporation (Minato City, Tokyo Prefecture) is a world-class manufacturer of optical devices. It was founded to manufacture optical products which could not be imported due to the ramifications of World War I and an investment by IWASAKI Koyata, President of Mitsubishi Limited Partnership made it possible to merge three companies that respectively made gauges, glass, and lenses. When it was established, the company name was Nippon Kogaku K.K.

Nikon was originally the name of a small camera Nippon Kogaku K.K. launched in 1948. In the planning stages the camera had initially been called the Nikolette, a name derived from Nikko, an abbreviation of Nippon Kogaku. The idea was revisited, however, because many in the company felt that “Nikolette would be too weak a name for a future core product.” Then, to make the name sound stronger, ‘n’ was attached to the end of Nikko and thus Nikon was used.

There is an anecdote concerning the company name. At a ceremony to mark the twinning of Tokyo and Paris, then president FUKUOKA Shigetada introduced himself to the mayor of Paris as “Fukuoka from Nippon Kogaku K.K.,” but the mayor looked baffled. When his secretary informed him that the company made Nikon cameras the mayor answered in a friendly tone, “I know Nikon very well.”

The product name had become more famous than the company name. The company name was changed to Nikon in 1988 at the suggestion of insiders who believed Nikon was already an internationally well-known brand with a reputation for reliability.

Nikon cameras and “NIKKOR” interchangeable lenses are so reliable that they are used by the majority of media companies in and outside Japan. When the Korean War broke out in 1950, photojournalist David Douglas DUNCAN took pictures with NIKKOR lenses. Those pictures were featured in the American photo magazine “Life.” The sharpness of these pictures created quite a stir in the magazine’s editorial department in New York. At the same time the New York Times wrote about Nikon’s high quality.

Nikon products are also used in space. Designed to NASA specifications, in 1971, the “Nikon Photomic FTN” was used on the Apollo 15 mission. Since then, Nikon has long been supplying cameras and interchangeable lenses to NASA. WAKATA Koichi, the first Japanese commander of the International Space Station (ISS) who returned to Earth in May 2014, used a “D4” to take pictures of space and the Earth.

Today, with an emphasis on precision equipment, imaging and instruments, the company has diversified. Its focus is not only on cameras, but also on the development of industrial products such as semiconductor/FPD (flat panel display) lithography systems, microscopes, and measuring instruments. Considered the most precise machines in history, semiconductor lithography systems make IC (integrated circuits) which are an integral part in all electronic devices. Nikon is beginning to apply its core technologies – namely optics and precision engineering – in the fields of health and medicine.

Nikon Corporation

Text: ITO Koichi

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