Japanese Tin Toys and robots

The word 'Buriki' which means tin plate in Japanese, has originally derived from the Dutch word 'blik' (tin toys in Dutch is 'blikken speelgoed') meaning 'tinned iron'. In Germany, it's called 'blechspielzeug'. Until Mid 1870's, most of the imported tin plates were used for the production of oil cans.

Initially, toy business in Japan was sluggish. After the Sino-Japanese war of 1894, the business started picking up. Introduction of printing machines for the tin plate and technology of clockwork from Germany accelerated Japan's tin toy industry. Eventually Japan became the tin toy producing center, leaving behind Germany which was totally devasted by the First World War.

The political uncertainty since 1938 had a devastating effect on the tin toy business. Many toy manufactures closed down. The Second World War broke out and effected the industry. Actually 1947 was the year when luck finally turned to Japan's favour. Under the American occupation, tin plate toy industry was granted a right to resume its operation and to export. In 1948, friction toys such as trains, fire engine trucks and automobiles emerged. Around 1955, electronic toys took over friction and wind-up toys. In the year of 1963, about 60% of the exported toys in Japan were made out of tin plate.

Unfortunately, this trend only remained untill the mid 60's. The tin plate toys gradually disappeared as plastic and superalloy toys emerged. Examples of Japanese manufactures are Marusan, Masudaya, Nomura (TN), Yoshiya (Kobe Yoko or KO), Masuya (SM), Bandai, Sankei (NK), Horikawa and Yonezawa.

Nowadays, Japan's tin toys of the 1950s and 1960s are considered some of the most ingenious and well-wrought inventions of 20th-century manufacture. Of these, their toy robots are the most highly prized, both for their beauty and their clever designs. But the robots reveal much more about Japan than its commitment to quality in manufacture. It was in the making of toys, and toy robots in particular, that Japan first expressed its foresight and its nearly boundless ambition, each product being an expression of wakon-yosai, or Japanese spirit and Western learning. These toys not only reflect the changing economic and political realities of Japan and the United States during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, but they also embody an expression of hope that has significantly influenced both Japanese and American Baby Boomers.

Coupling traditional metalworking skills with imported machinery, Japanese tin toys established a worldwide reputation in the 1920s and 1930s for their quality and detailed workmanship. With the resumption of international trade in 1947, exports grew rapidly. Leading American marques such as Ford, Packard, Lincoln, Chevrolet, Belair, Buick, and Cadillac competed to market ever more seductively styled cars to U.S. consumers in an increasingly automobile-based society. In Japan, toy manufacturers followed these styling trends closely, retooling often in order to offer miniature versions of the latest models to eager American children.


Updated: 6 Oct. 2019

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Comments (11)
Mary - July 3, 2021
Hi, I have a tin helicopter the number is 10026 it reads on the sides inter-city-service windup made in japan louis marx. I have looked for days to fine information on this i have seen every other toy some that look about the same but not with the inter-city-service would you please tell me the year it was made and other information you have on it. please!
thank you so much
I don't know much about your helicopter, but it's probably made in the early 1960s.
Kim - September 19, 2020
I found this in when going through my mother's things and haven't been able to find it online. All the one's I'm find have a different body style. Does anyone have any information about it and what it might be worth?
Probably a Nomura tinplate ambulance from the 1950s. I saw a fire brigade car from the same series for sale for EUR 25.
Chris - March 24, 2020
Hallo John , I have recently bought a S 1925 Deusenberg Roadster friction toy car(Cloth top) and the N 1929.I have looked for makers marks but there is nothing on the body except for the front number plates which read "S-1925 "
Hi, have a look here: Japan Toy Car S1925.
Eric - December 29, 2018
Hello, I found an old tin toy Canadian Pacific Airport Service Ford Station Wagon. It measures about 13 inches long, and the only mark on it (besides Ford) is a K with a circle around it with Made in Japan printed under it. I could not find a similar mark in the link for the Japanese toy manufactures though. Any clue on what company could have made this toy? Thank you
Ryan - January 20, 2015
Hello, this summer, I acquired by yard sale, for .25cents Canadian, A Japanese tin wind up , camouflage coloured army motorcycle,with a machine-gun mounted on it that appears to take a "zippo" style flint in the barrel,and when wound,internal gears will push the toy forward, as well as crank a small grinder inside, where the flint rests, thus creating sparks from the barrel, as well as smoke that exits through a small punched hole,by the top of the painted on exaust pipe in the painted on motor, creating three effects at once. Motion, sparks/machine gun fire and exaust.It seems to have been engineered and designed with the highest quality toy making skills of its time.The only company Identification markings on it,are in the left side (again, painted on) saddle bag,above the tire axle, wich is in large black capital letters: "T.Y.D.Y. and under that is written much smaller, still in capitals, MADE IN JAPANand has nothing elseat all, besides the factory paint schematics of the motorcycle itself ex: seat ,springs ,engine ,saddle bags and exaust pipe.it has very basic handle bars, wich are basically very flimsy and bare, as they are built into the same solid piece of metal that the "machine gun mount" is, so it sort of makes me wonder weather or not there were small coverings over them at one time, that may be missing, OR not at all, and that's just how it was built.I've recently found an Identical Item online, listed on E-bay, as "extremely rare" and priced for quite a few more digits than what I paid, that's for sure! ;b lol...The one I found online though, had a small Japanese soldier in a PINK military suit, and a helmet on.(This may contribute to the handle bar question as his hands fit of them in the picture).Mine only has the motorcycle, but in almost perfect condition and was sort of still working when I got it, but appears to have slipped a gear, and I'm by no means attempting to open and fix anything myself. Other than that, and the area that the hot flint sparks landed when played with(remarkably little damage there too). as compared to the one I found online, it seems to have every part, except its accompanying driver which I will probably never come across in my lifetime. From the personal research I've done, and due to very little information about this particular toy, until I happened onto your site, I've been able to get this far. It is also to be noted that this motorcycle is supposed to be a "HARLEY"(wether or not its a Harley "Davidson" is irrelevant), I would just like to know if and what that means,as well as any possible details, or other and any information I can get about this toy would be greatly, IMMENSELY appreciated.My fiancée and I aren't planning on selling it, we are collectors of rarities and treasures found and bought in bargain bins and donation stores.This little piece of joy, found us, at a yard sale!I can send pictures if you'd like, for reference purpose, but All I did was google " antique tin T.Y.D.Y. Harley Army Motorcycle" and the very first site that came up was surprisingly, the second example, mentioned above.From there, we found you fine folks, and this is where we are!!!!!!!(its a very exciting process)Wed like to know who the maker, the factory, and especially the date of production and amount made(if possible).Thank you in advance, sincerely,A young preserver of history...
Wow, the one with the pink rider fetched a nice price! If you have exactly the same motorcycle you at least have a clue how it looked like complete. Too bad you don't have the rider, but that's how it goes with toys. I am not familiar with this toy, and not an expert on Japanese toys in particular, but there is this blog which is specialized in Japanese tin toys, you can find the link the description above.
Gordon - September 8, 2014
I have a small boiler, piston and base of a donkey engine with the logo 'Made in Japan' and the letters CK does anyone know who made it?
Could be Daishin CK
Bob - February 19, 2013
I have a battery operated (3 nr Size D 1.5v batteries)tin plate vintage style car that I got for christmas aproximatly 50 years ago (I'm 58 now and I was about 7ish I think). It has a multidirectional drive wheel underneath and it puffs 'steam' out of the radiator cap if you drip a few drops of light oil in it. The only markings it has are S
I don't know which model car you have, but I see mostly a FORD T toy car popping up with a smoking radiator like this one or maybe you can find yours through Google images.
Adele - January 28, 2013
I have two wind-up toys (a bird and a pecking chicken. Each has a logo that looks like the letter M topped with the neck and face of a bearded man wearing a hat. Any idea as to the manufacturer?
Difficult to say... I suggest looking on this webpage which has an index of Japanese toy manufacturers and logos. But maybe it isn't Japanese at all?
Gary - December 6, 2012
Born 1953, as a child I remember bending the tabs that held the body to the base. I distinctly remember seeing Folgers and MJB print on inside of bodies but can find no one that remembers this. HELP!
Which vehicle or figure are you looking for?
Hans - August 26, 2012
I have a toy(tin)named "Happy Times", its from a japonies concern named Koromotsi. I like to cel it,can you give me an advice about the price? Its from 1931.
I have never heard of this company unfortunately... Maybe another visitor can help out?
Joe - August 13, 2010
I have tin toy car from youth. It is volkswagen beetle friction police car. On the rear of the car, it has diamond with "T.T" or "T & T" inside it. It says made in Japan. I have been unable to find any information about the manufacturer. Can you give some leads as to who it may be? Thanks.