The History of Japanese Mechanical
Calculating Machines

Katsunori Kadokura



This article will tell you about the history of Japanese Mechanical Calculating Machines, mainly those of manual type.  A time table is also provided.

Through this article you will have the opportunity to see a typical example of the industrial life cycle including:

Beginning stage: An innovative engineer invents a new technology which starts a new industry.

Growing stage: Many companies get into the new industry under a patent license or after the patent expires. The market is expanded.

Saturation stage: The market becomes saturated, many companies disappear after being merged by larger companies or fail due to the hard competition. A few big companies control the market.

New beginning stage: An innovative engineer invents a new technology.

This life cycle is repeated in many type of industries. You can learn where is your business now within such cycle.

1. Before Calculating Machines

SorobanChinese Abacus appeared in Japan around 1500-1600 AD.  Japanese engineers improved it and people called it SOROBAN.

The SOROBAN has sharp edge beads and thin axis for fast calculations. Japanese people used to learn how to use it since their childhood.

It can perform additions, subtractions and multiplication and division.

2. Before Japanese Calculating Machines

Japanese industry started to grow up quickly after its modern form of Government started in 1868.  At that time, groups of educated people traveled abroad to learn about modern countries.  Japan soon started to import Calculating Machines such as Thomas Arithmometers, Comptometers, Odhner and Brunsviga calculators. These machines were used by the army, insurance companies and scientists.  The machines were expensive.  Their price were in the order of Y300 to Y600 which were enough to buy a nice house at that time.

3. Early Japanese Calculating Machines

Several ingenious Japanese engineers tried to improve or imitate above machines with the intention of starting their own business.

3.1 Patent Yazu Arithmometer (1902)

Yazu and his Patent Yazu ArithmometerRoichi Yazu (1874-1905) was a very clever inventor in many fields ranging from the dictionary to airplanes.  In 1902 he invented a mechanical calculating machine and a patent was granted to him in 1903. This machine was a kind of hybrid between the pinwheel type and the Soroban.

In 1902 he incorporated the company YAZU JIDO SOROBAN ( Yazu Automatic Soroban) in Tokyo. The machine was named Patented Yazu Arithmometer, and 200 units were manufactured. However he dropped the project when he decided to build an airplane with an equipped engine. He invested all his money in this project.

Yazu Patent 6010(1903)When he passed away, his father tried to improve the machine but had no success with the business. Nobody remembered his calculating machine.

One machine was found in 1977 by Mr. A.Uchiyama (IBM) in the house of Yazu's sister descendants.

3.2 IDEAL (1921)

IDEAL Calculating MachineWho made this machine? It is still a mystery. Maruzen sold this machine around 1921.

Maruzen is a famous book publisher and business machines and stationary distributor in Japan. Maruzen sold Brunsviga, Muldivo, Millionaires, and Marchant machines before IDEAL.

We can see two IDEAL machines now.  One is in the Tokyo Science University Museum, the museum says that Nippon Jimuki made them for Maruzen.  Another is in the Momoyama Gakuin University in Osaka,  the university says that it was made by Ideal Calculating Machine Co. (USA).  I think both of them may be mistaken.

sotoyama_patent.jpg (18129 bytes)

I saw one of these machines with a seal that showing Patent 47281. This is Sotoyama's Patent Utility Model 47281 which is exactly the same as the IDEAL machine. Sotoyama was one of the directors and founders of Keisanki Seizou Co, Ltd. (a calculating machines manufacturer ) which was incorporated in 1918 in Yokohama. I believe that Keisannki Seizou made them for Maruzen.

It looks quite similar to the Marchant machines.  May be they imitated it.

4. From 1923 to 1945 (end of World War II)

Tokyo had a big earthquake in 1923.   The Metropolitan Office bought 400 Odhner ARITHMOS for the reconstruction work of the city.  Businessmen had big interest for the calculating machine business.

4.1 Tiger Calculating Machine

Ohmoto TorahirouT.Ohmoto First Machine 1923Ohmoto Torajirou founded Ohmoto Tekko (a metal working factory) in Osaka . This company had many kind of metal works such us paint cans, safe boxes and maintenance of business machines. He finished his first calculating machine, the Tiger, in 1923. Official company information states that he invented it after few years of hard work. But I regret to say that it looks like an imitation of the Brunsviga machine. Tiger early models are almost the same as Brunsviga.

1924 Model1928 modelTiger became the biggest mechanical calculating manufacturing concern in Japan. Its Senior Sales Director studied in the US, and organized a sales system following the model of National Cash Register. This involved direct sales, life guaranty, good maintenance, fix prices (no discount) and a well trained sales force.  They manufactured about 480,000 machines until 1974. Its market share was over 50%.

Model Kihon (Basic type) (1934)
Model Kihon (Basic type) (1934)

Model Tokusou Renjou (1949)
Model Tokusou Renjou (1949)

4.2 Nippon Calculating Machine (1928)

Nippon Calculating Machine Co, Ltd. was incorporated in Osaka in 1928 by T. Tukaguti, a former Tiger distributor, and S. Fujii who spin out as engineer from Tiger.  I found that S. Fujii had several patents and they had patent disputes with Tiger.

One article says they launched  a machine named “Nohritsu” but I am not sure about it. It is not clear what kind of relation existed between this company and the company of the same name Nippon Calculating Machine & Co, Ltd. which was incorporated in 1945.  I hope somebody will tell me.

4.3 Taiyo Calculating Machine (1934)

IkuzoOchiIkuzo Ochi incorporated Taiyo Calculating Machine Co, Ltd. in Osaka in 1934. He spin out from Tiger and launched the models “AIKOKU” and "Taiyo."  Their carriage system looks like the one in Britannic.

Tamaya Shoten sold the model “Taiyo” and "Aikoku" (Japanese logo).


taiyo.jpg (6992 bytes)
Model Taiyo (Japanese logo)

aikoku.jpg (4773 bytes)
Model Aikoku (Japanese logo)

In 1937 the Japanese government prohibited the imports of many kinds of equipment including the business machines. This caused many distributors of foreign-made calculating machines to switch to Japanese-made machines
4.4 Maruzen Calculating Machine (1938 or 1939))

Maruzen (1939)Maruzen merged with Taiyo in 1939 and incorporated Maruzen Calculating Machine Co, Ltd. which was later renamed to Maruzen Jimukikai (business machine) & Co, Ltd.

Maruzen received an order for high speed calculating machines from the Japanese army, but it was never fulfilled.

5.1 Nippon Calculating Machine (1945) (NCM and Busicom later)

Fuji Boshi (1945?)Nippon Calculating Machine Co,Ltd. was incorporated by Showa Yoko in 1945.

Perhaps they bought the trademark "Fuji Boshi" from K. Hirata who registered the mark after he spin out from Tiger.

SM 21They launched Fuji Boshi, SM-1 and HL-21.  Some Machines carry also the Busicom name.

Busicom is famous for being the co-developer of the Microprocessor i4004 with Intel in 1971.

5.2 Taiyo (1951)

Taiyo ModelIkuzo Ochi himself incorporated Taiyo again in 1951 after Maruzen sold its calculating machine factory. Taiyo was a subsidiary of Uchida Youkou Co, Ltd. around 1955. Uchida Youkou is a distributor of business office equipment.


5.3  Blue Star (1951) and Toshiba

Blue Star(1951)Blue Star was made by Tokyo Electric Co, Ltd., which is a sister company of Toshiba.

An early model (in black and color)  was sold by Nippon Jimuki Co, Ltd. in 1951.  This model was a copy of a Original-Odhner machine

Later, Toshiba Business Machine Co, Ltd. sold the machines under the name  “Toshiba.“

Blue Star(1952?)
Blue Star (1952?)

Toshiba (1959)

5.4.Corona (1952?)

Corona I don’t know the Manufacturer of this machine. One university says that this machine was made by Corona Calculating Machine Co, USA, but I do not know such company in US.

I saw one advertisement in a magazine that says “Corona Calculating Machine is the best machine made in Japan.”

I saw a unit that has marked as made in Japan. So I am sure that this machine was made in Japan.

5.5. Nippo (1956)

Nippo Kikai Kougyo (machine industry) is a manufacturer and and distributor of business office equipment.  It started to manufacture and sale mechanical calculating machine in 1956 but stopped in 1961.

They launched the Model 101 in 1956, and the Model 202 in 1958

Nippo 101 (1956)
Nippo 101 (1956)

Nippo 202 (1958)
Nippo 202 (1958)

5.6. Keybar (1957)

KeybarKeybar Calculating Machine Co, Ltd. was incorporated in 1957. Looks like they imitated the Brunsviga Model 10.

Keybar Model A-1 (1957?)

5.7. PILOT (1961)

PILOT is a famous Japanese stationary goods manufacturer and distributor. PILOT merged Keybar and re-named it PILOT Jimuki (business machine) Co, Ltd.

PILOT stopped its business of mechanical calculators around 1969.

PILOT P-1 (1961)
PILOT P-1 (1961)

PILOT P-3 (1967)
PILOT P-3 (1967)

6. Mechanical Calculating Machines disappear around 1970s

Many motor driven Monroe, Friden, and Marchant machines were at work in the offices during the 1960s

Japanese manufactures started to develop a motor driven calculating machine in the late 1950's. They worked very hard  trying to develop a machine better than the imported ones.

They didn't  know however that electronic engineers were already developing faster and more silent calculators in different companies.

The first electronic calculator ANITA was launched in England in 1963 by Sumlock Comptometer LTD, and soon was followed by Sharp, Canon, Casio and many other companies.

Tiger had no capability for developing  electronics calculators, so they sold imported ANITA's.  Later they launched as OEM some Tiger electronic calculators during the late 1960's.  But it was too late.

Nippon Calculating Machines launched electronics calculators with the name Busicom, famous for developing the Microprocessor i4004 with Intel in 1971. Busicom challenged Sharp, Casio and others companies, but went bankrupt around 1974.

Older Japanese people remember the mechanical calculating machine as the Tiger Calculating Machine.  Many would be surprised to know that the Tiger Company is still alive now. Tiger changed its company name from Tiger Calculating Machines to Tiger Co. Ltd., which is in the building rental business.  Its headquarters building stands on the ground where the factory was once.   It is a high rise (with more than 20 stories) building which has a memorial roof with a Tiger machine shape.

Busicom Co., Ltd. was incorporated again few years later but most people don’t know  it. They are in a different business now. They do not talk about calculators any more.


1) Japanese Patent

2) Japanese Official Gazette

3) “Maboroshi no Keisanki “ Informe” Vo1 No.4 A.Uchiyama, 1983

4) Jimukikai hand book , 1954

5) Business machine digest. 1961,1964,1966,1968,1970,1972,1974

6) Company anniversary Booklets of Tiger 30 years, Maruzen 100 years, Uchida Yoko 50 years, Nippon Jimuki 50 years, Itohki 80 years, Toshiba 80 years, PILOT 60 years.

7) Tokyo Rikadaigaku Science Museum

8) Kikaisiki Keisannki no Kinenbutsu (memorial material of the Mechanical Calculating machine) H.Namikawa ,1986


Thank you for reading my article, do not hesitate to send me your comments, questions, suggestions or complains, to

Thanks to Mr. James Redin for asking me to write this article, and for his help in reviewing its English translation and formatting it as a Web page.

Thank you very much Dr .A. Uchiyama for permitting me to use his Yaz Arithmometer photo, also to all Japanese collectors who provided me with calculator photos.

Katsunori.Kadokura April 10, 2000.
3-25-11-1003 Koyama Shinagawa
Tokyo Japan

Bosnian  translation made by Amina Dugalic.
Ukrainian translation made by Olena Chervona.
  Copyright Katsunori Kadokura - Japan,  April 2000

All rights reserved


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