Tin toys used to be very popular in Japan in the mid-19th century. These are mechanical toys made of tin plate and beautifully painted with the art of chromolithography, a method for making multi-color paint. It first started in Germany but spread so widely in Japan after World War II that the country has even produced an extensive list of tin toy companies throughout the world.
Japan’s production of tin toys was particularly aimed at the American market. The country was to be given a low profit while US companies could sell them as imported products. Instead of labeling them as “Made in Japan” they were labeled as “Foreign.” It was a way of easing the attitudes of Americans at the time, as (most likely due to the war) many people in the US did not like Japanese goods at the time. The idea worked better than expected, which made Japan the tin toy manufacturing force until the 1950s.
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It is quite hard to name all tin toy companies in Japan but the greatest of them all were those whose products have endured over time. One of these is Marusan Co. LTD. It produced various types of tin toys which have been exported to the USA and Europe. It also released the Walking Godzilla in 1964. Another company is Masudaya, a tin toy manufacturer founded in Tokyo in 1923, which was a Japanese leader in producing battery and mechanical-operated toys during the post-war period.
During the American occupation, the boom in Japanese tin toy production was massive. The tin plate toy industry was permitted to resume operation after WWII, including the right to export the toys. However, in 1948, friction toys emerged which was followed by electronics toys. With newer safety regulations set by the government, cheaper plastic took over in the 1960s. These brought about the gradual decline of tin plate toys and ended their reign. Nowadays, China has taken over the role as the lead manufacturer of tin toys.
Reliving the time when tin toys were the most popular is a childhood memory for some that is worth going back to. Its importance in history shaped the existence of modern toys these days. Some of these vintage toys can be found in certain museums across Japan.