One of the toy companies from Japan whose products have endured over time is Marusan Co. Ltd. We know them by the mark of SAN in a circle as shown above. The Japanese word “Maru” means circle, thus the mark of SAN in a circle. But the word “San” also means three, which refers to the 3 founders of this company in 1947. Circles along with diamonds were popular logo marks for Japanese companies at that time as evidenced by the many marks we see within a circle or diamond.

The roots of this company began in 1923, when Naokichi Ishida founded Ishida Manufacturing, based in the Tawarachou, region of Asakusa, Tokyo. Their primary business was selling optical toys like toy binoculars, and telescopes. The Asakusa area of Tokyo was home to many toy companies.

In 1947 Naokichi Ishida’s sons, Haruyasu Ishida and his younger brother Minoru Ishida, and kinsman Yasuo Arai founded MARUSAN in the toy industry. Their business also was mainly selling tin toys and optical toys.

In 1950, the company was formally incorporated as MARUSAN SHOTEN LTD. “Shoten” means company or shop. At the time of incorporation, Haruyasu Ishida was President; Minoru Ishida was listed as Managing Director and Yasuo Arai was a Director.

Initially, their business was a wholesale sales business, but they eventually began to design and market their own toys. Some of the items on the 1951 sales list for Marusan included the following:
Friction - Small Mercury car
Windups- Tricycle with celluloid doll, rabbit, motorcycle, penguin, helicopter, tank, windmill, fire engine, drum boy, jet airplane, bird clock and an elephant with monkey and umbrella. A very popular toy was the windup Lucky sewing machine with a celluloid girl behind the machine.

Toy exports from Japan grew rapidly during the 1950s and the toy manufacturers sought to produce specific toys as requested by the US importers. In 1953, they introduced the now famous and successful, elaborate tin toy “Cadillac” based on a 1951 model. This car and the variations of this car are highly prized by collectors today. One of the top toy craftsmen of the time was Matsuzou Kosuge. Mr. Kosuge’s factory was sub-contracted to produce the Cadillac and many subsequent toys. The box for the Cadillac mentions the Kosuge factory and his mark is found on the base of the car along with the mark of Marusan.

Inaddition to cars, other transportation toys were popular in the 1950s. These included trucks, trains, planes, buses, racing cars and boats. Their colorful tin banks, many of which were made for the Japanese domestic market, were also introduced during this period. In 1954 they launched the tin toy SSN submarine series and a vinyl “Mammy doll”. 1955 saw the introduction of the very durable “Bulldog toy” series of tin toys. These extra strong toys (including ride-on toys) are identified by the bulldog sign, which was often attached to the cab door of the truck.
In 1958, they introduced their first domestic plastic model kit, “Nautilus” submarine. The following year they sponsored their first Japanese TV program “Riku to Umi to Sora to” (land and sea and sky) focused on promoting plastic model kits into the Japanese market.

Other successful toys of he 1950s were the pipe-smoking toys, including battery operated “Jolly Daddy or Jolly Jumbo Smoking Elephant”, “Smoky Bear”, “Magic Man”, “Smoking Grandpa”, “Smoking Bunny”, “Smoking PaPa Bear”, “Mr. Mac Pooch” and a windup “Smoking Donkey”.

In 1960 President Haruyasu Ishida retired and Minoru Ishida was appointed president. The 1960s saw Marusan venture into die-cast miniature cars called “Toyo Ace” and plastic model kits of small airplanes.

The first Japan International Toy Fair was held in 1962 and the Marusan Toy Fair listing pictured a ride on “Bulldog” toy and described their lines of business as:
1. Manufacturing and Wholesaling Metal Toys & Plastic Model Kits
2. Export & Import of the above mentioned goods
3. Manufacturing & Selling of Press Stamping Die
4. Manufacturing of Mold Base
5. Manufacturing of Plastic Mold Base
6. Manufacturing of Plastics

The popularity of Godzilla movies inspired the1964 introduction of a battery operated remote control tin Godzilla and a remote control plastic model kit Godzilla.

1968 brought the unexpected bankruptcy of Marusan due to unique circumstances. However, the bankruptcy of Marusan eventually led to the establishment of two companies: In1969 Minoru Ishida, the president of Marusan Shoten Ltd. and Maruzan Co.,Ltd. rebuilt Marusan as Marusan Co., Ltd. At the same time, Koutaro Ishida, who was a director of these companies and a nephew of Minoru Ishida, built a new company named Bullmark along with two other ex-employees of Marusan, Saburo Ishizuki and Yutaka Shibata. Bullmark was a major producer of plastic kits and vinyl monster character toys until 1977 when it closed its doors.

Meanwhile Marusan was also very active in vinyl toys and created their own MARUSAN original monster series in 1970 and the “Ultraman Ace” series of mini toys in 1972. During the 1970s, Marusan eventually moved primarily into the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacture) business of producing toys and parts for others as opposed to producing original brand toys. In support of this strategy, they developed small elaborate gearboxes, which were used for many companies’ products, in 1981.

Marusan founder, Minour Ishida died on December 3, 1987 at the age of 72 and Aiko Ishida was appointed president. The following year manufacturing was begun in China.

Capitalizing on the nostalgia craze, Marusan returned to their own brand with reproductions of MARUSAN original monster series in 1997. Marusan now remains one of the old names in the Japanese toy industry.