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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.