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Japanese Toy Companies : MARUSAN SHOTEN

February 5th, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

Marusan Shoten 1947 – 1968 / 1969 – present.


Formed in Tokyo in 1947 Marusan was initially a wholeseller/reseller of mainly tinplate and optical toys. Its roots lay in an earlier company, Ishida Manufacturing, formed in 1923 by Naokichi Ishida, based in the Tawarachou region of Asakusa, Tokyo. Ishida again producing tinplate and optical items such as toy binoculars and telescopes. It was Ishida’s founders two sons along with a third party who were to set up Marusan. The company name and logo derive from the Japanese ‘Maru’ = Circle and ‘San’ = Three. In 1950 Marusan was formally incorporated as Marusan Shoten Ltd., ‘Shoten’ = Company. At this time the three founders, Haruyasu Ishida was listed as President, Minoru Ishida was the Managing Director and Yasuo Arai, Director.

By 1951 Marusan was producing a range of both friction and mechanically driven tinplate toys some of which incorporated celluloid figures. The 1950’s was a very busy time for many of Japan’s toy companies including Marusan as the US, in particular, began importing more and more tinplate toys. In 1953 Marusan introduced their now famous and successful tinplate model ‘Cadillac’ and it is this vehicle in particular along with similar Marusan civilian model cars that are much sought after by collectors today.

Several of Marusan’s elaborate tinplate vehicles, including the cadillac model, were actually sub-contracted to one of the top toy craftsmen of the time, Mr. Matsuzou Kosuge and his Kosuge factory, whos mark can be found on the boxes and model bases along with the SAN mark  on such vehicles.

Apart from the usual range of tinplate civilian and military vehicles the 1950’s also saw Marusan release several battery operated toys based on a smoking theme with titles such as ‘Smoky Bear’, ‘Smoking Grandpa’ and ‘Smoking Bunny’ to name but three as well as a clockwork ‘Smoking Donkey’. Not very PC by todays standard !

By the beginning of the 1960’s Marusan had already moved into plastic model kits a theme which was to continue and also ventured into die-cast miniature cars called ‘Toyo Ace’. However Marusan was unexpectedly declared bankrupt in 1968 a fact which was to lead eventually to the establishment of two companies. Marusan continued with a range of vinyl character toys and also began producing toys and parts for third parties in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Marusan is now one of the oldest names in the Japanese toy industry. 

It should be noted that in 2001 Marusan announced the release of a ‘Limited Issue’, highly detailed, tin toy Cadillac car made in the style of the 1950’s classic, all of which sold out !

< Marusan Cadillac

A 1959 Marusan friction driven, tinplate model of an American Cadillac. Vehicle comes in black bodywork finish with plated parts including wrap-around bumpers and wheel hubs. Detailed tinprinted interior, 24cm.

                                      Marusan Cadillac >

Shown opposite is the vehicle released by Marusan in 2001. This ‘Limited Issue’,  highly detailed tinplate model of an American Cadillac was based on the cars released in the 1950’s. The model, based on the 4-door pillarless Cadillac Eldorado Brougham Sedan, was released in three authentic colours, the one shown plus one in black/white and one in blue/white.     


< Marusan Lucky Car

Battery operated toy, open topped car in red bodywork finish with plated parts including wheel hubs. Detailed tinprinted interior with tin driver figure smoking pipe. Fitted with ‘mystery action’ to underside, 24cm.   



Marusan Baby Scooter > 

Friction drive tinplate scooter with tin rider and schoolgirl passenger. Multi-coloured model, scooter predominantly in red and grey with ‘Silver Pigeon’ lettering to rear, fitted with clear windshield, 13cm.

 < Marusan Motorcycle

Marusan ‘Speed Lion’, friction driven tinplate motorcycle with rider. Multi-coloured, red, orange, blue and green with red plastic engine panels with sparks behind. Rider has racing number 18 to his back, 14cm.                 

                      Marusan MG Wonder Car >

Pictured opposite is the Marusan Wonder MG Car, model is of tinplate construction with clockwork drive. Fitted with 2x tin figures and a revolving umberella. In operation the car crosses the bridge, turns around and repeats the operation. Colourful tinprinting, car predominantly in red colourway finish with plated parts. Car is 13cm, track is some 31cm.                  

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  1. dinkycollect
    January 25th, 2016 at 11:05 | #1

    Dear David,

    I have been very interested reading your history of Marusan Shoten. Unfortunately it is uncomplete.

    In the late 60’s and early 70’s, Marusan has issued at least seven copies of Dinky Toys from both the Liverpool and Bobigny factories. The base plate of these models was stamped with the SAN round logo which certifies the origin of the models. So far I have identified the following but there may be more :

    8501 Trailer truck (Tracteur Panhard et semi-remorque)
    8502 Royal Mail van (Morris Commercial)
    8503 Ambulance van (Daimler)
    8504 Milk car (Camion laitier Ford)
    8505 Avenue bus (Observation coach)
    8506 Terex dump truck
    8507 Service car (Austin van)

    These models were NOT cast in ex Meccano dies.

    Do you have any other information about this series of Dinky Toys copies ?

    I have an other question for you but I need to send pictures with it, could you please let me have an email address ?

    Kind regards.

    Writer and editor of the Dinky Toys Encyclopaedia

  2. dave
    January 28th, 2016 at 15:29 | #2

    Hi there Dinky Collect,

    I totally agree the history of Marusan Shoten, like all my posts, is incomplete. In all my posts, especially on the Japanese toy companies, I have attempted to give simply an overview of the company along with a few pictures of their wares. I don’t have the time to do anything else, I wish I did for I would love to have the time to sit down and research any aspect of the toy market, particularly toys from the fifties and sixties and maybe go into print with it.
    I appreciate your input concerning the diecast aspect of Marusan, sorry to say I cannot put any more flesh on the bones, can anyone out there contribute any information ?
    I have included some images to show typical ‘Dinky’ output from Marusan.
    Will get back to you shortly re the second aspect of your comments, David.

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