Kaleidoscope History - Japanese History

History of Kaleidoscopes in Japan

Kaleidoscopes first appeared in Japan in 1819.  It is believed that they were brought by western people of the East India Company who visited Japan.  Due to the national isolation policy of the Edo Shogunate (feudal government), Japanese people were not exposed to many foreign things and they were very interested in items brought by those merchants. These items included telescopes, microscopes, prisms, glasses, glassware, projectors, watches, scissors, knives, toys and kaleidoscopes.

The feudal age ended in 1868 and the social system of Japan was drastically changed. During this period kaleidoscopes were known as “Hyaku-iro Megane” which literally meant “Mirror tube with hundred colors”. They were trendy items at first and then became quite popular as toys for children. Since then kaleidoscopes have been enjoyed as toys that are sold at local fairs and shops.

In a  book about games, written by a Japanese teacher in 1907, kaleidoscopes were introduced as scientific toys which were recommended for educational use.  It is interesting to know that there were people who acknowledged the educational use of kaleidoscopes at that time.

The first half of the 1900s was an era of wars in Japan. The kaleidoscopes did not survive these hard times and there are not many left from this period.

After Japan was defeated and occupied by the US, one of the first industries that revived was the toy industry. Many kaleidoscopes were produced in “occupied Japan” to export to the US. Some of them are still found in the US auction market or antique shops.

Postwar generations know kaleidoscopes just as toys and some of them have experience making them at school. Like many people in the US, Japanese grown-ups have nostalgic feelings for them. Paper tubes with reflecting materials set into them are the most popular type. Most Japanese people visualize this type when they hear the word “Man-ge-kyou”, the Japanese word for kaleidoscopes

The kaleidoscope renaissance was on the move in the 1980s in the United States.  It took several more years for some Japanese people to find modern kaleidoscopes and try to introduce them into Japan.

Japan now has many stores that sell kaleidoscopes.  There are also many Japanese artist making world-class kaleidoscopes.  Kaleidoscope making classes are held in various places in Japan. Several books on kaleidoscopes have been published, which give detailed information on every aspect of kaleidoscopes.

The first kaleidoscope museum in the world was opened in Japan.

In 1997, the Brewster Society of Japan was founded.

Below photo shows some older Japanese toy scopes.

Below photo shows a scope by a modern Japanese scope artist.