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Japanese Big Eye Binoculars - A History Lesson

In an earlier blog post, we discussed the history of Japanese binocular production. We learned that Japanese companies Toko and Nikko produced the largest number of large military binoculars during WWII. That is because while the United States of America and Great Britain developed radar in the 1930s and 1940s, Japan continued to focus on binoculars. They felt so secure in their superiority in the optics of binoculars, that they thought they wouldn’t need radar.

The first Japanese binoculars were manufactured by the Fujii Brothers in 1911: the Fujii Brothers Victor 8x20. The Fujii’s were excellent tradesmen whose business flourished since by the 1920s, Japan’s Navy had become the third biggest navy in the world. At first, they used optical glass from Germany, but when that became scarce during World War I, the Japanese government started making their own. As of 1918, Nippon Kogaku would design and produce the optical lenses in Japan. In between the two World Wars, production of photographic lenses also began in Japan. Tokyo Kogaku Kikay made these photographic lenses. In the time leading up to World War II, these Toko lenses became the standard for Naval Binoculars.

The Japanese navy equipped all their warships with naval binoculars, set on 90 feet high towers. The binoculars were huge instruments made of brass and steel. The lenses could see up to 20 miles away and were designed to catch as much light as possible. The main purpose of these Big Eye Naval Binoculars was to spot Allied ships during World War II, but they also searched for the enemy’s aerial positioning. These Japanese binoculars were indeed very powerful, so much so that the United States would take apart the binoculars from captured Japanese ships in order to reverse-engineer the Japanese technology and copy them for their own Navy.

Naval Binoculars have a long history in Japan and through the years many different designs have seen the light of day. The WWII Japanese 15x80 binoculars is one of them: a curved-body design that makes you look down into the oculars. This curved design made it easier and more comfortable to scour the sky for longer periods of time. They were used mostly for aerial reconnaissance. The WWII Japanese Binoculars 25x150 on the other hand, has a straight body. You don’t look down into the ocular lenses, but through them. They need to be put at eye level, which is why they are based on adjustable tripods.

At , we create fine optical instruments with a classic styling and all the functionality of today’s modern optics. World War II was the peak period for Big Eye binocular design, and Japan was one of the leading manufacturers. We have taken inspiration for our Bigeye Binoculars from these Japanese grandmasters because we want to model our binoculars after the best.

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