About Tenyo Co., Ltd. and Tenyo Magic Tricks
Tenyo Co., Ltd. is a toy company based in Japan. The bulk of their business consists of making jigsaw puzzles and novelty toys. About ten percent of their business is dedicated to magic. Tenyo has a team of inventors that every year is responsible for releasing approximately four new magic tricks. Some are invented in-house and others are created by well-known freelance magic inventors. Even though Tenyo is a Japanese company the magic tricks they produce do not have Japanese markings and look like magic tricks made for American and European magicians.
The magic tricks that Tenyo has invented and introduced over the years have been truly innovative. Tenyo is known for creating interesting/compelling props that often contain a brilliant mechanical gimmick. Some of the gimmicks are so clever that they are described as diabolical. The themes of the magic tricks are very creative and sometimes considered whimsical but that is what draws many to Tenyo. Another drawing point is that many Tenyo Magic Tricks are small pocket tricks and they have also produced miniature versions of grand illusions such as Houdini’s Metamorphosis Trunk and the Classic Sawing a Woman in Half.
The Tenyo Magic Tricks released for the US and European markets over the years have been number starting with T-1 which was a single red plastic thimble released in the 1960′s. The latest T-number (as of 2013) is T-255 for Card Surgery which is a cut and restore card trick. Many people are drawn to collecting Tenyo and try to complete a collection containing all of the T-Numbers.
All of Tenyo’s Magic Tricks are well thought out and meticulous prepared for release each year. Every detail is considered as important as the trick itself and aspects like the name, the packaging, and the instructions are all given the utmost attention. Tenyo is known for their packaging design. When many magic tricks were provided in plain boxes and envelopes, Tenyo released their magic tricks in colorful boxes with illustrations and interesting names. From the late 70′s to the mid 90′s many of the tricks were released in colorful cardboard packages with vacuum formed plastic shells. Through the shell you could see the colorful prop(s) and the cardboard had printed on it colorful graphics and interesting fonts. These types of packages are some of the most desired Tenyo Magic Tricks to collect and sealed packages of certain tricks can easily sell for hundreds of dollars. Tenyo’s instructions are very clearly written in both Japanese and English and are very easy to follow. One of the best aspects of Tenyo magic is that you can learn many of the tricks in a very short amount of time and be able to perform them well a few years later by just picking them up and working with them for a few minutes before the performance. This cannot be said of many magic tricks being sold today. Many have to be practiced for hours before a performance can be attempted and if you do not keep it up you will most likely not be able to perform it 6 months or a year later without a considerable amount of practice.
Most of Tenyo’s Magic Tricks are manufactured in plastic. Tenyo’s ability to expertly sculpt, color and texturize plastic has brought their props to the highest plateau. A well crafted Tenyo Magic Trick made of plastic can be higher quality and more luxurious than a cheaply made wooden or brass magic trick of which there are many. The tricks might be plastic, but the quality is impeccable.
There is a large group of Tenyo enthusiasts but there are some detractors as well. Very often magicians will say “I don’t perform with plastic tricks” or “Tenyo are clever but they are nothing more than toys.” This usually gets a rise out of Tenyo enthusiast because they know the tricks they love are more than mere plastic magic toys. Tenyo tricks can be just as astounding, clever and magical as tricks performed with more typical magical props such as cards and coins. In my opinion, what makes people like magic is that they want to be challenged and want to figure out how the trick was done. I would estimate that 95% of a magic audience is not believing that something magical has happened. They know it is a trick and want to figure out how it was done. When David Copperfield takes flight, I and mostly everyone else is wondering, how did he do that. When a Tenyo Magic Trick is performed there is also wonderment of how did he do that.
The first major appearance of Tenyo on the American magic radar was in 1969 when Akira Yamada, the President of Tenyo, hosted Dai Vernon’s trip to Japan to celebrate the 80th birthday of Japan’s greatest magician, Tenkai. Dai Vernon (a.k.a. The Professor) was the greatest sleight of hand magician of the time and the Japanese were very honored to have him come to their country to lecture with Tenkai. Dai Vernon returned with a newfound love of Japanese magic and the poetic presentations of the Japanese magicians. He also enjoyed meeting with the Tenyo president, Akira Yamada, and his talented team. He was impressed with their cleverness as well as their intelligence. In fact, Akira Yamada was nicknamed “The Brain” by Larry Jennings, an American magician who accompanied The Professor on the trip. Dai Vernon was also very impressed that Akira Yamada’s had a sincere desire to elevate the magical arts in Japan.
However, Tenyo’s story does not start there. It starts with Matsutaro Yamada, the father of Akira Yamada. Around 1905 at age 17, Matsutaro Yamada joined the Tenichi magic troupe led by Tenichi Shokyokusai (his great-uncle) and performed under the name Tenyo Shokyokusai. Seven years later, after learning much and mastering sleight of hand technique, Tenyo Shokyokusai created his own touring troupe. It wasn’t long before he was recognized as a master magician and soon he helped create the Tokyo Amateur Magician’s Club. In 1931, Shokyokusai began selling items he made at a magic stand he opened within the Mitsukoshi Department Store in Tokyo. The stand was the first retail magic business in Japan and was a great success. In 1953, Akira Yamada took over operations of the Tenyo Magic Laboratory. He continued to open additional magic stands (called Magic Corners) in department stores across Japan. The Magic Corners still exist to this day. In 1960, the Tenyo Magic Institute Co. Ltd. was established.
In 1970, the company settled on the name Tenyo Co., Ltd which was a more appropriate name since the company was also now producing puzzles and novelty toys. Even as the company expanded to offer a variety of products other than magic, Akira Yamada did not forget the companies roots in magic and has always encouraged the development of the magical arts in Japan. Tenyo sponsors lectures and the yearly Tenyo Magic Festival where many key Japanese magicians such as Shimada and Tenko have debuted after serving their apprenticeship behind the counter of a Magic Corner. The Magic Corners also proved as valuable training grounds for future inventors Hideo Kato and Takuya Yoshizawa. Later, highly talented magic creators such as Shigeru Sugawara and Hiroshi Kondo joined the team and Tenyo established itself as one of the world’s most respected magic manufacturers with a reputation for entertainment value, quality and originality.
Today Tenyo Magic Tricks can be bought at brick and mortar as well as internet magic shops across the world. Many of the Tenyo Magic Tricks released over the years have been discontinued and are no longer offered for retail sale. The discontinued tricks can be obtained on the secondary market through auctions or directly from dealers. The prices of these items can reach hundreds of dollars. For sure the Tenyo Collectors Market is very active and very competitive. With the introduction of many Tenyo Fan Websites like this, the popularity of Tenyo Magic Tricks has increased and will probably continue in that direction as the many of Tenyo’s fans are young and the yearly release of new tricks keeps Tenyo continuously in the spotlight.