When you start trying to determine the difference between a MIJ and a CIJ Fender guitar, odds are you will do a search, and odds are all you will find are forums, and on those forums you will find many differing opinions on the topic and ultimately you just may wind up even more confused than when you began! Here, we shall break down the confusion as much as possible and present the information in the most simple and clear manner possible so as to not waste your time or leave you scratching your head.
Late 1981: While still under CBS ownership, Fender begins it's first ever guitar production in Japan; the manufacturing plant was the FujiGen Gakki Corp. These guitars were all labeled "MADE IN JAPAN". These were higher quality instruments than the instruments being made in the US at this time, and hence they are considered quite valuable great playing guitars.
1983: The "Squire" series begins it's life as a MIJ FujiGen Gakki produced instrument. Thease early Squires are essentially the same Fender guitars the factory was making, but with a different headstock decal. These early (83-87) Squire guitars are to this day respected as a very good guitar at a reasonable cost.
Early 1985: CBS sells Fender to the employee led ownership group headed by Bill Schultz. The sale did NOT include the manufacturing facility, and as a result, except for a small number of already completed guitars, the ONLY Fender guitars produced in 85-86 were Made in Japan by the FujiGen Gakki Corp. This era brought about some fairly well respected models like the "contemporary" Strat.
Early 1987: Schultz and company open their US production plant in Corona California. American guitars are once again being produced, and quality is job #1. These early production USA guitars ('87-89) are widely respected as nearly custom-shop level guitars, and are VERY valuable.
Mid 1987: Fender opens it's factory in Ensenada, Mexico. Shortly there after, this plant began to produce the bulk of non-US made Fender and Squire guitars, moving production AWAY from Japan.
Up to 1996: Fender continued to employ the FujiGen Gakki Corp to make guitars, although in more and more limited numbers, and mostly only for guitars intended to be sold in the Japanese market. These excellent guitars still proudly displayed "MADE IN JAPAN".
1992: (yes, there is some overlap here) The Dyna Gakki Corp. began making some guitars for Fender, these were the first guitars listed as "CRAFTED IN JAPAN". Some say this was due to a contract clause with FujiGen that ONLY allowed their plant to stamp "MADE IN JAPAN" on a Fender, which seems unlikely. Others say "crafted" had a nicer ring to it than "made", and so the word change was all about marketing and preception, this seems to make solid sense. Either way, Dyna Gakki was also a high-quality manufacturer, and these guitars are of similar quality to the ones made across town at the FujiGen Gakki plant, even though today they seem to sell for a little less and have a little less respect in the guitar community.
1997: The Tōkai Corp. now joined Dyna Gakki as the EXCLUSIVE manufacturers of Fenders made in Japan, and continued to be stamped Crafted In Japan. Anyone who know their facts will tell you that these early Tokai Fenders are truly excellent instruments. A fun fact here is that, when Fender announced that they were again manufacturing guitars in the US at their new Corona, CA plant, the guitars they pictured were ACTUALLY made by Tokai!
2007 - 2015: Fender partnered with Kanda Shokai and Yamano Gakki to build their own plant in Japan, producing mostly guitars for the Japanese market, along with a few Fender Special Run (FSR) instruments for the Western/US market. These instruments have sometimes been stamped "MADE IN JAPAN", and sometimes "CRAFTED IN JAPAN", seemingly for marketing reasons alone.
Late 2015 - present(late 2019): Fender bought out Kanda Shokai and Yamano Gakki, and now runs the Japanese plant themselves, still producing mostly guitars for the Japanese market, alongwith a few Fender Special Run (FSR) instruments for the Western/US market. These instruments have sometimes been stamped "MADE IN JAPAN", and sometimes "CRAFTED IN JAPAN", seemingly for marketing reasons alone.
So is MIJ better than CIJ? I'll let y'all make that call on your own. And one last note: if you are interested in the what/where/when details of your Japanese Fender, the excellent Guitar Dater Project is now VERY complete on it's MIJ/CIJ database, so head on over to: