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Chapter1   Rebuilding from the Ashes

Rebuilding from the Ashes

Masaru Ibuka in front of Shirokiya Department Store

In September 1945, Masaru Ibuka returned to Tokyo to begin work in the war-damaged capital. A narrow room with a telephone switchboard located on the third floor of the Shirokiya Department Store (Tokyu Department Store which closed on January 1999) in Nihombashi became the new workshop for Ibuka and his group. Having barely survived the war fires, the building had cracks all over its concrete exterior. Without windows, the new office was small and bleak. Gradually, the office environment started to improve as the silicon steel boards, drilling machines and other equipment were transported from the Suzaka factory, and the personnel who had been tying up loose ends there joined the Shirokiya staff.

In October, Ibuka and his group established a new facility, called "Tokyo Tsushin Kenkyujo"(Totsuken), or "Tokyo Telecommunications Research Institute." Although everyone was eager to work for the new company and to help rebuild post-war Japan with their engineering know-how, no one knew what to do at first.

Most of the salaries were paid out of Ibuka's small, and dwindling, savings. To stay in business, they had to do something. After the war, the Japanese were hungry for news around the world. Many had war-damaged radios, or ones that had had the shortwave unit disconnected by the military police to prevent from tuning into enemy propaganda. Ibuka's factory repaired radios and made shortwave converters or adapters that could easily make medium-wave radios into superheterodyne, or all-wave receivers. Demand for such radios was rapidly increasing.

The shortwave adapters attracted wide attention, and the Asahi Shimbun featured them in its "Blue Pencil" column. As a result, demand increased even further. This article also brought Ibuka and Akio Morita back together again(*). As the war ended, Morita was back home at Kosugaya, in Aichi Prefecture. One day, he read the column that mentioned Ibuka's name, and he wrote to his friend immediately. Ibuka replied at once, urging Morita to come to Tokyo. Since he had been offered a job as a lecturer at the Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokodai), Morita wasted no time in moving to Tokyo and in renewing their acquaintance.
(*) Ibuka and Morita, the founders of Sony, first encounterd each other at the meetings of the Wartime Research Committee that was studying new types of weapons during the war. The two men became close friens, thought Ibuka was more than a dozen years older.

In addition to work, radio repairs brought employees an extra reward as well. They often received rice from houses they visited on service calls, in addition to a normal service fee.
This was treasured during a time of serious food shortages.


The electric rice cooker

Subsequently, Ibuka's factory worked on an electric rice cooker.As the war plants had closed down, there was more electricity than was needed at the time. This surplus fed Ibuka's desire to produce items which were needed for everyday life. The electric rice cooker, made by merely interlocking aluminum electrodes which were connected to the bottom of a wooden tub, was a primitive product. The result depended heavily on the kind of rice used and the weight of the water. Tasty rice was a rarity, as the rice cooker produced mostly undercooked or overcooked rice. It was a memorable first failure for Ibuka and his staff.

The rice needed for the development of the electric rice cooker was procured by Shozaburo Tachikawa on the black market. Tachikawa was a distant relative of Ibuka's, and as a child, Ibuka used to visit the Tachikawa family, who operated a marine products wholesaler in Hakodate, Hokkaido. Whenever Ibuka visited Tachikawa, the whole family would make such a big fuss, saying,"Masaru is here,"and they would hide their clocks and other such items so as to prevent Ibuka from tinkering with them. Tachikawa felt close to Ibuka and looked up to him like an elder brother. Upon graduating from university, Tachikawa had expertly handled the Japan Measurement Instrument Company(Nissoku)'s general affairs. At Totsuken, he took charge of finance, personnel and general affairs. One of his first major task was to purchase rice on the black market, a routine that continued for several years until the food supply situation improved.

Needless to say, some Totsuken products were very successful. Vacuum-tube voltmeter that Yasuda worked on frome the time of Nissoku was an excellent example. The company began supplying this product to government offices. The new business of Ibuka and his group was well under way by the end of 1945.


Establishing Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo (Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation)

Mr. Morita and Mr. Ibuka
Mr. Morita (age26, then Managing Director) and Mr. Ibuka (age 39, then Senior Managing Director) in May 1947.

On May 7, 1946, more than twenty management and staff attended the inauguration ceremony which officially established Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo (Totsuko). Ibuka's father-in-law,Tamon Maeda was appointed president of the new company. Maeda was the former Minister of Education in the postwar Higashikuni and Shidehara Cabinets.

Ibuka had prepared a founding prospectus for the new company and had left it with Tachikawa. Since Ibuka was so involved with preparations for the inauguration, he completely forgot to ask for the prospectus. When he saw it later, Ibuka reaffirmed the significance of this document. Since he had found the document, he made this the focus of his inauguration speech. He said, "We must avoid problems which befall large corporations," "While we create and introduce technologies which large corporations cannot match. The reconstruction of Japan depends on the development of dynamic technologies."


The Founding Prospectus of the new company

The new company, capitalized at \190,000, had no machinery and little scientific equipment. Possessing only their intelligence and engineering know-how, Ibuka and his engineers set about creating new markets. Their creativity and innovation would be their sole guide in an unknown territory. President Maeda echoed Ibuka's speech. He told the ardent young engineers, "Today our small company has made its start. With its superior technologies and spirit of perfect unity, the company will grow. As it does so, we can certainly make a contribution to society." With that, Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo Kabushiki Kaisha (Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation) was born.

From the next day onward, everyone worked extremely hard. As they worked well into the night, long after the Shirokiya department store had closed, they often found themselves locked inside. They were sometimes caught by zealous policemen when using the emergency exits. Who could blame a policeman for mistaking someone sneaking out of a fire exit so late at night for a thief? The young engineers, however, used their technical skills to their advantage. They duplicated keys for the main entrance and exits and were soon slipping freely in and out of the building. But before long this trick was detected. These were difficult, yet happy days for the young force.

Such diversions could not obscure the difficulties the engineers were having due to lack of materials. On May 8, Ibuka visited the Ministry of Communications and received an order for fifty vacuum tube voltmeters. Vacuum tubes were then hard to come by. Finding them on the black market required trips to either Akihabara, in Tokyo, the Yokohama area or as for as Ibaraki Prefecture. Even then, only fifty out of one hundred vacuum tubes met voltmeter specifications.

The situation was no better for equipment, as the company could not afford to spend scarce money on them. The engineers at Totsuko made all the equipment themselves. Beginning with soldering irons, they made screwdrivers from motorcycle springs fished out of the war ruins. They constructed their own electrical coils and substituted telephone cables for electrical wiring in their trial products. Although such deficiencies posed problems, these young engineers actually enjoyed working this way.

The biggest concern of all, however, was financing. The burgeoning company's urgent need for financing had also been affected by the government's policy of switching from the old yen currency to the new, as laid out in the Emergency Financial Measure Ordinance of February 1946. Therefore, earning new yen notes became vital for the company to stay in business. The best-selling Totsuko product for the new yen market was an electrically heated cushion.


Earning New Yen

Electrically heated cushion

To earn the new currency, Ibuka designed an electrically heated cushion aimed at consumers for the winter months. A thin nichrome wire grid was inserted between two sheets of reinforced paper inside a leather and cloth upholstered cushion. It was rather unsafe because it had no thermostat or fire retardant.
In fact, Ibuka and his colleagues would not go so far as to tarnish Totsuko's name, so they sold it instead under the fictitious "Ginza Nessuru Shokai" (Ginza Heating Company) name. Since there were shortages of almost everything at the time, the cushion sold like "hot cakes".

As the company earned the new yen with this business, employees' families were paid with the new yen notes in return for sewing covers, hem stitching cords and doing other subcontracted work. However, increased sales meant increased complaints. The cushion was scorching blankets and futons. Naturally, Ibuka and his colleagues were worried about the possibility of fires, especially due to voltage increases at night.

Shigeo Shima, who received one of the cushions from Ibuka, was happy with it during his first year of use. But in the second year, the nichrome wire inside the cushion snapped at the edge, causing sparks which ruined his Sunday-best trousers. Taketoshi Kodama, a university and navy friend of Morita's who would later work for Totsuko, also received a cushion from Ibuka when he dropped by the company one day. As Kodama was just about to fold the cushion and leave, Ibuka cried, "Wait! Don't fold it!" Kodama then realized that he had received an unusual gift. However, Kodama had no problems with it, because unlike Shima, he never used it.

Totsuko was also making better quality products, like the record pickup designed by Nakatsuru. Although record pickups had been prohibited by the government during the war, companies were now free to explore this untested market. They had no problems procuring materials because there were many pieces of steel littered in the ruins of Tokyo. Such steel needed no annealing, which was a great help. In those days, precise measurements were impossible, so everything depended on the fine craftsmanship of Nakatsuru. As a result, Totsuko's record pickup acquired a good reputation for its excellent sound quality. Mass production under the "Clear Voice" name was soon started.

While production was going very well, Totsuko faced a serious problem of relocating its office from Shirokiya. It was a matter of life-or-death to find a new base for its sales activities. Hisao Yuda, Kazuo Iwama's uncle, came to Totsuko's rescue at the last minute, saying, "If you're having such a hard time, then you can use my building."That very day Totsuko's wall partitions were torn down around them as Shirokiya made way for a dance hall to be used by the Occupation Forces. As the Totsuko people busily prepared for the move, the partitions came down. People queuing up to apply for jobs with Shirokiya watched them from the outside. It soon began to rain, making Totsuko's workers look quite miserable.

Ibuka and his colleagues were very happy because they were moving to Ginza. Yuda had offered them space in the Tokuya Building, near what is now the Mitsui Urban Hotel. It was a small building of only about 10 tsubo (approximately 60 square feet) in land area.

Kazuo Iwama was a physicist at the Earthquake Research Institute of Tokyo University before he joined Totsuko. Iwama and Morita had been good neighbors in the Shirakabe district of Nagoya, and Iwama had been engaged to marry Morita's younger sister since the war. Their marriage had been postponed because of the confusion and dislocation caused by the war. They celebrated their wedding ceremony soon after Totsuko was established, with Ibuka acting as the Nakodo or go-between. On June 1, Iwama joined the company, thanks to Morita's earnest persuasion.


Moving to Gotenyama

Akira Higuchi, Kazuo Iwama, Masuru Ibuka, and Akio Morita
In front of the Gotenyama factory (From left to right: Akira Higuchi, Kazuo Iwama, Masuru Ibuka, and Akio Morita).

Soon after their move to the Tokuya Building in Ginza, Totsuko was asked by NHK(national broadcasting station) to convert military-use wireless equipment into relay receivers for broadcasting applications. NHK's facilities had been severely damaged during the war, as had most communication facilities in Japan. It was vitally important for NHK to repair its studios and build wireless relay receiving stations throughout the country, in order to restore a national broadcasting network. This was a top priority for Japan's post-war recovery. Shigeo Shima, who was then working in the Facilities section of NHK, was in charge of this project.

Since Japan lacked all kinds of materials and supplies, Shima thought of utilizing military war reserves. The army's communications equipment reserve, in Yamanashi Prefecture, included many "Ground-2" air-search short- and medium-wave wireless receivers with plug-in coils. Shima obtained these receivers from the government, promising to "use them for Japan's peaceful reconstruction."

Shima had a good reason to ask Totsuko to repair and remodel the "G-2" receivers. At that time, almost all Japanese companies in the telecommunications industry were working exclusively on restoration of telephones in collaboration with the Ministry of Communications. There were a few companies working on wireless equipment, and these were strictly bound by rigid contracts and could not adapt quickly to any design changes. Besides, the cost was very high and NHK's budget was limited. But Shima was sure that Ibuka's company could do the job. This became Totsuko's first connection with NHK.

The work environment at Totsuko was healthy and its business with NHK and the government was going well. But just when Totsuko was beginning to realize a steady profit, the owner of the factory in Kichijoji began pressuring the company to leave -- he said he planned to begin production work himself. Perhaps the real reason had to do with electricity. At that time, electricity would be cut off when consumption exceeded the allowed quota. Since Totsuko's employees worked day and night, not caring about such restrictions, the factory owner feared that his own power would be cut off.

It was inconvenient for the company to have factories and offices in three different locations spread far from each other. This also made the company incur higher operating costs. So Ibuka and Morita began looking for another place to rent, a place big enough for everyone to work together.

It was at the end of 1946 when Ibuka and Morita began their search. Because the company had sold its only truck, a used Datsun, Ibuka and Morita had to make their search on foot during the increasingly cold nights.

After a long search, they finally found a location at Gotenyama, in Shinagawa. It was a building which had been used by Nippon Carburetor Co., Ltd. as a warehouse. (This incidentally is the same location as Sony Corporation today.) Although the factory building was very shabby, everyone was happy that they could now, for the first time, all work together.





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