Michio Hatoyama received an unexpected phone call from Leona Esaki just a few days before the latter's wedding.
"Perhaps you know that Sony plans to build a new research laboratory to pursue basic research activities that will be essential for future operations. Ibuka has said that he wants you as the director of the new lab. He thought you would be startled to suddenly be asked by the president, so I just thought I would give you advance notice, " Esaki explained.
Hatoyama and Esaki were old acquaintances. Hatoyama, the director of the Physics Department at the Electrotechnical Laboratory of the Agency of Industrial Science & Technology, was one of the pioneers in transistor research. He had heralded the importance of Esaki's tunnel diode when other Japanese scientists did not see its value, telling those around him "This just might be something big!" This had brought the two together.
At Esaki's wedding reception a few days later, Ibuka formally made the job offer himself. Hatoyama hesitated---the job, which materialized so suddenly, seemed too good to be true. Ibuka, however, seemed sincere about building the new lab and had given him full control over it. Esaki also said that he would be joining Hatoyama there. He decided to accept the appointment. In August 1960, Hatoyama joined Sony as the first director of the new research lab.
In reality, though, just as Hatoyama joined Sony, Esaki had jumped ship for IBM. Nowadays whenever Hatoyama is asked what prompted him to join Sony, he usually replies half jokingly, "I was duped by Dr. Esaki."
The original reason for the construction of the lab was closely related to the fast pace of semiconductor engineering development in the U.S. As with all pioneering work, new unheard of phenomena were discovered every day. And since each new discovery bore a myriad of fruits, they attracted much attention. Thus, one could literally see the incredible pace of R&D. That being the case, Japanese industry rushed to establish labs at the time.
Sony had a semiconductor research section, but one section alone was insufficient. The prevailing opinion at Sony was that research which would bear fruit in 10 or 20 years should be pursued, even if it was not immediately applicable to sales. And with both tape recorders and transistor radios selling well, Sony had the financial leeway to build the research lab.
The new laboratory was to carry out semiconductor research and basic research in related fields with the intent of creating products which would contribute to the future development of the company. This was to complement the product R&D division which had long been part of the main plant. But since basic research and product development were two different things, it was thought best to separate the two divisions to prevent any unnecessary rivalries.
After careful deliberation, Hodogaya, an area of Yokohama, was chosen. Four other sites were considered, including part of the Atsugi plant, but they were all unsatisfactory. The Hodogaya Bypass had not yet been completed, and the area was simply a barren field of eulalia grass. Sony management felt that such a desolate place would not be suited for a factory, but would be fine for a research lab. Besides, they expected that the area would develop when the new Yokohama Highway was built to help alleviate congestion on national Highway 1.