In 1972, the 'Taiyo-no Ie' was a hive of activity and all who worked there felt proud and fulfilled. We were building an environment in which we knew we could become active members of society if only we worked hard and tried our best - an environment which was considered quite extraordinary in those days. Kazuma Tateishi, the founder of Omron Corporation, decided to establish Omron Taiyo Denki (now known as Omron Taiyo Co., Ltd.) within our 'Taiyo-no Ie.' Omron constructed Japan's first 'welfare' factory, and established a system under which it would support all facets of jobs there.
All employees, including the plant manager, were chosen from among those working at the 'Taiyo-no Ie.' Roughly every year thereafter, new posters advertising fresh job placements would be posted at the 'Taiyo-no Ie.' Several people would be hired, thus making their mark as full-fledged members of society. I was also quick to apply, but I was unsuccessful. I had pressure ulcers (bedsores), and was told that the reason my application was rejected was because they had concerns about my health. It's funny how destiny works - if they had decided to employ me at that time, I know I wouldn't be the person I am today.
In May, 1974, Sony contracted some work to our 'Taiyo-no Ie.' I had been in the middle of looking for a new job, having just left my previous one due to the effects of the Oil Shock. Together with 16 other colleagues with disabilities, we chased our dreams of being active members of society, and worked hard to manufacture the radios requested by Sony. We did our best, despite the severity of the Sony engineer who told us they would withdraw the orders if the quality of our work was poor. The fruits of our labor gradually became apparent. The number of workers increased year-by-year and the scale of our work grew. We started to move away from radios to produce wireless microphones.
In 1975, the inaugural FESPIC Games (Far East and South Pacific Games for the Disabled) were held in Oita City and Beppu City in Oita Prefecture. Although I had no prior experience, I entered the fencing event. I remember not wanting to embarrass myself at the Games, so I would finish up my work early and practice with all my might. It was at this busy but fulfilling time of working hard and playing sport that we heard news that Sony might set up an incorporated organization with our sheltered workshop. Ibuka-san became the founder and in January, 1978, our 'Taiyo-no Ie' began a new start as a corporation with capital of JPY 5 million, known as 'Sun Industry.'
In 1978, Ibuka-san came to the dedication ceremony of our new 'Taiyo-no Ie' sheltered workshop building, together with Soichiro Honda-san. There, they were able to witness first-hand the philosophy of the sheltered workshop: "No one is so disabled as to be unable to work." They observed how the employees really took this philosophy to heart and put it to practice, and how everyone was working with a lively energy. Ibuka-san and Honda-san instantly felt a newfound respect for Dr. Yutaka Nakamura M.D. (the founder of the Taiyo-no Ie' and an orthopedic surgeon) to the extent that in his congratulatory address, Honda-san announced that his company, Honda Motor Company, Limited, would also offer work to the 'Taiyo-no Ie,' just like Sony, and establish a similar company. With Tateishi-san (the founder of Omron), and now Ibuka-san and Honda-san, the 'Taiyo-no Ie' found itself with three powerful allies of unmatched global strength. They were later joined by Mitsubishi Corporation and Fujitsu Limited, and the number of 'friends' of the organization continued to grow.
By September, 1981, three years after the new company's establishment, the number of employees had grown to over seventy and the plant looked like any typical factory. Sony decided to rename the company 'Sony/Taiyo' as a special subsidiary that easily satisfied the legally mandated rate of employment of people with disabilities, and once again, the company embarked on a fresh start. Sony co-founder Morita-san specially made the journey to Oita to mark the occasion. He gave a public address from the Oita Prefectural Office to announce our name change, which coincided with the establishment of another Sony company, 'Sony Oita' (now known as Sony Semiconductor Kyushu Corporation, Oita TEC).
This was a time when we were really beginning to create various products that demonstrated our knowledge and experience in Monozukuri, as well as our elemental work and technology. I particularly remember the difficulty we had with the 'MDR-FM7' headphones built into FM receivers, and "Walkmans."
These products could not be achieved without high frequency technology and advanced elemental work and technology. It took us about three months before we could create a product without faults, and I regularly got home at around 2 a.m. after a long day of trying to find the cause of the problem. On December 1, 1983, Ohsone-san, who was then the manager of Sony's General Audio (GA) division, visited Sony/Taiyo. After looking around the factory, he suddenly asked to borrow the telephone. He made a call and gave the instruction to "Prepare immediately to begin production of the "Walkman" at Sony/Taiyo." I couldn't believe it, but in just two weeks, the "Walkman" production line was ready, and we began churning out the smash hit product "WM-20" from December 19. Ohsone-san said that "if you make the most difficult thing first, then everything afterwards will be easy." It turned out that by the end of the year, we had accumulated more than 400 defective items-in-process. Employees ranked 'Line Leader' or above had to give up their New Year holidays to repair these goods. I can look back on those days and smile now, but it was a time of panic back then.
Sony actively continued to employ people with disabilities, and by July 2, 1988, there were 120 people working for Sony/Taiyo. On this day, Ibuka-san, Ohga-san, and many others were invited to attend the dedication ceremony for our new Hiji Plant. But our joy was short-lived. Despite our best efforts to keep on a par with able-bodied people, the number of "Walkmans" produced continued to decline, and production stopped altogether in 1990. An accelerating trend for Monozukuri to shift overseas was beginning to emerge. Although we understood that the Sony Group was facing a tough environment due to difficulties such as the high Japanese yen and the end of the bubble era, we also had to contend with other problems, such as the poor locational conditions and the heavy load of indirect administrative cost, while concerns were raised by others about whether our company was stable enough having such a high number of employees with disabilities.
We desperately wanted to be a business unit that could be depended on, rather than one that depended on others, so we frantically searched for a product that could become our new core business. At this time, the president of one of Sony's subsidiary companies came to observe our operations. I learned from him that microphones were to become OEM products. He expressed his disappointment about having to relinquish this aspect of sound technology - something that had been one of Sony's integral strengths - to another manufacturer. I thought that microphones could be the solution to our problems, so I began an investigation without delay. I found that we could potentially establish a winning combination production system, comprised of product size, elemental technology, stable demand, devices. It would also mean plus the fact that our company would be the only manufacturer of these products in Japan. By training our personnel, we could further develop our business to include aspects of design and service. This led me to believe that we could make an innovative transformation that would enable our company to move from 'independence' to 'autonomy.' I concluded that this was the perfect business for our company to undertake, so we actively began to work on convincing our parent company from 1989, and in 1991, we were able to begin producing microphones in our plant, which had been extended to 139 meters inside.
In 1988, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of our company's founding. In the presence of our invited guests, I declared my new ideas for the next ten years as a company, and as an individual. My primary objective was to continue to move towards 'autonomy,' with the implementation of a design business, complete self-sufficiency in materials, and a vastly expanded range of activities for the daily lives of people with disabilities. In 2001, we designed in-house the 'ECM-S80,' a general-purpose microphone, followed by the 'ECM-678,' a professional-use microphone, in 2003. In 2002, we became completely self-sufficient in materials. Employees with no hands succeeded in using their feet to drive cars on expeditions, while others took overseas trips. I could see that we were steadily moving towards our goal of autonomy, just as I had hoped.
Amidst this excitement, activities implemented in 1999 to innovate production led to a particularly groundbreaking transformation at Sony/Taiyo in terms of Monozukuri. Until then, it had taken up to around twenty employees to assemble a single microphone. However, we established a customized cell system that enabled individual employees to assemble the entire microphone all by themselves. Soon, we found that with a little creative originality, even high-performance microphones such as the C-38B, C-800G, and MDRCD900 could be assembled by a single person. We also grew financially, with our revenue increasing threefold. As a result, we received an award for excellence in the Manufacturing and Production Process Category of the 'Monodzukuri Nippon Grand Awards' held by the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry in 2007, followed by the 'CEO Award' special prize from then-President and CEO of Sony, Sir Howard Stringer, in 2008. We successfully created an environment in which, by making small changes or tweaks, people with disabilities could perform the same tasks as able-bodied persons. In January, 2008, we held a ceremony to mark the company's 30th anniversary. Sony/Taiyo had grown from a small outfit of just 17 employees to 180 colleagues, and I felt proud to think that we were now ready to advance to the next stage. I declared that we would utilize our experience to make Sony/Taiyo a model for the future, in which society could view able-bodied people and those with disabilities as equals - a society of inclusion.
It only takes us, as people with disabilities, a fraction longer than able-bodied people to accomplish daily tasks. But, my greatest goal was always to work during my lifetime. In years gone by, there was a time in which it was not acceptable for people with disabilities to work, but I have been blessed to live in an environment with no barriers to carrying out daily activities, in which people like me can be treated like any other person. For 36 years, I have been able to work and live my life as one of Sony's employees. I might be dreaming to think that I have been able to work just like any other person, but the fact is that we must ensure that the concepts we have put into practice are not limited to Sony/Taiyo, but rather that Sony/Taiyo can be used as a model to enable other people with disabilities, who have not yet had an opportunity to work, a chance to achieve their goals. I hope that one day soon, our society will become truly inclusive, and I know that no effort must be spared, even if it takes another ten or twenty years.