Chapter7   Is 'Pocketable' Japanese-English ?

Is 'Pocketable' Japanese-English ?

The TR-63 pocketable
transistor radio.

Around this time, Totsuko added a number of new models to its range of transistor radios. The TR-81, brought out at the end of 1956, was chosen by NHK for use by schools in remote areas. As a result, Totsuko received orders through NHK from 200 schools all over the country.
Totsuko had another revolutionary product concept up its sleeve, one that would surely capture the public's imagination. This was to be the world's smallest transistor radio, the TR-63 pocketable radio. The introduction was set for March 1957.

The TR-63 soon earned a good reputation. It measured up favorably against the Regency TR-1 model, which had beaten Totsuko's transistor radio to become the world's first and, until the TR-63, had been the world's smallest. Compared to the 127x76x33mm dimensions of the TR-1 and its four transistors, the TR-63 measured 112x71x32mm and used six transistors for better recetion and output. The TR-63 also consumed less than half the power. The selling price of 13,800 yen equalled the monthly paycheck of the avarage Japanese salary earner.

It seems that when the TR-63 came out, radios small enough to be slipped into a pocket were known in the US as "pocket" radios. Today the word "pocketable" appears in English dictionaries. We now use it without a second thought, but who would ever guess that it originated as a Japanese-English term invented by Totsuko when it launched the TR-63?

Unfortunately though, the TR-63 was just barely larger than the pocket on a typical businessman's dress shirt. The catch phrase would have lost its punch --- except for a little ruse on Morita's part. He had shirts custom-made for his salesmen featuring a slightly larger pocket.

So intense was popular interest in the new pocketable radio that 50 of them were issued as "the first TR-63 off the line." Logically, of course, there can only be one "first off the line," but because Totsuko's fans were so enthusiastic to own "the first off the line" 50 of them ended up being supplied.

One other unforgettable aspect of the TR-63 was that it was the first transistor radio model to be exported. The export price was $39.95. It was such a success that regular shipments could not keep up with year's-end demand, and a JAL plane had to be chartered to air-freight a large consignment. The November 16 Asahi Shimbun carried the following report:

This steady expansion into the export market owed a great deal to Morita's August 1957 trip to the US, when he concluded a long-term agreement with Agrod Co. to serve as agent for several Totsuko products including a couple of Sony radios known as the "Baby-corder," and the "Transear."

The Neon lights of Sukiyabashi

The Sukiyabashi neon sign.

The agreement with Agrod naturally called for use of the Sony trademark. This was something Morita had always insisted on, and it was to prove extremely significant.

Most Japanese radio manufacturers at that time sold their products in the US under an American maker's brand name. In those days, the only Japanese products accepted in their own right as high-quality items were Nikon and Canon cameras. On other goods, the label "Made in Japan" termed synonymous with cheap junk. Totsuko took the bull by the horns and risked using its own brand name because it wanted to make Sony products known and admired around the world. Moreover, Totsuko was confident that it could achieve this.

The end of 1957 witnessed another event that boosted the visibility of the Totsuko brand name: a Sony neon sign in Sukiyabashi. This site was especially significant as it marked the hub of Tokyo's upscale Ginza district.

From 1955, when Totsuko first began using the Sony name, brand recognition had been slowly gaining ground. Ibuka and the management were constantly aware of the need to make their name better known----in short, to advertise. And if they were going to invest in a neon sign, it had better be in a prominent place. While they were making inquiries here and there, they learned from one of their advertising agencies that they could rent space on the Sukiyabashi corner (where the Sony Building now stands). It was a shabby building, but a great location. Sukiyabashi Bridge, made famous overnight by a radio serial, was still in existence. It was a place that everyone in the country knew about.

Totsuko had its site. The sign was next. First Totsuko studied Morita's home movies of the neon lights and billboards of Broadway. Each was striking in its own way: the famous Camel sign with its smoker puffing out perfect smoke rings; Pepsi Cola's showpiece with its hundreds of thousands of lights; and Admiral TV's news flashes, to name a few. Resolving to match these in splendor, the company commissioned designs from four leading neon sign makers in Japan. They reviewed the resulting 19 designs over a four-day period, reaching a decision in the boardroom on October 20. But there was little time to congratulate themselves, as the team had strict instructions to have the sign up by December 10. The Sukiyabashi building which was to display the sign had been left in bad shape by the war and required considerable reinforcement. Furthermore, the wall was still occupied by Singer Sewing Machine and Furuya Caramel signs which the advertisers were supposed to have taken down. With these and other problems to contend with, work was continually delayed until there were only 20 days left for the construction. It was a real rush job.

The lighting ceremony took place on a freezing December 19. The assembled employees waited, wrapped in blankets, to see the sign illuminated. At 5:01 p.m. Ibuka threw the switch and the neon Sony sign sparkled against the night sky.

The giant sign measured 9.75x10.9m and weighed 2,250kg. Each letter of the word SONY weighed 262.5kg. The cost, including the steel reinforcement and space rental, ran to approximately 20 million yen. Despite its cost, the sign would soon prove its worth. By sheer good fortune, on New Year's Eve the giant Sony ad was relayed by NHK television throughout Japan. What a publicity break! Just as an annually televised singing contest was followed by a rendition of "Ring Out the Old Year, Ring in the New," the neon sign flashed onto the screen as an example of a nighttime scene in Tokyo. Ibuka, who was watching the program, was delighted. Totsuko had just recouped its costs.

Sony Corporation

The trademark use in 1955

January 1958 signaled a new departure for Totsuko as it adopted "Sony" as its corporate name.

The question of whether to make the brand and company names the same had long been debated. Three years had passed since the Sony label was first applied on Totsuko products
--- a time lapse suggesting that a great deal of careful thought had been given to the change.

Totsuko's principle bank, Mitsui, took immediate exception to the idea. "It's taken you ten years since the company's foundation to make the name Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo widely known in the trade. After all this time, what is your intention by proposing such a nonsensical change?" Many of the company's own staff sympathized --- they could not accept the proposed change either. This question of name recognition troubled Ibuka and Morita more than anyone. They knew "Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo" was not readily understood overseas. In the past they had tried translating the name as Tokyo Teletech or Tokyo Telecommunications, but this did not solve the problem of pronouncing "Totsuko," nor did the name indicate what the company did. In Japan the existing name was working just fine. And the company had made its mark as a leading manufacturer of tape recorders, accounting for 90% of Japan's total production in terms of value.

And even after the brand name Sony came into use, the company was commonly known as "Totsuko, makers of Sony." The company still felt a certain pride and fondness for the name they had labored to build.

" It'll enable us to expand worldwide," Morita would say when asked by both insiders and outsiders about the reason for the change. "That's why we're going through the trouble of making ourselves the Sony Corporation." This was the crux of the matter as far as Morita was concerned.

Some suggested "What about Sony Electronic Industries, or something with 'electric' in it?" Morita was firm. They would stick with Sony Corporation. He was against including any form of "electric" in the name. Since its inception, Totsuko had developed a succession of different products --- tape recorders, transistors, transistor radios --- and they could very well branch out in some new direction again. It might not be electric-related at all. It could be planes or cars. In fact, no one --- not even Ibuka or Morita --- could define the company's sphere, or predict what they might be making in a couple of years' time. In view of the company's nature, Morita was no doubt correct in insisting on flexibility. Both Chairman Bandai and President Ibuka gave their approval.

The domestic sales firm, Totsuko Shoji, had changed its name to Sony Shoji the previous year and business was better than ever. And by that time, the Sony trademark was more readily recognized than the company name had ever been. Morita had taken the long view: "There'll be some confusion at first, but only immediately before and immediately after the changeover. Give it a while and we'll have nothing to worry about."

For the sake of the future, Totsuko cast off the name it had campaigned so hard, and so successfully, to sell to clients over the past ten years. This was more than a ploy to make the company better known. It represented a commitment by Morita and the others, a resolve to show the world that they could do it. And, as Morita had envisaged, Sony's reputation grew around the world.

How to Succeed by Being Robbed

Discussions centering
on radio design.

But the biggest single boost to Sony transistor radio fame was a New York burglary. In September 1957, Agrod, the audio giant, had been signed on as the exclusive US agent for Sony radios and had established a sales network. Agrod had since made good use of the Delmonico International sales network, based in New York's Long Island, to distribute the radios across the country. The name Sony was becoming synonymous with top quality in transistor radios.

On January 13, 1958, Hiroshi Tada, who was in New York preparing for the opening of a Sony office, came home from work and turned on the radio just in time to hear a news report that 4,000 Sony radios had been stolen from Delmonico. Hardly able to believe his ears, he phoned Shido Yamada. "Yes," she said, "I heard it, too."

The next morning's New York Times newspaper carried the bold headline: "4,000 Japanese Transistor Radios Stolen From Delmonico Warehouse." According to the article, Delmonico's offices and warehouse were situated on a busy thoroughfare called the "Shopping Yard." At the busiest hour of the day, 6 p.m., the thieves had broken in through an upstairs window. A team of four or five men had boldly driven a truck up to the doors and loaded it with stolen goods. Moreover, the warehouse had been stacked high with other manufacturers' radios which were left untouched. The thieves had taken only 400 cartons, each containing ten TR-63s. The loss amounted to $100,000.
For better or worse, Sony's name was in the headlines. A daring break-in, the biggest radio heist in history --- and the discriminating thieves had taken only Sony products. The brand name was on New Yorkers'lips that January.

TR-610 the world's
smallest AM radio
was sold with speakers
at the time.

For some time the burglary was the sole topic of conversation wherever Tada went. People teased him about the effective 100% free publicity he had received and begged for the secret of being robbed so successfully. Poor Tada could only protest that the company had not wanted it that way.

Strange as it may seem, Sony was delighted by the burglary. On the other hand, their factory was hard-pressed to make up the replacement order for 4,000 units, and the Tokyo office was at wits end trying to make a supply shipment to replace the stolen units.

The TR-63 had attracted attention. But in June of that year, the still smaller and lighter TR-610 was introduced becoming the definitive export model. With its innovative design and superior performance, the TR-610 fared well overseas even before it hit the Japanese market. Between 1958 and 1960,it sold half a million sets worldwide (including Japan). It made such an impact that leading department stores and quality specialty stores overseas were vying to create TR-610 displays. At one time the radios were traded at a premium, and some Japanese manufacturers even reimported them from the US to produce imitations. The popular demand for this model was the decisive breakthrough for the Sony name overseas.