Chapter11   "Duped by Esaki?"

"Duped by Esaki?"

Land at Hodogaya,Yokohama
being prepared for the Sony
Research Center.

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.

The Eccentric Director

The Sony Research center in 1961.

Just three weeks after the completion of the Atsugi plant, the groundbreaking ceremony for the Sony Research Center was held on November 22.

The research laboratory building was a modern three-story ferro-concrete facility set on 28,100 square meters of land. Since the architectural considerations that restricted the design of the transistor plant were not a concern, it was simply decided to commission an outside designer to do the work. All for the idea, Ibuka even took the time to contact Junzo Yoshimura from Haneda Airport before leaving on a business trip to the U.S. Yoshimura was an up and coming architect who had worked on a famous mountain resort in New York and later on the renovated Imperial Palace.

A typical scientist, Hatoyama was not fussy. He would be content as long as the lab had rooms and the necessary equipment. A little inconvenience was no concern. Architect Yoshimura, however, was taking great pains in designing the layout, including "walking lines" and other esoteric features. "You have to hand it to this professional," thought Hatoyama, who found this whole design process absolutely intriguing.

Hodogaya is an area with many hills and ridges, and rice paddies which dot the valleys. The lab was built in a Y-shape on a leveled hill called site A. The construction company strengthened the foundation on the cut-away areas, but this area was still extremely weak, perhaps due to bad tamping. In fact, this later led to cracks in the ceilings and persistent rain leakage.

One of the hallmarks of the laboratory was the overpass which Sony built from the Hodogaya Bypass to the lab grounds. Initially the bridge was to be made with steel girders, but at Ibuka's suggestion the relatively new PS concrete building technique was used. An investigation of available methods showed that PS concrete was by far the cheapest.

The most difficult part of PS construction was laying the girders. This involved first laying girders on the buttress within the research grounds, then building the next 33.7x1.5m, 65t PS concrete girder on top of this. The newer girder was then pushed out to the next buttress while being supported by ropes. On weekdays, construction took place between four and seven in the morning before traffic became too heavy.

During construction, two members of the Sony building repair and maintenance section stayed overnight at the research center in order to supervise the early morning laying of the first girders outside the property and ensure that the Expressway Public Corporation's directive to avoid danger or inconvenience to traffic on the expressway was followed. The four 1.5 m wide girders were laid without any problems over the following four days. To the surprise of the Sony staff, Hatoyama also joined them, complete with an 8mm camera to capture the bridge-building process on slow speed film. The building repair and maintenance crew could not help admiring Hatoyama's gung-ho spirit, unusual as it was.

In all, the bridge took ten months and 42 million yen to build. In 1961, just prior to completion, it was christened the "Sony Bridge." The 69m-long, 6m-wide bridge painted in Sony's colors was to be the main link between the research laboratory, the main plant at the Sony head office and the Atsugi plant.