Sony Archives ソニー歴史資料館

I’m a sucker for corporate museums — hey, it takes all kinds to make a world! — so I was delighted to stumble upon the Sony Archives on my way home from an interview at the wholesale flower market. (More on that another time.) You’re supposed to have a reservation but since it wasn’t crowded (that’s reception staff-speak for “not a soul in sight”) the front-desk ladies took my bags, gave me an English-language brochure and let me loose.

Sony was founded in 1946 by Ibuka Masaru and Morita Akio as Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo Co. The archive pays tribute to their visions and successes, but doesn’t shy away from a failure or two, including the prototype electric rice cooker in the photo above. When the war factories closed down, there was a temporary surplus of power in Japan. Ibuka tried to dream up appliances that could be powered by this electricity to make everyday life easier. He made this rice cooker by fixing a primitive heating element into the bottom of a wooden bucket, but fluctuations in the electricity made the cooking process unreliable. The rice came out overcooked, undercooked or generally nasty. Thank goodness they didn’t take that one to market.

I saw a lot of old friends among the Sony products from bygone years, including the stereo receiver my father had when I was in high school. I was tickled to see the ICC-500 Sobax “electronic abacus,” a desktop calculator launched in 1967. It’s the size of a portable typewriter and cost a whopping 260,000 yen (over $3,000 at today’s crazy exchange rate).

The Sony Archives is a 15 minute-walk from JR Shinagawa Station in Tokyo and is open 10 to 5 weekdays only. It’s free. Call ahead for a reservation — 03-5448-4455. Everything is in English as well as Japanese, and whoever wrote their English did a brilliant job. I’ve rarely seen such good, readable English in a Japanese museum. Geeks can pull out the drawers to get more detail on technology. Don’t miss the reel-to-reel tape recorders.

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