Masaru Ibuka, Founder of SONY, Obituary for NATURE


Masaru Ibuka obituary in NATURE by Gerhard Fasol

After Masaru Ibuka (井深大) died on December 19, 1997, NATURE asked me to write an obituary about Masaru Ibuka, which was published in Nature on February 26, 1998, and you can download the article as a pdf-file here. The reference is: Gerhard Fasol, “Obituary: Masaru Ibuka (1908-97)”, Nature 391, p. 848 (26 February 1998).

Masaru Ibuka obituary in NATURE by Gerhard Fasol – the background

I used several weeks of my spare time to research and write this obituary. For example, I worked to reach and talk with several people who had met Ibuka in person, since I had never personally met Ibuka. As another example: General McArthur’s Government of Japan wanted to communicate with the population of Japan via radio, however, radio receiver production in Japan was very inefficient at that time due to quality problems, leading to very low yield. So General McArthur’s Government brought Quality experts Homer Sarasohn and Charles Protzmann to Japan to teach classes in quality management. I found out that Ibuka was a keen student of these quality classes. To understand this better, I phoned with a retired officer of General McArthur’s Government, and I also found relatives of Homer Sarasohn, who very kindly gave me a lot of information about Homer Sarasohn’s work in teaching quality management in Japan.

Debunking some myths about SONY and Masaru Ibuka

Interestingly, there is a lot of misunderstandings and myths around SONY, some of which I clarified in the Nature obituary for Masaru Ibuka.

Myth: Akio Morita is the founder of SONY

Reality: SONY was founded as Tokyo Tsushin Kenkyusho (the Tokyo Communications Laboratory) by Masaru Ibuka and by Akio Morita, who are the two co-founders of Tokyo Tsushin Kenkyusho, the company name was later changed to SONY.

Myth in Japan: Many people in Japan think that SONY is an American company

Reality: SONY is a Japanese company with headquarters in Tokyo-Shinagawa. The reason why many people think that SONY is an American company, is that SONY’s company name and brand name in Japan is written in Katakana, while traditional Japanese companies always write their company in Chinese characters (Kanji). (Note however, that Nissan President Carlos Ghosn, says that companies have no nationality).

Myth: Nobel Prize winner Leo Esaki discovered the tunnel diode, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize, at IBM

Reality: Leo Esaki discovered the tunnel diode as a researcher at Tokyo Tsushin Kenkyusho, which later changed the company name to SONY. Leo Esaki then moved to IBM Yorktown Heights R&D labs, and was awarded the Nobel Prize while working at IBM for his discovery of the tunnel diode, which he discovered while working at Tokyo Tsushin Kenkyusho.

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