back to article Selling Apples to Japan: Complicated as a Nipponese typewriter

I'm an artist who's always been fascinated by computers - ever since junior high math club. My first computer was a plastic toy cogwork Turing machine called the DigiComp 1. I ran a mailing list on punchcards for the school newspaper. I used a PLATO IV - a PC before the era of microprocessors, whose storage ran on compressed …


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  1. MattW

    Nothing new then

    Looks like the Apple culture hasn't changed a lot (as evidenced with their vice-like control of newer 'i' devices).

    "I want to do this"

    "You can't"

    "But why, it's a great idea"

    "Because we say so"

  2. Aaron Em

    Apple squandered its leadership everywhere

    Why should Japan be any different?

  3. Arri

    Fantastic post, very insightful...

    but surely it would be better if it was entitled "How I saved Japan from a DOS/Wintel Tsunami"

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    First to support Japanese

    And yet they've never produced a proper UK keyboard. How strangely lazy of them

    1. Scott Mckenzie

      Depends what you're used to...

      ... to me the keyboard as standard on PC's is all wrong.

      1. StooMonster



        Why the anti hash hate on British keyboards Apple? Yes I know in Mac OSX I press alt_3 but when I run Boot Camp I don't know how to make it happen in Windows.

        My solution is to use Windows keyboard layout rather than the Boot Camp Apple keyboard layout, this means what's physically printed on key doesn't match what appears on the screen -- hey, I've typed for years, they could be blank in all honesty (for the most part) -- but it's still annoying.

        1. Scott Mckenzie

          See your point

          I don't use Boot Camp though and of the keys i use regularly, i don't use # on a PC and find the " mark to be far better located on a Mac....

          As i said, it depends on what you're used to, and clearly what you use regularly.

        2. jonathanb Silver badge

          Re: Except

          Have you tried Alt-Gr+3? That works for me most of the time. I needed a registry hack to make it work in the login screen, otherwise you need to use the standard PC layout keys.

    2. deadlockvictim Silver badge

      Except for pricing (of course)

      Britain is a part of the United States, therefore the British don't need their own keyboard.

  5. Anonymous Coward

    Very green!

    I'm all for recycling, but this is ridiculous!

  6. Anonymous Coward


    If the customers were spending $10k in computers, and still were making a profit from a trip over half the planet, I'm trying to wrap my brain around the cost of these Apples in Japan. $50k doesn´t seem far-fetched.

    You owe me another keyboard, but the WTF seems more appropriate right now.

    1. DZ-Jay

      Re: Geez...

      I can imagine it certainly being that expensive. Back in the late 80s, I had a friend that spent some time in Japan, and he told me that it wasn't uncommon to go to a night club and pay what equated to a couple of hundred Dollars to get in. And that was only the cover charge, drinks were equally expensive.

      Also, back in 1991 or 1992, I went skydiving to California, and there I met with a Japanese group that was enjoying the sport. One of the members of the group was the owner of a skydiving club/drop-zone in Japan, and he explained to us Americans how it was cheaper for them to travel to the USA, spend a month accruing thousands of Dollars in expenses for hotels, meals, and jumps; and that all of it was still cheaper than paying for a jump over there.

      I never knew the exact exchange rate, but I understood that in Japan, everything was excruciatingly expensive.


      1. Charles E


        This had a lot to do with the exchange rate. Between 1985 and 88, the exchange rate doubled between the Yen and the US Dollar, making the Yen worth twice as much. That was the basis of the "bubble economy." There were a few years where it made sense for Japanese corporations (and individuals) to buy anything that could be purchased with dollars.

  7. Pahhh

    @First to support Japanese

    Its a US problem methinks. They fail to reconginse a Pound Sign isnt a "#".

    1. Graham Dawson Silver badge


      Pound weight or pound sterling? # is generally considered to be a shorthand for pounds - we use lb for a similar purpose and, believe it or not, the # actually derives from the lb symbol. So # really is a pound sign, just not the *same* pound sign.

      And now I'm going to go away and see if there's some way to blame the EU for all this.

  8. kain preacher

    proper UK keyboard

    Why make a UK keyboard?

    I can see the mentality now . Why spend money making 2 types of keyboards used for English speakers.

    Lord Jobs use an American style keyboard, you need to emulate him .

    Or it could be they just don't give damn about the UK mac users. The theory being what , they are not going back to a PC.

    1. StooMonster

      Not quite

      Even Apple has the vertical upside L for an 'Enter' key on British keyboards, I can never get to grips with the long wide rectangular 'Enter' key on US ones.

      1. Anonymous Coward


        <Pedant>The upside down"L" key is a Carriage Return key, not an Enter Key. Offically different functions. </Pedant>

      2. yeehaw....


        I have an old IBM heavy metal keyboard around here from a 286sx that has that "L" for an enter key.

        Lovely thing, letters and keys that are still new looking, clack clack lol - suitable for beating the shit out of anything within range of the 6' coiled AT cable and going right back to work.

        Good Stuff.

        None because I can't think of anything witty right now - longish day in ITland.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

  9. Paul Bruneau

    This guy is a freaking genius

    Did he ever have an idea that wasn't amazing? I know some people who always tell stories where they are the hero and no one else gets it, but this guy takes the cake.

    1. CitizenX1
      Thumb Down

      No doubt

      I was selling computers for the Byte Shop in Seattle during this time period. Infoworld did a "Top 10 Retailers" in 1984 and Computerland in LA was not on that list. Computerland San Diego was there at number 6 with their 16 stores and the Byte Shop was at number 2 with 6 stores.

      No mention of any Computerlands in LA.

      1. Charles E

        CL SD

        This story is a bit later than 1984. Our group merged with CL SD and became the largest retailer in the world.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Excellent stuff

    Fascinating insight into dealing with a corporate mentality. When the gloss wears off Apple, which it inevitably will, I think it's highly likely that history will repeat itself.

  11. Inachu

    It was still kinda true even in the early 1990's

    I even met many japanese who still bought hardware in USA then buy the Japanese OS in Japan.

    Many AU Japanese student came to my help.

    I could have been east coast version of this guy in this article.

    I sure do miss Akiko!

    Nan da yo!

  12. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge


    In the UK in the 90s Macs were priced assuming 1GBP=1USD and only sold through official Mac stores.

    We used to support visiting US profs with Macs but nobody that hadn't worked int he states had one.

  13. bazza Silver badge

    Psion 5

    My brother lived in Tokyo for years, around about when the Psion 5 was shiny and new. So he got one, and a selection of third party tools that allowed him to handle Japanese text on it. It was terrific, apparently. He could travel round Japan with his Psion 5 and a mobile phone, do all his email, spreadsheeting and word processing in both Japanese and English and carry it all in his pockets [remember the 5's keyboard was pretty handy, and not really bettered yet for such small devices]. That's personally pretty valueable when you look at their trains in the rush hour. It's still pretty difficult / impossible to replicate that level of portability do today.

    His Japanese colleagues looked on in envy. They had to lug around heavy laptops running Japanese versions of Windows, etc. The reason? Psion neven made a version of the 5 series that was natively Japanese. The Japanese part was through third party apps only. So it was impossible for someone who spoke only Japanese to use a Psion 5.

    If Psion had done a Japanese version of the Psion 5 they would have sold millions of them in Japan, no trouble at all. Opportunity missed, definitely.

  14. nyelvmark

    So where's the story about... you were kicked out of art school for using computer graphics? It isn't at the linked address.

    1. Sceptic Tank Silver badge

      Just look at the "art"

      Just looking at that picture on that page tells the story of why he was probably booted out of art school.

  15. Scott L. Burson

    Ah, the Digi-Comp I

    I had one of those. Hadn't seen that mentioned in many years. Great toy.

  16. Anonymous Coward

    From personal experience ...

    I can tell you that Apple UK were no better to deal with in the early 90s when I ran a dealership.

    The fun started before you even applied to be a dealer.

    Apple: We need a 2 year business plan, and it has to detail what systems & quantities you'll be selling for the next two years.

    Dealer: And what systems will we have to sell in 2 years time ?

    Apple: We won't tell you.

    Dealer: How about in 2 months time ?

    Apple: Won't tell you that either.

    Dealer: So how can we tell you what we'll be selling then ?

    Apple: That's not our problem, but you still have to do it !

    When you did get past that hurdle (by some 'creative' forecasting), it became even more fun. You'd place orders for spares and they'd not arrive. After the third time you phone up and ask where some part has got to - only to be told that they don't sell them (even though it's in the parts book), and no they didn't see any point in telling you that they would be ignoring the order !

    Then after 3 months they refused to ship any new service parts because we hadn't paid the bills. Odd, we thought (or words to that effect !) as we'd been sending them cheques regularly. It turned out that they ran the service parts and finished goods accounts separately, and we were expected to tell them which we were paying - it wasn't enough to let them pay off the oldest invoices first. Of course they never told us this until we asked why they'd been paying off newer finished goods invoices and leaving older service parts bills until we hit a credit stop.

    At the product launch for the Classic, lc and si we were shown pictures of warehouses stacked high with the new Macs. "We have plenty of stock" they said. Talking to other dealers it was clear we mostly had the same thought - they'll have got the stock levels wrong again. As dealers we'd been telling them for years that if they introduced a no-frills budget model then it would fly out the door in vast quantities. Sure enough, when the Classic finally arrived (in relative terms it was a "budget" Mac), it did fly out the door and within a couple of weeks Apple had a backlog. "told you so" really doesn't do justice to what we collectively thought of their production planning !

    So 20 years ago it was a case of "nice products, shame about the company", nothing seems to have changed - except the arrogance factor seems to have gone up !

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Your amazing stories remind me of this man

    and death and war and pestilence and famine and hypocracy and envy, and greed, were banished, for all eternity...which was nice

  18. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    Japanese menus

    "All the shortcuts like Command-P and Command-S were the same in both languages."

    Hell, many of the menu entries are English loan words, written in kana. Half an hour with a Japanese 1 textbook, and a few hours of practice, and you could have read those.

    By the same token, wouldn't it have been worth spending a few hours with some traveller's Japanese language tapes, so that you could tell the Apple reps that you could speak a few phrases?

    Also, if memory serves, Sun started selling Sun-4s with the Suntools/SunView GUI in Japan in the mid-80s. Those may not have been "personal computers", but as desktop workstations they could reasonably be regarded as competitors for the Japanese-enabled Macs.

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