Japanese Computer Pioneers

Wada HiroshiWada Hiroshi

Wada Hiroshi was born on November 10, 1914, and graduated from Electrical Engineering Department, School of Engineering of Tokyo Imperial University in March 1938. In the next month, he joined Electrotechnical Laboratory, Ministry of Communication of Japanese Government, and started his career with ETL's Third Division that was responsible for power engineering. In 1939, Wada volunteered to serve as a Naval technical officer, and was appointed a lieutenant. As the Second World War broke out, Wada remained with the Navy, and as it ended, returned to the ETL as a lieutenant commander. In 1951, the University of Tokyo awarded Wada a Degree of Ph.D. in Engineering for his thesis, entitled "Research on Electrode-type Electric Boiler," but his interest in research had shifted from power engineering to electronic engineering while he had been devoting himself to the development of radar technology in the Navy.

In August 1948, GHQ of the Occupation Force ordered the ETL to leave its Divisions of the electrical communications and to move itself with the rest to Ministry of Commerce and Industry. On the other hand, Wada was ordered by the Ministry to visit MIT during the academic year 1951-1952, and returned to the ETL, being deeply impressed by the remarkable progress in electronics in the U.S. The ETL having left communications Divisions was not lawfully allowed to do research in that area, but Wada insisted electronics was something else and an indispensable technology required Japan to live on industry. He succeeded in establishing Electronics Division within the ETL, and was appointed its first Director. During this negotiation, Wada produced a Japanese word "Denshi-Gijyutsu" that corresponded to "Electronics."

Wada decided to put an emphasis of the research on pulse technologies that can be interpreted today as digital technologies. The Electronics Division, to proceed with this policy, and to find applications of transistors that were soon to be manufactured in Japan, decided to develop a transistor computer. Takahashi Shigeru, Nishino Hiroji, and others were responsible for the development. Wada gave suitable guidance such as the adoption of hard glass delay line of Kinseki-sha for storage unit, and adoption of plug-in packages for accommodating components including transistors. This computer named ETL Mark III was completed in July 1956, and became the second stored program computer completed in Japan following the Fujic, and the first transistor computer in Japan. In those days when computer development was usually far behind the schedule, it was remarkable that Mark III was completed within a very short period, thanks in a great deal to the reliable storage unit, and to the ease of component replacement. Because Mark III suffered from unreliable early transistors of point-contact type, it was decided, as soon as reliable junction transistors became available, to build ETL Mark IV with the use of these, based on the self-confidence acquired by the speedy completion of Mark III. Mark IV had to employ slower storage unit because of the slower transistors, and it was decided to adopt a high-speed magnetic drum, vendors for which were selected by Wada based on his experiences with them. ETL Mark IV was completed in November 1957. Wada allowed its technologies transferred to NEC, Hitachi, Hokushin-Denki, and Matsushita Communication Industry, and helped Japanese computer industry develop.

In the spring of 1957, Wada started the research on English-Japanese Machine translation. Because Mark IV did not have enough storage capacity for this purpose, it was decided to develop a dedicated computer named "Yamato" with the use of magnetic drum of the largest capacity (820,000 bits) then available in Japan. Takahashi Shigeru and others did this development and completed it in February 1959. Wada supervised Ryouichi Tadenuma and others to do research on machine translation with the use of "Yamato." Before 1960, it became possible to translate English sentences as appeared in third grade junior high-school textbook into Japanese. This was the first research work on machine translation in Japan. Wada tried to develop an automatic reading machine of English to be used as an input machine for "Yamato," based on a principle to compare pattern of English characters with that of diode matrices. This was the very first trial of character recognition in Japan.

Wada read his papers on machine translation and automatic reading machine at the First International Conference on Information Processing in Paris in 1959. This Conference triggered the establishment of the International Federation of Information Processing (IFIP), but it was a problem for Japan that there was no academic society to represent itself in the IFIP. Therefore, Wada took a leadership to establish Information Processing Society of Japan (IPSJ) with Professor Yamashita Hideo as its first President. Wada produced a Japanese technical term, "Joho-Shori" corresponding to "Information Processing," and proposed to use it for the Japanese name of the Society.

Wada was keenly aware of the importance of electronic industry including computers for Japan to live on, and guided MITI to produce a bill for promoting this industry, and when the House of Representatives deliberated on it, he volunteered to answer their questions. A typical example of applications of this law was to establish Japan Electronic Industry Development Association (JEIDA). In 1964, when the University of Tokyo established its computation center, Wada was one of members of the committee to determine the computers for the center, and strongly advocated the importance to adopt Japanese computers. He carried his point, and contributed in activating Japanese industry.

Wada had a strong interest in the standardization of Information Technology from its beginning, and when international standardization of this technology commenced at ISO and IEC in 1961, he was very anxious for Japan not to be left as an international orphan in this technology, noticing that Japan did not have an appropriate organization to participate in the international activities. Therefore, Wada persuaded MITI to ask IPSJ less than a year old to accept this task. Since then, Wada had been in the position to direct this job in IPSJ, and the head of Japanese delegation to ISO and IEC in this field for more than 30 years. In addition, Wada was a Vice-Chairman of the ISO/TC 97 between 1984 and 1987.

Wada has been conferred the Order of the Secret Treasure with Neck Ribbon, and awarded an honorary membership of IPSJ. He is a Professor Emeritus of Seikei University, and an honorary President of Information Technology Standards Commission of Japan.

Wada died on February 8, 2007.

(Takahashi Shigeru)