Sightseeing In The Micro Emporium - View From Japan

Pick up just about any business magazine that makes it to this side of the world, and sooner or later you'll come across an article prophecying gloom and doom and the coming shake out in the computer market. In Japan, at least one maker that got shaken-out early has found a unique way to survive.

The company is Omron Teisai, a maker of minor IC products like digital alarm clocks. When it ventured into computer manufacturing, it proved to be less than successful. The company quickly got out of other manufacturing and turned its Ginza office into a nine storey computer superstore to handle the products of those makers who still reckon there is a buck to be made in pumping out hardware.

The name of this electronic emporium is Micomdase, and in spite of, or maybe because of its high sounding name the staff selling the low-end product seemed to be up to the usual low standard of most computer retailers. For example, although samples of about 30 or 40 kinds of printer paper are displayed, the standard plain white both sides perforated samples aren't even stocked. If you wanted to buy it, it could, they assured me, be ordered, but the actual delivery date was a little uncertain. Nevertheless, it's a great place to go sightseeing.

Each of the floors has a special name and function - the ground floor is called Micom Joint Board and features a variety of games computers, like the Sord M5, the Tomy 16-bit Graphic Computer, Atari, plus a variety of marked down (40 to 50 per cent) PCs such as the Casio ST1100, which currently sells like hot cakes.

The second floor, or Hobby Life Board, offers a smorgasbord of hand-held and pocket computers including Epson, Sharp, Canon and NEC's offerings. In one display alone I counted 18 different sizes and shapes of monitors. For reference, the Apple IIe+ was listed at Y358,000, the Silent-type printer at Y15,000 and the Apple Disk 2 went for Y199,000.

There was also a cosmetically attractive unit from Yamaha, and the accompanying brochure listed other models with prices that were attractive, particularly coming from a maker with no track record. Tucked under a counter were some Vic 1000s (Vic 20s), but the maker, Commodore, has abandoned retailing in this market, according to rumours.

Floor three is called Intellectual Board and naturally features magazines and software. As for magazines, try these names for size: I/O, ASCII, Micomlife, OH MZ (for Sharp), OH PC (dedicated to NEC), BOS, Trigger, Login, DIC, Astec, Interface, Information, Cursor, plus a couple called IBM something or other. All of these titles are printed in English.

Moving upwards we next hit System World Board. And above that Business Soft and Hard Board. These two floors are where you see your heavy duty 8 and 16 bit units from the established makers. The latter too rich for my blood, and technologically way beyond my Japanese, I glide silently among the printers, keyboards, drive units, modems and what have yous bathed in the pale light of the monitors displaying their incomprehensible rows of Kanji text spreadsheets and graphic displays.

I also say a firm thanks that the heady floors above me are by invitation only, and that the cupsie copywriter who named the floors below ran out of ideas. Above me are offices, Schools/Siminar, Techno-office/Decision Room and Club/Saloon.

Fortunately for the likes of me, this fifth floor also offers a coffee shop where I can pursue Micomdase's somewhat dated brochure. Among the models I have seen on display it tells me are one Apple, six Casios, one Epson, three Fujitsus, three Hitachis, IBM, one Mitsubishi, three Matsushitas, seven NECs, three Okis, one Olivetti, four Sanyos, eight Sharps, five Sords, two Toshibas and a partridge in a pear tree.

And it comes to mind that, for a former computer maker out to survive the coming shake out, Omron has done a pretty good job of hedging its bets.