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The world's best technology was in Japan: NEC's state-of-the-art equipment heralded the start of the Shōwa Era

April 29 is Shōwa Day, a national holiday, in Japan. It is the birthday of Emperor Shōwa, who is the grandfather of the current Emperor. It is a holiday celebrated to "look back on the Shōwa Era (1926 to 1989), which saw Japan's revival after a turbulent period, and to wish a bright future for the country." The Shōwa Era began nearly a century ago. NEC's state-of-the-art technology contributed greatly to reporting the news of the beginning of the era.

Surpassing Europe and America with independently developed technology

The imperial accession ceremony of Emperor Shōwa was held in Kyoto in November 1928. Many people longed for this day that marked the end of the mourning period for the death of Emperor Taishō, when it was finally time to celebrate the beginning of a new era, the Shōwa Era.

The day of the ceremony would have been broadcast live today, but at the time when there was no TV broadcast, even sending photos quickly for publishing in newspapers was a big challenge. Japanese newspapers planned to use a "phototelegraphic device" to deliver papers with the photos of the ceremony to their readers. A phototelegraphic device is a device corresponding to the prototype of the facsimile. Newspaper companies planned to introduce Western equipment, which was considered to be the most advanced at the time.

However, when the Tokyo Nichinichi Shimbun (now the Mainichi Shimbun) conducted tests, they found that the "state-of-the-art" technology they were looking for existed in Japan. NEC's NE-type phototelegraphic equipment, which it had succeeded to develop using its own technology in May of that year, was found to have the highest performance in terms of image clarity and transmission speed.

Tokyo Nichinichi Shimbun quickly decided to use this device. Images of the ceremony were successfully transmitted from Kyoto to Tokyo to adorn the pages of the newspaper. At the time, the images were clearer than those of the state-of-the-art foreign-made phototelegraphic equipment, showcasing to the world not only the beginning of the Shōwa Era, but also the excellence of Japanese technology.

Transmitted photograph of Emperor Shōwa's enthronement ceremony

The 35-year-old Technology Division Manager who led the development became one of the "Ten Great Japanese Inventors."

Even though Japan had achieved modernization, it was still lagging behind Western countries in terms of technology. The development of proprietary technologies must have been an exciting challenge for young engineers in those days.

Yasujiro Niwa, who was 35 years old at the time and head of the Technology Division at NEC, was leading the development efforts. Focusing on the future potential of photo transmission technology early on, in 1927, Niwa established the Transmission Department within NEC and proceeded with the development of the technology for commercialization.

Years later, in 1985, Niwa was selected by the Japan Patent Office as one of the Ten Great Japanese Inventors.

Communication technology for transmitting data has been progressing steadily from the Shōwa to the Heisei, and to the Reiwa eras. As one of the world's leading companies in the field of high-speed, high-capacity 5G technology, NEC has been taking on the challenge to achieve further innovation. NEC's founding spirit of always pursuing "better products, better services" for customers and society has been continually passed on through the generations as the core of the NEC Group DNA.

Yasujiro Niwa (left) and Masatsugu Kobayashi (right). Kobayashi worked with Niwa on the development, and later became a senior managing director.