Milestones:The First Word Processor for the Japanese Language, 1971-1978


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The First Word Processor for the Japanese Language, 1971-1978

At this site, between 1971 and 1978, the first Japanese-language word processor was developed. Researchers headed by Ken-ichi Mori created a wholly new concept of Japanese word processing. Their first practical system, JW-10, was publicly unveiled on 3 October 1978.[1] The JW-10, and improved versions, played a major role in advancing the Information Age in Japan, and provided the basis for Japanese-language word-processing software in personal computers.

There are two milestone plaques. They may be viewed at:

1) The entrance hall of Toshiba's Corporate Research and Development Center, Kawasaki, Japan,

2) Toshiba Development & Engineering Corporation, Solid Square East Building 18F, 580 Horikawa-cho, Sawai-ku, Kawasaki-shi, Kanagawa 212-0013, Japan, 35.53527, 139.6997

Japanese standard characters comprise kana (48 phonetic symbols) and kanji (over 6,000 Chinese ideographs), and both kana and kanji are needed to write normal sentences. Before the word processor for Japanese language was invented by Toshiba, it was not possible to compose typed documents in Japanese without the help of a professional typist. Automatic kana-to-kanji conversion was the key technology for selecting proper characters from thousands of kanji and kana characters. Many studies had been performed at universities and computer manufacturers in Japan to develop a practical kana-to-kanji conversion technology. The following are the most significant events in the development of the Japanese word processor up to the advent of the first product.

Jan 1967 Prof. Toshihiko Kurihara designs the fundamental kana-to-kanji conversion mechanism based on dictionary look-up and grammatical analysis.[2]This is the first research on kana-to-kanji conversion technology.

1971 Toshiba starts research on kana-to-kanji conversion.[3]

1972 Lexitron and Linolex introduce the first stand-alone word processor with a video display, which allows the user to compose and edit English text on the screen before printing the text.[4]

Dec 1973 Teruaki Aizawa designs a batch processing kana-to-kanji conversion system on a mainframe computer, IBM 360.[5] This system is a prototype for news articles, whose dictionary contains only 6,500 words.

May 1977 Sharp Corporation demonstrates a prototype of kana-to-kanji conversion,[6] but abandons development of a commercial system. The first product from Sharp is a Japanese word processor without kana-to-kanji conversion function.

Aug 1977 Toshiba presents a prototype of a Japanese word processor with kana-to-kanji conversion function, a kanji display and printer working on a minicomputer, TOSBAC-40C, at IECE's national conference in Japan.[7]

Sep 1978 Toshiba releases a system complete with a kanji display, keyboard and printer, having automatic kana-to-kanji conversion with a learning meachanism for homophone selection.[8]

Oct 1978 Toshiba demonstrates the Japanese word processor at Data Show, in Tokyo, Japan.

Feb 1979 Toshiba ships the first prodct, JW-10.

Toshiba succeeded in developing a practical kana-to-kanji conversion system with a machine-readable dictionary and grammatical analysis. The realized kana-to-kanji conversion was based on automatic word segmentation.[9][10] It enabled the user to input text simply using alphabetical keys corresponding to kana characters to get ordinary Japanese text written in kanji and kana. JW-10 became a de-facto standard method for Japanese text input.

Smaller Japanese word processors gave impetus to the spread of these machines not only to offices but also to homes. The annual production grew to 2, 710, 000 units in 1989 and 27% of Japanese home possessed one. While this was the year in which sales of Japanese word processors peaked, the cumulative sales since commercialization exceeded 30 million units in 2000.[6]

Nowadays kana-to-kanji conversion systems are working on several tens of millions of personal computers and also on 100 million mobile phones in Japan.

The success of Japanese word processors strongly influenced other countries' text processing systems. For example, a pinyin-to-Chinese conversion system was studied fro Chinese text input. The first Chinese word processor, MS-2400, was developed by a joint venture of a Chinese company, Stone, and a Japanese trading company, Mitsui & Co. in 1986.[11] In November 2006, Dr. Ken-ichi Mori, the key person in this development, was designated a "Person of Cultural Merits" by the Japanese government in honor of his work.

A small and inexpensive wire-dot impact kanji printer was developed.[12] A wire-dot impact printer has a print-head that bundles several pins in line, and these pins or wires driven by electromagnetic coils strike ink ribbon to print characters. To express correct kanji composed of the many strokes of complicated kanji characters and to avoid any incorrect characters, it is necessary to compose character patterns by at least 24 black and white dots arranged horizontally and vertically. So the print-head needed to have a bundle of 24 pins, which is more than twice that of conventional print-heads for English letters. By using 24 fine wires, each 0.2mm in diameter, and arranging them in zigzag pattern on the print-head, Toshiba succeeded in realizing a print-head as small as the print-heads for English letters, which can print characters of 3.85mm x3.85mm.

The kanji printer of JW-10 was a pioneer of 24-pin wire-dot impact printers, although it was an embedded one for a Japanese word processor. Clearly the increase of pin-count for printing kanji characters also permitted superior print-quality for English letters and graphics in comparison with the conventional 9-pin printers for English. By the mid 1980s, other manufactures had increased the pin-count from 9 pins to 18, or 24 for personal computers, too, and 24-pin printers were becoming popular worldwide owing to the high print qaulity. Before new printers such as inkjet printers appeared, the 24-pin printers were the most common printers for personal computers.

List of supporting materials included with nomination

  1. Koji Kodama, Jiro Yoshii, Ken-ichi Mori, and Tsutomu Kawada: The Japanese Word Processor JW-10, Information Processing 80, Proc. of IFIP Congress 80, pp. 139-143, Tokyo, Japan & Melbourne, Australia, 1980.
  2. Toshihiko Kurihara and Yoshiaki Kurosaki: On the Transformation Process of Phonetic Sentences into Ideographic Sentences in Japanese, Kyu-Dai Kogaku Shuho, Vol.39, No.4, pp. 659-664, January 1967 (in Japanese).
  3. Ken-ichi Mori: Research and Development of a Japanese Word Processor and Its Social Consequences, Commemorative Lecture on the Occasion of Receiving the Honda Prize, Honda Foundation Report, No.105, pp.18-34, November 2003.
  4. Thomas Haigh: Remembering the Office of the Future: The Origins of Word Processing and Office Automation, IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, Vol.28, No.4, pp.6-31, October-December 2006.
  5. Teruaki Aizawa and Terumasa Ebara: Mechanical Translation System of "Kana" Representations to "Kanji-Kana" Mixed Representations, NHK Technical Journal, Vol.25, No.5, pp.261-298, December 1973 (in Japanese).
  6. 6.0 6.1 Japanese Word Processor, IPSJ Computer Museum, Information Processing Society in Japan,,,, and (in Japanese), translated from the original pages.
  7. Yukihiro Furuse: History of the Development of the First Word Processor, Shincho 43, pp. 140-163. December 1992 (in Japanese).
  8. Denpa Shinbun September 27, 1978 (Japanese newspaper), translated from the original article.
  9. Tsutomu Kawada, Shin-ya Amano, Ken-ichi Mori, and Koji Kodama: Japanese Word Processor JW-10, Proc. of COMPCON Fall, pp. 238-242, September 1979.
  10. Kenichi Mori and Tsutomu Kawada: From Kana to Kanji: Word Processing in Japan, IEEE Spectrum. Vol.27, No.8, pp.46-48, August 1990.
  11. Qiwen Lu: China's Leap into the Information Age: Innovation and Organization in the Computer Industry, pp. 40-49, Oxford University Press, August 2000.
  12. Hiroshi Yamane and Teruo Kurihara: Kanji Printer, TH-2100M, Toshiba Review, Vol.34, No.5, pp.426-429, May 1979 (in Japanese).


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