Secret Weapons of Commodore - the Japanese Remixes

The Japanese Remixes

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Intending to use pictures or text from this page? Please read this notice. Last modify 29 December 2004.
Almost this entire entry is thanks to Hidehiko Ogata (and a little help from Dan Benson, Markus Mehring, Marko Makela, William Levak and Peter Karlsson). Domo arigato, Ogata-san! There are also some interesting observations on the history and contributions of Commodore Japan in this interview with Michael Tomczyk, one of Commodore's significant executive driving forces during the early 1980s.

The Japanese VIC-20
Views of the Japanese VIC-20 (VIC-1001) (.jpg, courtesy Dan Benson)
Portrait and Peripherals (33K) | Portrait and Box (34K) | Backplate (20K) | Screenshot 1 (53K) | Screenshot 2 (77K)
Additional Views of the Japanese VIC-20 (VIC-1001) (.jpg, courtesy Peter Karlsson)
Portrait (22K) | Keyboard Closeup (11K)

VIC-1001 Literature (.jpg, courtesy Dan Benson)
Some very amusing Commodore Japan blurbs on the VIC-1001, including a football-themed campaign (96K) showing off the "team" of Commodore VIC-20 peripherals, and a new product announcement (86K), stating its original purchase price of 69,800 yen (approximately US$275 at prevailing rates).

aka VIC-1001, VC-1001
Introduced October 1980
Hardware, Graphics and Sound Standard VIC-20; old version -02 Kernal ROM. This ROM has a different fill byte [$aa, not $ff] and five distinct code areas that are NOPped out in the contemporary VIC-20 -06 NTSC-M Kernal based on Marko's analysis; William reports these seem to be in the screen editor and serial bus routines. His further analysis shows the upper-case character set is the same, but the "lower-case" set has upper-case letters and katakana for the SHIFTed letters and the Commodore key graphics (see the closeup; mind-altering substances may be needed for the best view ;-). Amusingly, the British pound sign has been replaced with a yen symbol, and the system messages are still in English.
Eventual Fate Released to modest success in the Japanese market before the micro craze of the mid-1980s; paved the way for the Japanese 64 and the Max Machine.

See the Comments on the Japanese 64 for comments on both machines and the brief and unfortunate history of Commodore Japan.

According to Tomczyk, portions of the VIC-20 and VIC-1001 software were designed by Commodore Japan engineer Yoshi Terakura and his development team.

The Japanese Commodore 64
.jpg Advertisement for the Japanese Commodore 64 (68K, original scan by Markus Mehring, heavily cleaned up by me)
Views of the Japanese Commodore 64 (.jpg, courtesy Hidehiko Ogata; colour-corrected)
Full Portrait (41K) | Keyboard Closeup (47K) | Backplate (15K)

Introduced 1983
Hardware Somewhat different (and incompatible) Kernal and BASIC to accomodate Japanese katakana characters, 46 total (plus punctuation, diacritics, etc.); many graphic characters replaced in the Char ROM with the new Japanese characters. Breadbox case and original brown keycaps; SHIFT-LOCK replaced with C= LOCK for the purpose of getting at the katakana; modified keycaps to show the new characters with the colour keys no longer present and the remaining graphic characters significantly rearranged. Machine started up in English but different colour scheme (Markus seems to think it was black on pink).
Graphics and Sound Identical to the breadbox 64.
Eventual Fate Released approximately 1983 at MSRP 99,800 ¥ (according to the ad; at prevailing exchange rates, this was just under US$400); contemporary of the Max Machine. Lasted barely six months.

Hidehiko has a Japanese 64 keyboard but with the U.S. Kernal and BASIC ROMs.

Headed by Sam Tramiel, Jack Tramiel's eldest son, with vice-president Taro "Tony" Tokai as de facto chairman, Commodore Japan had an initially bright but ultimately brief and sorrowful history during the early 1980s. The VIC-20 was actually released first in Japan as the VIC-1001 (ostensibly because Tramiel, still smarting over the spanking the sinking PETs were getting at the hands of Apple and Tandy, considered the US market "fickle"). Released in the familiar 5K RAM form, the VIC-1001 was heavily customised for the Japanese market, including Japanese katakana where Commodore key graphics normally appear, but does not appear to have a C= LOCK key like the Japanese 64 does.

The VIC's plunge into the Far East computer world was reasonably successful, not least of which because of its favourable pricepoint and few competitors early on. Unfortunately, the later Japanese 64 and its ill-futured contemporary, the Max Machine, met a much more dire fate thanks to the cutthroat Japanese home computer market during the middle of that decade. By that time, Hidehiko states, almost all the major domestic electronics firms were selling their own proprietary microcomputers already and usually cheaper than the 64, not to mention the MSX machines which had come out around this time as well. After the dust had cleared, the 64s were really only available at junk shops; Commodore Japan gave up and started selling off their inventory at fire-sale rates to cut their losses.

The Japanese 64 and the Ultimax were not the only things Commodore Japan sold or made that had poor market response; they were also responsible for the design of the moribund 116.

Despite this fantastic market failure, the 64 managed to stay present in the Japanese market thanks to a few dedicated users who noticed the success of the 64 back in the States and Europe. Imported software started to trickle in, too little too late to be sure, but a small number of enthusiasts managed to keep the torch burning.