That's just the tip of the iceberg...
As a little mark of his lateral
thinking, companies often hand out dull sh!t like mugs or mouse pads to their dealers as
promotional items. Not Jack! He had back-to-front wrist watches made up which, as well as
being quite stylish before Swatch even existed, were quite a mental challenge. Much to
everyone's dismay, he sponsored a motor racing team - the distributors thought he was mad
but it brought in so much business. Jack was always a bit 'out there'.
example, he had me over to Japan to debut and do the first presentation of the DD1500 ...
entirely in Japanese!! "For impact" - a tall, bearded 'gaijin' presenting a new
film/post-pro audio editor ... IN JAPANESE??? Had the audience doubly curious. Also, being
a 'gaijin', I could veer outside the normal Japanese formality expected at such an event
and be a bit irreverent, get a few laughs, raise a few eyebrows. I vaguely remember one
where I said (in J) "And with this button I can cut its arse off" (i.e top and tail the
back end of the recording). Had a Japanese done it, it would have been very formal and
stuffy but with a 'gaijin' doing it, Jack knew damned well that people would be talking
about the event all the more. It was a good move (and great fun to do I hasten to
Mr Hokkyou of R&D was the MC for the presentation and he also
sported a beard and so I messed with the notion of 'The Hige Brothers' ('hige' - ひげ -
pronounced a little like 'the N-word' and meaning 'beard') and we played off each other.
Jack loved it and it got a lorra lorra laffs and made the event more memorable for the
audience ... but it wouldn't have worked with a Japanese presenter who would have been all
polite J formality and bowing and 'please' and 'thank you, oh honoured customer' ... but
a mad 'gaijin' could pull it off and Jack knew that only too well.
challenged people (in a good way). At the simplest level, if we were in a J restaurant,
either just he and I or in a big group, he'd turn to me with a casual
"スティーブさん、皆から注文して 下さい" (please order for us) and would
drop me in it whether it was some high class exclusive place in Tokyo or a back street,
formica-tabled J restaurant by St Pancras station in London (actually one of the best he
ever took me to ... along with the one in Frankfurt where the sashimi was so fresh, it
wriggled on your tongue!).
We'd listen through hours of discussion at
meetings with the distributors about new products and features and he'd remain cooly
silent. And at the end, he'd look to me and mutter
"スティーブさん、どうかと思って いるの？" ("What are you thinking?" ...
and avoiding the text book J that some
'gaijin' distributor might
understand). I'd give him my thoughts (as best I could) and then he'd launch into a speech
in perfect English explaining things. And when we were done, he'd arise, flounce out in
great style and at the doorway, would beckon to me with a muttered "来てね" ("Come on -
let's go") and he and I would be off to some bar or a Korean restaurant, whatever (where
he'd have me read the J menu and order everything), and discuss the day ... or the latest
Harry Potter film ... and then off to some bar(s) for the rest of the night, staggering
back to the hotel just in time for the next day's meetings.
And we could be
at some trade show and in the hotel bar with the distributors and dealers, he'd make his
apologies to go to his room and another "来てね" to me and it would be off to the
Japanese suite where some serious liver damage would ensue with the rest of the lads from
And he could be very naughty at things like trade shows -
bombarded (and bored) with some crap, he'd claim "Me velly solly - no understand Engrish.
Purreez speak to Mr Steve"! Bastard!
The man could be serious as well, of course. He'd have me design something and although
he was a bit of a layman, when I showed the designs to him, he'd study and then say "Hmmmm
... XYZ をどうすればいいんですか？" ("Mightn't it be a good idea if we did
XYZ?"). Didn't tell you HOW to do it, just challenged you. Not just me but everyone...
from some lowly office worker to the MD of an international distributor - never
instructing, just advising, challenging, inspiring, making you think, re-consider, etc..
And he was equally respectful with the ladies who cleaned the office toilets as the
president of Sony!
But he was naughty in the trouser department as well.
Being a charmer, let's just say that he had a call in every port in his travels!
I agree that it's all too easy to think of the Japanese EMI people (R&D,
engineers, sales side, etc.) as faceless automatons working in spotless labs to bring us
this stuff but nothing could be further from the truth - they are mostly very passionate
about it and I have had many a long and boozy night (not just with Akai but other J
manufacturers) where the talk is - well - gear slut's banter!
But Jack was a
unique character, the type that only crops up once in a while. He was a curious mixture of
very cosmopolitan but also deeply traditional Japanese at heart, a bit 'out there' and
bonkers but also very shrewd. He was born for this business and may have withered and died
had he remained with TV/VCR/hi-fi Akai ... and Akai Professional may (would?) have
withered and died without him.
Great bloke was Mr Sugino - the little world
we inhabit in the biz we call 'music' could/would have probably been quite different - and
poorer - without him.
/ Music Lab Machines