As I write this, it‘s late Thursday night, and soon it will be Thursday morning. I‘m on a plane over the Pacific Ocean, fast approaching the International Date Line, typing away on my notebook computer and probably keeping the Brazilian turn-signal salesman sitting beside me awake. My 70-hour visit to Japan has been glorious and all too brief, but I look forward to returning home. I‘ll arrive in Charlotte on Thursday afternoon, of course.
Wednesday was the second and final full day that Korg hosted an international group of MI-industry journalists and distributors, many (including yours truly) visiting Japan for the first time. Japanese companies have a reputation for being very private about how they run their businesses, and Korg has demonstrated genuine corporate bravery by breaking the mold and letting so many outsiders have a protracted peak behind the curtain. I had a chance to bond with product reviewers and editors from the U.K., Italy, China, Australia, and several other countries I can‘t remember at the moment (though I‘ve asked Korg to send me a list). The other two U.S. magazine editors were my friends Ernie Rideout from Keyboard and Craig Anderton from EQ, Harmony Central, et al. The entire group stayed at the Century Hyatt Tokyo, a hotel I can easily recommend if you ever find yourself in the Shinjuku district and in need of comfortable lodging.
After breakfast at the hotel, the group gathered for our second bus ride to Korg HQ. Once back in the presentation room surrounded by top-secret gear, we spent the morning asking questions and getting answers about the wealth of new products Korg will publicly unveil on January 18. Until then, however, we are all sworn to secrecy. Like the previous day, Jerry Kovarsky and John McCubbery led the session (after all, it was those two guys who dreamed up and planned this mass invasion). The only two products I can tell you about right now are the MR-1 and MR-100 1-Bit Mobile Recorders, which made their debut at the AES show in October. The MR-1 has just begun production and is expected to be available in the U.S. in February, with the MR-100 following soon thereafter. I suppose I could also tell you that I wanted to own literally every new product I saw.
Korg‘s original plan was to set up interviews with selected employees immediately after the Q&A. I expected that would be my best opportunity to record conversations I could post on emusician.com as podcasts. I was hoping to interview some instrument-design engineers and members of Korg‘s international synth-voicing team about the product-development cycle–for example, exactly what are the stages leading to a new synthesizer‘s introduction? (And lest you think I‘m hinting that one new product is a synth, I planned the questions before I arrived in Tokyo, and I had no idea what I was going to see.) I had all my questions ready, and I also wanted to learn more about 1-bit recording. Unfortunately, the Q&A ran long, and Korg had planned too many activities to fit into a single day. As soon as the Q&A was over, it was time to get back on the bus and begin a guided tour of Tokyo. Mr. Katoh, the founder of Korg and our illustrious host, joined us on the bus for the remainder of the day.
Our first stop was a lunchtime banquet at an American-themed restaurant serving Japanese food and called, oddly enough, Christmas. Afterwards, we journeyed across town to visit an ancient Buddhist temple called Senso-ji. During the trip, our tour guide pointed out various Tokyo landmarks such as the full-size Japanese version of the Eiffel Tower called Tokyo Tower. And even though the area leading up to the Buddhist temple was full of small shops selling tourist trinkets, the temple itself was pretty cool and I enjoyed taking photos. It was raining and beginning to get dark by the time we reached our next destination, a sprawling and brightly lit shopping district called Electric City. It was just how I‘d always pictured downtown Tokyo from what I‘d seen in movies, like something from Bladerunner but all shiny and new. Every kind of consumer electronics, software, music, and movies were being sold. Our tour guide gave the group an hour to go exploring on our own. I ended up in a store selling new and used MIDI gear, but nothing tempted me to take it home.
I hadn‘t even finished digesting my lunch when it was time for dinner, the grandest feast of all. Words could barely describe such a cross-cultural culinary experience; suffice it to say that two master chefs were also the entertainment and the servers, thanks in part to their loud shouting and long paddles on which they could balance food and drinks from seven or eight feet away (if anyone is interested, let me know and I‘ll upload some photos and video clips that captured the moment). I‘ll say one thing about the Japanese: they sure know to throw a party and make their guests feel welcome. Many thanks to Korg for showing us all a very good time and patiently answering all our questions about products past, present, and future.
Oh, and about all those new products I can‘t tell you about? Let’s just say that next month’s NAMM show will be particularly exciting for Korg and its customers. I promise to spill the beans about everything on January 18, so stay tuned and don‘t forget to climb back on The Bus.