TRON Project Leader Ken Sakamura

Ken Sakamura is Professor of Information Science at the University of Tokyo, where he also serves as the Executive Director of the university's newly established Digital Museum. He's most famous as the originator, chief architect, and principle driving force behind the TRON Project. But in addition, he's an architect of buildings, a designer of computerized gadgets that defy the imagination, a consultant for technology projects in countries around the globe--which is not to mention Japan--and he's an author and editor of numerous computer-related books and magazines.

Professor Sakamura was born in Tokyo on July 25, 1951, which means he reached young adulthood just as Japan's "electronics boom" and "calculator wars" were starting to take place. Hopelessly fascinated by electronics, after graduating from high school, he enrolled in the Department of Electrical Engineering at Keio University from which he ultimately received his Ph.D. in 1979. He then entered the University of Tokyo as a teaching assistant in the Department of Information Science, and shortly afterwards he got his big break--he was asked by the Japan Electronic Industrial Development Association (JEIDA) to chair the Microcomputer Software Applications Experts Committee, the goal of which was to decide what Japan should do about the "microprocessor revolution" that had started to take place.

Unbeknownst to JEIDA officials at the time, Ken Sakamura is one "unusual Japanese," a man driven to do with computers what no man--or woman for that matter!--has done before. In fact, he could probably be best thought of as a citizen of Computopia first, and a Japanese second, or maybe Japan's ultimate "gadgeteer" who migrated from the future into the present. Whatever, he took the sleepy committee, which probably would have produced a ho hum report under someone else, and turned it into a launching pad to rocket Japan into the forefront of computer architecture development. As a result of his efforts, Japan has created two de facto real-time operating system standards--the ITRON and CTRON architectures, both of which are "open architectures"--and there is an excellent chance that a third de facto standard will emerge from the indefatigable efforts to turn the BTRON architecture, which is also an "open architecture," into a platform for advanced personal computing applications.

Although Professor Sakamura is defensive of Japan and doesn't want to see trade negotiators from foreign countries secure bilateral deals with the Japanese government that turn Japan into a technological "has-been," he is not a xenophobe, an ultranationalist, or a person with an axe to grind. Rather, he prefers cooperation with foreign countries and their corporations, which is why he made sure the TRON Project and its research results are open to anyone from anywhere in the world. In fact, he actually likes foreign people and their cultures. His automobile of choice is a Fiat, and he likes Scandinavian "wood culture," which he incorporated into his country home. Moreover, he accepts many foreign students to study under him at the University of Tokyo.

Professor Sakamura is a member of the Japan Information Processing Society (JIPS); the Institute of Electronics,Information and Communications Engineers (IEICE); the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM); and he is a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). His papers have won awards from JIPS, IEICE, and IEEE.

TRON Project Leader Ken Sakamura sits next to an experimental BTRON machine in this 1985 photograph. The machine pictured pioneered the electronic pen as a pointing device for moving the cursor via a digitizing pad between the user's wrists. This layout was later copied in many notebook computers due to its ergonomic efficiency, although most of those designs were based on the use of a track ball instead of an electronic pen and digitizing pad.