TADAO KASHIO, founder of the Casio computer company, lived a life that was a paradigm of the Japanese success story in the second half of this century. 'The road my life has taken and the road Japan has taken are very similar: moving forward, never resting, and always working very hard,' he wrote in his autobiography, Creativity and Contribution. And, like his country, Kashio started from very humble origins.
Born in 1917 to a poor farming family on Shikoku, the smallest of Japan's four main islands, the young Tadao remembered that his father only ate rice and taro, because the family had no money for better food. His life changed when the family moved to Tokyo in 1923, where his father sought work rebuilding the city after the Great Kanto Earthquake which devastated Tokyo in September that year.
After primary school, Tadao went out to find work, and at the age of 14 found himself working on a lathe in a machine-tools factory. But without a college degree he knew he could never rise very far in any company, so during the war he decided to form his own business, initially making aircraft components for Japan's war effort. After the war he made electric cooking-plates, cigarette- holders and anything else he saw a demand for, until he came across his first electric calculator at a business show in 1949 - a huge mechanical device which cost about the same as a car.
Tadao and his brother Toshio began to design their own calculator, relying more on electric circuits and less on mechanical parts - by 1956 they had made a machine that was 2ft high, 3ft wide and weighed over 200lb. The machine was refined for office use, the company grew and by the early Sixties Tadao Kashio was president of a company with 300 employees and sales of 600 million yen. By the mid-Sixties his calculators were down to 50lb and less - and then came the advent of integrated circuits, and with it, the 'calculator war', involving some 50 companies in Japan.
Kashio brought out the Casio Mini calculator in 1972 at a price that undercut the opposition; in 18 months he had sold 10 million units, and found his company no longer a mere manufacturer of office equipment, but a fully fledged producer of consumer goods.
He then moved into watches, just as digital watches became popular, and after that began manufacturing electronic keyboards - all based on the technology developed to make calculators. Meanwhile the 50lb calculator had been slimmed down to the size of a credit card and was selling all over the world.
In 1988 Kashio stepped down as Casio's president, handing power over to a younger brother, but continuing to act as an adviser. Three years later he went back to his home town in Shikoku to open a new Casio factory that had just been built there - 68 years after he left the town as the son of an impoverished farmer. 'I felt as though a burden I had been carrying all this time was lifted from me,' he wrote.