idioma started out on a small scale in 1980. The company was set up by a Swedish entrepreneur, Joel Brynte. Our first office space consisted of two modest rooms in then Sweden Center in Tokyo, Japan. I recall we were a core of 7-8 people, mostly translators. Our first clients were in the AV industry, which at the time was taking off with export of all kinds of VCRs, tape recorders, Walkmen, etc. All products needed manuals, promotional material, etc. and the main export markets at the time were the United States and West Europe. This has of course changed. Now the entire world is the market for Japan’s consumer products.
Typewriters and one very lonely fax
But at the time, things were different. There was no Internet, there were no mobile phones, and fax machines were just around the corner. 35 years ago, translation was done on typewriters writing on tracing paper – we had a few machines in the office, while freelance translators in those days had to invest in expensive electric typewriters that cost more than what you pay for a decent laptop today. Some of the better typewriters had a correction feature where you could easily “lift off” a typo with correction tape, although it was time consuming. When electronic typewriters saw the light of day, it was actually possible to type a full line on a green display, you could then correct typos easily by stepping back, then print the full line by hitting Enter. What a productivity boost!
I think we got our first fax, a Ricoh G3 unit about a year or so later. It was as big as a fridge, had heavy paper rolls and sticky toner you literally had to pour into a container in the machine. Handling toner was a dirty job. That first fax sat unproductive for a very long time in the beginning. Since hardly anyone else had a fax, we had almost no one to communicate with. When we finally did receive faxes, the black toner somehow got glued to the paper more or less in the right place, later when the received fax documents got too old, the toner tended to fall off making the documents close to illegible.
Who needs internet when you have motorcycles!
Because there was no Internet or other easy ways of communication, to serve clients better we created our own motorcycle messenger service. This sped up deliveries and instead of waiting for a letter in the mail, clients in the metropolitan area of Tokyo and Yokohama could now get deliveries within a few hours. Like our sales people, the messengers also had pagers, small units you could call with a phone. They would beep, and the paged person would then look for a public phone and call back.
We continued to expand from day one, the office still in Sweden Center in the Roppongi district of Tokyo got bigger, translation volumes increased and the need for more languages also increased. In the 80’s, technology also started to take off. To help communication, we witnessed the advent of computers. We invested in bulky CPM computers with green CRT monitors, but no hard disk drives. Translation was done using the WordStar word processor application (the spellchecking feature was a godsend!), data was saved on floppy disks, and soon it became possible to use acoustic couplers to send data over telephone lines, but the line had to be noise-free.
|An acoustic coupler – everyone had to
be quiet for transmission to succeed
By the mid 80’s, idioma was indeed a very hi-tech operation and with an acute need for more translators. That’s when we set up our first office in Europe, but that’s a story for another time.