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The Japanese Remixes: VIC-1001, 64

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Almost this entire entry is thanks to Hidehiko Ogata (and a little help from Dan Benson, Markus Mehring, Marko Makela, William Levak and Peter Karlsson). Domo arigato, Ogata-san! There are also some interesting observations on the history and contributions of Commodore Japan in this interview with Michael Tomczyk, one of Commodore's significant executive driving forces during the early 1980s.

The VIC-1001

Views of the VIC-1001 (.jpg, courtesy Dan Benson)
Portrait and Peripherals (33K) | Portrait and Box (34K) | Backplate (20K) | Screenshot 1 (53K) | Screenshot 2 (77K)

Additional Views of the VIC-1001 (.jpg, courtesy Peter Karlsson)
Portrait (22K) | Keyboard Closeup (11K)

VIC-1001 Literature (.jpg, courtesy Dan Benson)
Some very amusing Commodore Japan blurbs on the VIC-1001, including a football-themed campaign (96K) showing off the "team" of Commodore VIC-20 peripherals, and a new product announcement (86K), stating its original purchase price of 69,800 yen (approximately US$275 at prevailing rates).

aka VC-1001, Japanese VIC-20
Introduced October 1980
Hardware, Graphics and Sound Standard VIC-20; old version -02 Kernal ROM. This ROM has a different fill byte [$aa, not $ff] and five distinct code areas that are NOPped out in the contemporary VIC-20 -06 NTSC-M Kernal based on Marko's analysis; William reports these seem to be in the screen editor and serial bus routines. His further analysis shows the upper-case character set is the same, but the "lower-case" set has upper-case letters and katakana for the SHIFTed letters and the Commodore key graphics (see the closeup; mind-altering substances may be needed for the best view ;-). Amusingly, the British pound sign has been replaced with a yen symbol, and the system messages are still in English.
Eventual Fate Released to modest success in the Japanese market before the micro craze of the mid-1980s; paved the way for the Japanese 64 and the Max Machine.

See the Comments on the Japanese 64 for comments on both machines and the brief and unfortunate history of Commodore Japan.

According to Tomczyk, portions of the VIC-20 and VIC-1001 software were designed by Commodore Japan engineer Yashi Terakura and his development team, Terakura also being the engineer behind the later Max Machine. Edge erroneously refers to the 1001's character set as kanji; in fact, there were no home computers of the VIC-1001's class that could display any kanji at all due to the memory and graphics overhead of doing so.

The Japanese Commodore 64

.jpg Advertisement for the Japanese Commodore 64 (68K, original scan by Markus Mehring, heavily cleaned up by me)

Views of the Japanese Commodore 64 (.jpg, courtesy Hidehiko Ogata except where noted; colour-corrected)
Full Portrait (41K) | Keyboard Closeup (47K) | Backplate (15K) | Screenshot (2K, .gif, generated from the J64 Kernal and Char ROM)

Introduced 1983
Hardware Somewhat different Kernal and BASIC to accomodate Japanese katakana characters, 46 total (plus punctuation, diacritics, etc.); many graphic characters replaced in the Char ROM with the new Japanese characters. Breadbox case and original brown keycaps; SHIFT-LOCK replaced with C= LOCK for the purpose of getting at the katakana; modified keycaps to show the new characters with the colour keys no longer present and the remaining graphic characters significantly rearranged. Machine started up in English but different colour scheme and only 36863 bytes free; see screenshot. Both Markus and On the Edge remember the original screen as black on pink, but the screenshot and corresponding ROM definitely aren't.
Graphics and Sound Identical to the breadbox 64.
Eventual Fate Released approximately 1983 at MSRP 99,800 ¥ (according to the ad; at prevailing exchange rates, this was just under US$400); contemporary of the Max Machine. Lasted barely six months.

Hidehiko has a Japanese 64 keyboard but with the U.S. Kernal and BASIC ROMs. Analysis continues on where the missing bytes went.

Headed by Sam Tramiel, Jack Tramiel's eldest son, with vice-president Taro "Tony" Tokai as de facto chairman, Commodore Japan had an initially bright but ultimately brief and sorrowful history during the early 1980s. The VIC-20 was actually released first in Japan as the VIC-1001 (ostensibly because Tramiel, still smarting over the spanking the sinking PETs were getting at the hands of Apple and Tandy, considered the US market "fickle"). Released in the familiar 5K RAM form, the VIC-1001 was heavily customised for the Japanese market, including Japanese katakana where Commodore key graphics normally appear, but does not appear to have a C= LOCK key like the Japanese 64 does.

The VIC's plunge into the Far East computer world was reasonably successful, not least of which because of its favourable pricepoint and few competitors early on. Unfortunately, the later Japanese 64 and its ill-futured contemporary, the Max Machine, met a much more dire fate thanks to the cutthroat Japanese home computer market during the middle of that decade. By that time, Hidehiko states, almost all the major domestic electronics firms were selling their own proprietary microcomputers already and usually cheaper than the 64, not to mention the MSX machines which had come out around this time as well. After the dust had cleared, the 64s were really only available at junk shops; Commodore Japan gave up and started selling off their inventory at fire-sale rates to cut their losses.

Despite this fantastic market failure, the 64 managed to stay present in the Japanese market thanks to a few dedicated users who noticed the success of the 64 back in the States and Europe. Imported software started to trickle in, too little too late to be sure, but a small number of enthusiasts managed to keep the torch burning.

Spiro Trikaliotis analysed the Japanese C64 ROM and other than the character set changes found relatively few differences, most notably altered keyboard decoding tables and cosmetic messages, and BASIC starts at $1000 instead of the usual $0800. There is no obvious reason for the elevated starting address; the Japanese 64 doesn't seem to do anything with the unused 2K otherwise.

Through Sam Tramiel and Ira Velinsky, Commodore Japan was also responsible for the design of the TED prototype case, which became the 116.