joibathroompop1994_thumb.jpg
PSINet Japan's POP in my bathroom circa 1994
Found this old picture of my bathroom which sparked some old memories.

Back in 1993 IIKK, which was Japan's first commercial Internet connection, was looking for a place to put their POP. They were owned at the time by Intercon and they were unknown in Japan. No one would rent an office to them. I lent them my bathroom. A few months later PSINet bought IIKK. I was probably one of the first people in Tokyo to have a 128K leased line to their toilet.

Then, the founding Eccosys team gathered around the leased line. Cyrus, Shimokawa, Daishi, Sen, Jona and Yuki. We bought a used Sun SPARC 1+ over USENet and set up a server. When the NCSA web server came out in 1993 we were ready. We were bunch of kids with a lot of free time, a leased line and a UNIX server. We started one of the first web pages in Japan, "Tomigaya." Later, Yoon joined the team. (And turned out to be the best manager of the bunch.)

Eccosys merged with Digital Garage which went public in 1999 with Hayashi-san at the helm. (Several US Web companies offered to buy us. I'm glad we didn't sell.) Before going public Digital Garage created Infoseek Japan.I left Digital Garage and ran Infoseek Japan with Takao Nakamura as CEO and me as Chairman after it was sold to Infoseek Corp. Infoseek was acquired by Disney. (Reporting to the Disney was probably one of my more "rigorous" experiences...) Then Disney sold Infoseek Japan to Rakuten where it is sitting happily ranking third place after Yahoo and MSN in reach and is a nice profitable business. (I'm still on the board.)

I also ran PSINet Japan for about a year until I got them out of my bathroom and into a real office. ;-) PSINet Japan was sold to C&W as part of PSIX's bankruptcy liquidation. I was on the PSINet Japan board until C&W bought it. I think PSINet Japan was one of the few profitable units in the PSINet empire.

So nothing against my former parents... The Japanese kids somehow survived while the parents passed away. I loved them all... except some folks at Disney... oh... and a few from my Infoseek days. And now that you mention it, I keep in touch with only a few people including Barak Berkowitz, Bill Schrader, Ned Desmond and Michael Johnson, but many of the people from those days have faded away...

Well, this time at Neoteny I don't have a parent to fight with or blame. We only have ourselves. (I better stop blogging and get back to work...)

16 Comments

Thanks for finding that picture Joi. Memories come flooding back. I remember the noise from that bathroom, and the hot, stale air.

I wonder sometimes if I can ever recapture the energy I had working with you back then....

Stop me before I start sniffling....

And the ROARING CISCO AGS+ router. It sounded like an airplane. I also remember the room in the back that you all slept. I was afraid to open the door... I also remember that you used to sleep in my bed when I was out of town and I would find drool on my pillow...

I also remember when the Sun overheated and we had to blow on it to cool it off...

I also remember when you used to know more than everyone else. ;-) (except sometimes Shimokawa)

Ah, memories... Like the corners of my mind. I remember 1993 in NYC when the only ISP's were Echo, Panix, Mindvox, and, of course, my very own net23.com. We ran it off two bridged dial-up modems and a 3-line incoming board off a serial port splitter. It wasn't until 1994 that we discovered terminal servers. I had 25 paying customers and plenty of complaints about busy phone calls. I look back upon those days and wonder when we will be there again. We were at the forefront of something quite enormous. I'm not sure any of us knew the magnitude of what the Internet could or would be, but we all knew we were standing on the precipice of something great. I don't feel that same energy today about any sector of technology -- I hope it returns soon.

It was influential for me as well. I was programming at InterCon at the time, but after talking to RS about the work of bringing the IIKK link up, I was captivated enough to go help RS and Doug start DIGEX and joined UUNET not long afterward.

I wonder whether the people pulling the first citywide electrical service might have felt some of the same emotions when looking back at their work.

I had a favorite saying while evangelizing the Internet: "People who use the telephone don't think about what went into putting it on their table. The Internet will be treated the same way."

My other prediction was that people wouldn't buy security until it was sold like Dolby noise reduction in audio equipment - a logo and a light. When the light is on, you're protected. Does ZoneAlarm count?

I have to restrain myself or I get furious when I see how the phone companies held back progress (inadvertently or otherwise).

I was a part of an "End of the NSFNET" dinner back in the mid '90s. I wonder what the next milestone like that will be?

--Bob, looking for the next frontier

P.S. You had one of the nicer apartment co-lo's I've seen - at least you had a rack eventually.

My question is this: If that was your bathroom where did you wash!!!?

Stuart (currently at DG)

Actually, we had another bath. But people didn't wash enough...

The original office for bootstrapping IIKK was an abandoned karaoke bar (complete with spinning mirror ball) on a quiet street in Myogadani, where RS arrived one rainy day in late summer 1993 with an old Sun server in his backpack (carry-on luggage, of course) and the infamous AGS+ in a crate. The space was borrowed from a friend of a guy who wanted to be a partner in the venture, and when that didn't work out, we got evicted. I called Joi. "Help! We need an address to register the company and a backroom somewhere to set up in!" We got a bathroom... and a backroom.

Joi, always a pal to fellow guerilla networkers, got us into the office condo next door to his in Tomigaya, where the folks there rented us a tiny smoky conference room for the official "office", with shared use of the copier, the other toilet (with a high-tech seat -- butt heater, bidet, and a mind-boggling control panel), and looked the other way while the wild gaijin techie set up a bunch of gear in the shower in the other bathroom. RS astounded people by working non-stop for days at a time, falling off the chair to sleep on the floor for hours, then climbing back up for another marathon of configuration interspersed with multiple conversations in email and various newsgroups.

I recall that the Internet connection for Joi and crew was delivered through a wire that ran out the window and back into their place next door. So while the link to the Internet beyond may only have been a whopping 128K, Joi probably had the first 10M local loop in Japan -- and no stinkin' telco involved.

RS also raised some hackles when he registered "inter.net" as the domain for the new venture. The domain still lives on with Inter.Net, a multi-country ISP created from the consumer ISP services caught in the PSINet acquisition binge of 1998-1999 and spun out in time to avoid being sucked into the vortex of the sinking of the parent. The first (paying) customer of IIKK was TWICS, a progressive online service of the 80s that became one of the first dialup ISPs in Japan in the 90s. (Joi also played a crucial role in the founding and building of TWICS in the early 80s, but that is a whole 'nother tale.) TWICS was eventually acquired by PSINet as well, and the remnants spun back out as part of Inter.Net Japan. So the legacy somehow lives on amidst the tangled trails of Internet emergence, boom and bust, and whatever comes next.

I played some role along the way in TWICS and IIKK and PSINet in Japan and a bunch of other countries. It has been a wild ride so far, and somehow I cannot help but believe we are still in the early days of something far bigger than most can imagine.

Thanks for posting that old picture, Joi. It always makes me smile.

--jeffrey

someway I have Jeffrey's biz card, possibly exchanged at somewhere else in Tokyo. then I signed to TWICS and still using it. I've heard from Tim that Jeffrey worked on important roles. it was interesting time.

thanks anyway.
gt

Always glad to hear from a TWICSter, Takama-san. It was an interesting time, indeed.

Islands in the (data)stream... And then we had intersystem email and "ported" conferences... And then we had the Internet... And we can only imagine what comes next.

One thing for sure, where we had acoustic couplers taped and wire into phone handsets, and POPs in the shower, there will be some bold folks on a shoe-string budget who hack together some crazy stuff to get it all started.

--jefu

"This is Tomigaya. You are a connection. We are one."

An archive of the Tomigaya page from six years ago.

This is pretty nostalgic. But... I wish we had an archive of the original 1993 page...

WOW! Now that picture brings back a lot of memories! What fun times those were.

Best,
David
former GM, PSINet Japan, KK

WOW!

Servers in a bathroom! This is really the first time I see such a thing... even on picture:)

Must've been great times :-D

Good luck! :)

Wowza. I was looking for evidence of some of the early internet adventures. I knew I should have looked here at Joi's place.

Anyway, yeah my silly idea to start the first ISP in Japan after going over sales numbers from InterCon our Internet Software company back in the early 90's and seeing that the second largest economy in the world (no EU at the time), wasn't buying as much of our software as India, and that just didn't make sense to me. So I spent about 2 months over a period of about 6 months doing research in Japan as to why this was the case.

What I found was very interesting. Culturally workers would rather copy files to a disk and walk down the hall to hand deliver it. Email was non existent. People delivered messages face to face or hand wrote them. WOW was all I could say. To me if Japan was going to keep up it needed to join the tech revolution. The only way to do that was to get a commercial internet in country since you had to jump through hoops to join the research network, which was run by Jun Murai (I think his nickname was Internet Samurai) among others (Jun helped us as well) who ended up starting IIJ.

Anyway, I came back after a trip to Japan fired up to make it happen, so I had a meeting with Marty Schoffstall and Bill Schrader (PSINet founders) to whom I pointed out that there was a need for a commercial internet in Japan and they were the folks to do it. After some polite conversation, Bill became blunt (anyone who know Bill can visualize this), and told me I was crazy, that no US company would be allowed to start a commercial ISP in Japan, and Marty started laughing at me. So I said ok you guys aren't going to do it, but will you land my traffic if I get it done. They said yes (this was how the early internet was done, hand shakes and verbal commitments that folks lived up to).

So my next issue was to find folks who could help me out. I made a call to John Quarterman who I had known for several years and asked him who to go talk to. He gave me the name of Jun Murai, Toru Takahachi, Joi Ito and a few others. So I got in touch with my distributor in Japan Iwao Deguchi and asked if he wanted to help start it up. He agreed but there was reluctance since he also felt as Bill and Marty did, that some gaijin was not going to be starting the first ISP in Japan.

Anyway, lots of meetings with folks who were key to the research internet in Japan, some of whom actually yelled at me and dressed me down as a no good foreigner who should just go home and let a Japanese company do it, I gave up on getting any real help. Aside from Jun and Toru who were supportive it was looking like I was out of options. Until I met with the folks at ATT-JENS, who were also trying to start up the commercial internet in Japan. I had also had conversation with IIJ folks but they were understandably reluctant to really say much to me.

The ATT-JENS guys needed some help and some connections, turns out that our team had what they needed. And they had what we needed, free T1 across the pond. :-) So we worked together to get that line up and running, but our engineer (RS) was the one doing the heavy lifting (no offense to ATT-JENS, but RS was connected to all of the PSI guys and we needed them to hook into at the US end).

I will never forget one of the meetings there where I had another John Quarterman friend (whose name escapes me but he had lived most of his life in Japan, and ended up being one of the first folks working for Netscape) interpreting for me. In the middle of making the deal happen their head guy walked into the room to "check up" on what was going on, and during their conversation in Japanese I interrupted and answered the question that he was asking. Now I know very little Japanese, enough to order food and get a taxi to take me somewhere, so you can imagine their surprise. Their main guy asked if I spoke Japanese I said no and answered their question again. He responded and we discussed it, but after that every discussion they would have between themselves they held out of the room after that. I had to smile, because what I answered was based on the flow of technical terms that were being tossed around in the conversation so I knew what their issue was. But I always had fun with that. :-)

So at that point I needed an on the ground team who understood me and understood Japan and the culture better than I did. Again John Quarterman helped out. He knew Jefu from his interaction with TWICS while he was working on his book Matrix. He got me in touch with Jeff who was heading into summer break from his Berkely MBA and we hit it off. He brought on Biru (Bill) who was also in his class (and who also happened to have spent a significant amount of time in Japan, he has gone on to be part of Skype and some other interesting international startups). So the two of them, and Jeff's wife headed to Japan with me and we went to work.

The three of them were key to making this happen. Jeff was also the guy who decided to bring Roger Boisvert who after PSINet fired him, he started GOL (Global OnLine). Roger was killed in LA back in 2001 I think. I was doing some research about Roger and it's interesting that someone in Canada is rewriting history, he did not start the first Commercial ISP in Japan and he didn't sell it to PSINet. But history get's made by those who write it. Oh well. Sorry you had to leave us Roger, I had fun with you in Tokyo. Some other time maybe I will write about my run in with the Yakuza in Tokyo Roger was along for that... :-)

Anyway, as Jeff mentioned our "partner" pulled out, he didn't want to get associated with the crazy gaijin... Turns out that the government was looking for some crazy US gaijin to do be the first and we were in the right spot at the right time. But our partners leaving left us without a place to live, so Joi stepped in and helped hugely at a critical time.

Regarding Inter.net I think RS and Amanda Walker came up with that. InterCon registered it (surprised that we actually got it) and it was key to some of our success in that we were telling folks that we could get around the JPNic because we had our own ability to register domains. After all if you could use co.jp to register why couldn't you use inter.net to register... Think about it. sony.inter.net, canon.inter.net etc... :-) Makes more sense. Anyway it was a good smoke screen to put up that rattle folks who didn't know any different.

Inter.net went on to be used again by me with a different team pulled all of the consumer assets out of PSINet in early 2000, we took back the domain name and used it as the name of the company. www.inter.net

We almost had Canon using their ZeroOne shops to sell our internet services too, that would have been a coup. In the end, InterCon was a software company and not a infrastructure company and it made sense to sell it off to PSINet where it ironically became their first international acquisition, and went on to be the number two behind IIJ's number one. Something to be proud of. (strangely enough in 2000 we pulled bits and pieces of PSINet Japan out to form Inter.net, so in some ways inter.net came full circle)

Anyway, it's time that some of the real story came out.

RS - Engineered it
Jeff/Bill/Masagi - Pushed it, did the paperwork, and met with the Ministries.
Roger - Bull in China shop
Kurt/InterCon - vision / finance / connections

Jun Murai - Support
Toru Takahashi - Support
Joi Ito - Key support and connections (and bathroom)

ATT-JENS - folks who were key as well.

I am sure I am missing folks, but these are the key folks without whom we would not have gotten it done.

Thanks Joi for putting this up. Wish I had seen it a lot earlier.

Kurt Bauamnn

Ahh... brings back memories of the good times, doesn't it?

yes you read that email address correctly, I can still receive emails sent to that address. I was in Canada at our Ottawa Office in the late 90's. I loved PSINet & how we were soooo ahead of the game. We came to an unfortunate end though but by luck, TELUS picked up the Canadian Operations. To Joi Ito, Japan wasnt the only 'location' making money for the parents, PSINet Canada was doing rather well. :-)

Leave a comment

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Introspective category.

Internet Policy is the previous category.

IRC is the next category.

Find recent content on the main index.

Monthly Archives