National | GENERATIONAL CHANGE

Self-made co-inventor of SD card connects public with lawmakers

by Shusuke Murai

Staff Writer

If a solution doesn’t exist, make one yourself. That’s what computer programmer Fukuyuki Murakami has done with his career.

“If you feel something is not right, find out what’s wrong and rebuild it — that’s what programmers do,” said the 40-year-old self-employed computer engineer from Osaka who runs his own computer system developer, Crazyworks Inc., in Tokyo.

But what Murakami, one of the inventors of the widely used secure digital (SD) memory cards, creates is not only computer software, but tools to tackle social issues — from connecting anti-government protesters to soliciting donations for disaster victims.

In July, amid growing protests over the Abe administration’s security bills and other issues, Murakami launched the online service Japan Changer, which allows anyone to fax their opinions directly to all members of the Diet.

“I see many people resort to demonstrations in their fight against things like nuclear plants and security policy. But I don’t think those activities have much influence,” Murakami said. “They often start the protest around 6 p.m., after most Diet members have left their offices.”

Believing protests are not the solution, Murakami opened his PC, and after four hours of programming, created a tool to allow anyone to send messages online from Japan Changer that are delivered in the form of faxes to the offices of all Diet members. The one-time fee to send a message to all the lawmakers: ¥4,800.

As just 124 out of the 717 Diet members have disclosed their email addresses, Murakami figured that faxing would be a more efficient way to deliver people’s opinions.

“There are 717 members registered in the Diet, so I bet many of them have time to read messages,” Murakami said. “I’m not worried about (individual policies such as the) security bills. Rather, I’m more worried about democracy as a whole, as there were too few ways to deliver people’s voices.”

Using his unique skill set to solve intricate problems has been second nature for Murakami, something he’s done since his elementary school days.

He began his career as a programmer in 1984 when, at just 9 years old, he developed video games for the Family Computer Disk System, widely known in Japan as Famicom.

Because his parents were “stingy” and didn’t give him video games, he said, he took matters into his own hands.

“I thought I might be able to make them by myself,” he said.

Training himself by browsing programming textbooks at bookstores, the young Murakami used a computer tool to program video games for his own use. As he went on to develop more games, he sold some of his works to computer magazines for cash.

“At a time when elementary school students were given something like ¥500 a month from their parents, I could win some ¥10,000 to ¥30,000 if my programs were featured in computer magazines,” he said.

It was this interest in programming that led him to pursue a career as a computer engineer. After graduating from a university in 1998, he entered electronics giant Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., known today as Panasonic Corp., and was tasked with developing digital cameras and memory cards.

But while working for the company, he soon realized he didn’t want the typical Japanese salaryman lifestyle. Going against the nation’s office culture, which values working long hours, Murakami preferred to leave after finishing his own work.

But such resistance did not last, since his work in developing SD cards, a standard external memory device for various digital electronics today, forced Murakami to put in huge amounts of overtime at the office, sometimes until morning.

It was this that ultimately led to his divorce.

Tired of his lifestyle, Murakami left Panasonic in 2003 at the age of 27 and decided to experience the world outside Japan, eventually landing in Australia.

While working occasionally, he attained permanent residency, thanks in part to his renown for developing SD cards.

After a yearlong sojourn, he returned to Japan in 2004 and began working as a contract computer engineer. While employed as a temporary worker, he developed computer applications on his own and sold them to firms to support himself.

One of the computer programs he developed, a file compression algorithm that allowed anyone to store multimedia files in the tiny memory of cellphones at the time, won second place in a business competition run by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in 2007.

At the competition, Murakami met Masatoshi Kumagai, president of GMO Internet Inc., who was there as one of the judges. Seeing his potential as an entrepreneur, Kumagai offered Murakami some office space for him to start his own company in Tokyo, where he now runs Crazyworks, which was established in 2007.

“When I worked for Panasonic, I saw many engineers twisted around by their bosses, who suddenly stopped caring about (other) engineers as they became big in the company. … I felt something was wrong,” Murakami said.

This belief led him to establish the engineering-first company where he works as a leading developer with the assistance of co-workers.

While leading his five-member team at the company to develop computer software on demand for businesses, Murakami established a reputation as an influential tech blogger. In 2011, he won the Alpha Blogger Award, a prize given by tech companies.

Although he left Panasonic, he recognized the positive aspects of the electronics giant, namely a corporate philosophy that “a company is meaningless if it doesn’t contribute to the development of society and culture.”

With that in mind, Murakami started organizing nonprofit online fundraising activities beginning in 2011 to aid disaster-hit countries.

“It was hard to understand why most charitable organizations use about 30 percent of donated money for expenses,” he said. Believing that way of doing things wasn’t the best route, he decided to offer a solution by establishing a donation system where all the funds went directly to those in need.

When deadly Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippines in 2013, Murakami set up an online bank account and asked Internet users to donate, promising that all funds would go to the Philippine Embassy, as there would be no bureaucratic layer to siphon off fees.

Eventually, the donation total hit ¥3.3 million from 605 people. As promised, Murakami brought the funds directly to the country’s embassy in Tokyo. All the donors’ names and the amount they had contributed were listed on his blog, providing them with a free opportunity to tout their Twitter handles, websites or any messages they wished to publicize.

Murakami said his next goal is to establish an online school, open to anyone, to study programming — no matter where they live — as he feels the economic and education gap between cities and rural areas in Japan must be addressed.

“With a bit of knowledge about the Internet, programming and finance, I think anyone can manage to make a living, say in a rural area with a one-child family,” Murakami said.

“We live in the Internet age, so anyone with programming skills can make anything with a computer,” he said.


Key events in Murakami’s life

1975 — Born in Osaka

1984 – Started programming video games for Family Computer Disk System (Famicom)

1998 — Entered Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., known today as Panasonic Corp.

2003 — Left Matsushita Electric Industrial, and went to Australia

2004 — Returned to Japan to start work as a programmer

2007 – Won second place in a business competition organized by the trade ministry

2007 — Invited to Tokyo to start his own company, Crazyworks, Inc.

2011 — Won Alpha Blogger Award 2010

2011 – Started donation activities using Internet

2015 — Launched Japan Changer service

“Generational Change” is a new series of interviews that will appear on the first Monday of each month, profiling people in various fields who are taking a leading role in bringing about changes in society. Readers are encouraged to send ideas, questions and opinions to hodobu@japantimes.co.jp