In the late 1980s, BEEP! magazine ran a series of special features on major developers (Namco, Sega, Konami) and their workspaces. They make for a great “time-capsule” read, and also include some rare (and low-res, unfortunately) pictures.

Konami was riding high during these years, which saw the start of several classic franchises like Castlevania, Gradius, Contra, and Metal Gear. These successes, as well as the general abundance of the 1980s bubble economy in Japan, are reflected in Konami’s relatively opulent offices. In between the jocular sexism and creepy stalker vibes, there’s some neat details about Konami’s development process, albeit filtered through a definite PR/management lens.

Translated by Peter Barnard

A Visit to Konami (1987)

originally featured in BEEP! Magazine

How should we do a feature on Konami…

Our story begins in the editorial room of the Tokyo BEEP headquarters.

Boss: Okay, we’re going to do the March feature on Konami.

Sami: Great idea boss! We might even get to meet Kamio-san!

T.S: You know, we could just do the entire feature on her.

Sami: Yeah, I volunteer to help out with that, haha.

Boss: But who shall we send to do the interview?

(At this point Imo enters, what impeccable timing!)

Imo: What are you guys talking about?

Boss: Ah Imoyoshi, we were just talking about basing the Konami feature on Kamio-san.

Imo: Kamio-san, who’s that?

Sami: Akemi Kamio, that girl who works in marketing at Konami. All the games journalists love her.

Imo: Oh, you mean the girl who was featured in that Famicom magazine. I remember I saw her once when I went to return a ROM. What about her?

T.S: We were just talking about sending you to do the interview.

Imo: Eh, send me? Can’t you just send Mohep? I mean, you sent him for the SEGA feature.

Sami: You know, she’s really good looking.

Imo: …Okay I’ll go.

Everyone: That’s the spirit!!

Cajoled by his coworkers, Imo finds himself on the way to Konami… but just what will he discover during his visit?

The Portopia Serial Journalism case.

Fast forward. The boss and I have arrived in Kobe. What are you doing in Kobe? I hear you ask. Well, that’s a fine question with a deeply profound answer…

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Konami’s iconic Kobe headquarters. This picture was taken in the late 80s, but the building still looks mostly the same today (Konami, however, vacated it after 2007).

My first mission is to visit the Konami headquarters which T.S informed me has been built right here in Kobe. My second mission is to find Kamio-san, who Sami says speaks Kansai dialect, which “makes her even cuter.” And the final mission is to try Kobe beef for the first time because the boss wants to.

In any event, we’ve now arrived at Konami’s Kobe headquarters, located a short car ride from the Shin-Kobe Shinkansen station, on the man-made island known as Port Island (incidentally, the setting for the Portopia serial murder case released a few years ago). My initial reaction is one of complete surprise! This building doesn’t look at all like it houses a company that makes computer software. I’m not saying other companies’ buildings are ugly, but this is on another level, so modern and stylish.

And it’s not just the building itself—a 10-floor building with a basement and roof terrace—but the palatial grounds that surround it. All the buildings on Port Island are set up in this way due to Kobe city planning laws, but when you’re used to the cramped streets of Tokyo it makes you feel a little strange. Konami has also chosen to convert their spacious grounds into an area for rest and relaxation. In front of the entrance they’ve created a seating area placing benches and sculptures and planted trees. But that’s not all—alongside the building are rows of white tables and chairs like an elegant outdoor cafe (I never thought I’d be using those words in the pages of BEEP) which I’m told has even been used as the backdrop for fashion shoots.

Can this place really be Konami? Perhaps it’s a different company with the same name. The kindly taxi-driver on the way here told me that this area is known as “Fashion Town” because of all the big brand fashion companies here, and looking around that sure seems to be the case. I’m actually a little worried!

But, that logo on the wall is unmistakably Konami’s and they even have the flag flying. Perhaps the most convincing evidence is the large motorbike parked outside (in my experience game developers often travel to work by bike for some reason). I guess this must be Konami. There’s nothing left to do but go inside and check it out!

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Imo arrives at the Konami offices.

The Portopia sightseeing tour

Just like the outside, the lobby is lavishly decorated. It appears to be made entirely from marble and there are sculptures here too. The receptionist is also really beautiful. But I’m forgetting my mission! I have to find Kamio-san, so of course, my first stop should be at reception. I’ll ask the lady behind the desk.

Imo: Excuse me, I’d like to meet with Kamio-san.

Receptionist: Excuse me?

Boss: Hello, we’re from a magazine called BEEP and we’ve come to do a feature on Akemi Kamio.

Imo: Like I said, we’d like to meet with Kamio-san.

Receptionist: (Fighting to retain her smile despite the troublesome visitors) Which department does she work in?

Boss: I believe she’s in advertising.

Receptionist: I’m afraid I can’t really…

Imo: I’m sure she’s here somewhere, can you just let us look by ourselves?

Receptionist: (Realizing that she’s going to have to humor me if she ever wants to see the back of us) Well then, please follow me to the 10th floor.

Finally, it looks like we’re getting somewhere. We’ll start our search for Kamio-san on the 10th floor, but just as I’m ready to start snooping around…

Receptionist: Here we have our overnight facilities.

Now that you mention it, this floor does resemble a hotel. There are a total of 13 rooms: some business hotel style western rooms and some Japanese style rooms. Clearly, they’re here for the hard-working developers, but from the window, you can see the ocean and even a ferris wheel at a distant theme park. It almost feels like I’m on holiday (Imo was raised in the mountains so seeing the ocean always makes him feel like this). But, it doesn’t look like Kamio-san has been staying here…

Receptionist: Next we have the bathhouse.

Ah yes, what would a hotel be without a bathhouse (you do know this isn’t actually a hotel, right?) and here we have a bath large enough for around 8 people. And would you look at that, they even have a sauna. How convenient!

Receptionist: Most of the employees will take a bath after finishing work.

But, for there to be a bath on the top floor like this, they must have had this in mind right from the construction stages. What a fantastic workplace. But, Kamio-san isn’t taking a bath either (although, I might have gotten my hopes up just a little).

Receptionist: We also have an athletic gymnasium.

What exactly is an athletic gymnasium!? Wha, this is a full-blown sports gym complete with bench-press, rowing machines and exercise bikes. This equipment must be perfect for giving tired developers a mental break.

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The “full-blown” sports gym at Konami—by 1987 standards, this was probably quite a perk!

Ah, I see, we have all these facilities for the development team, the bedrooms, sauna, athletic gym, and beautiful views are sure to keep them happy when they’re working hard on a project. I think I may have discovered the reason for the level of polish we always see in Konami games!

Receptionist: Well, that’s the 10th floor. Next, we’ll go down to the 8th floor.

On the 8th floor, we have even more unusual facilities! An employee cafeteria of course, but here we have a ‘Tea Room’, which is already confusing enough until you see the ‘Spirit Unification Dojo‘, A large 27 tatami room with an indoor shrine housing Konami’s guardian deity. I feel like I’m about to have a panic attack (perhaps you should try the spirit unification dojo). Just as I’m about to shout out, “Kamio-san where are youuuuu?!?”, an elderly man appears before us.

An environment designed to foster creativity

The man turns out to be vice-president Takeuchi-san. I was going to ask him about Kamio-san when the conversation took an unexpected turn.

Takeuchi: What do you think of our building? (of course, he’s using Kansai dialect). We’re a company that makes things so we tried to create an environment that will foster that creativity.

It seems I was right about the reason for the tea room and athletic gym.

Imo: It’s rare to see a dormitory of this size, are there many employees who work through the night?

Takeuchi: Yes, I think so. Here at Konami, we operate on flex-time so workers who are making really good progress will often stay late, and during the period at the end of a project, developers will often sleep here. At the same time, after finishing a project, many of them will take a week-long vacation.

I see, a level of freedom befitting an environment like this. The employees at Konami really are lucky! (Considering a career change Imo?) But since we’ve come all this way I’d really like to see the development studio and hear from the developers themselves.

Takeuchi: You know, at the moment there isn’t really much to see… most of them are just writing things out on paper, and the games near completion are really just the same as the ones you can play in the game center.

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Vice-President Takeuchi.

Skillfully avoided there Takeuchi-san, but I’d still like to ask some questions about the company. For example, why are all Konami games so expertly balanced?

Takeuchi: Well, I often see people writing about how well polished and balanced our games are, but we aren’t really doing anything special during development. It’s more that, if on a game’s completion, it lacks polish or is poorly balanced then we don’t release it, that’s all.

Wow, they’ll even go so far as to trash completed projects? They really do think of themselves as artists! So, not all Konami games are perfect on completion… rather, they gather all the completed projects together and only release the ones which meet their standards. In the end, it’s the gamers who win out since we only get the highest quality games. What a great piece of info, I feel like it was worth me coming all the way to Kobe for that! Come to mention it, I’d completely forgotten about Kamio-san! Where could she be?

Takeuchi: If she’s in the advertising department, then she’s probably in Tokyo. At the Kobe headquarters we handle all the development and manufacturing, but all the business and sales are handled in Tokyo.

Darn it! Then what the heck did I come all this way for? Nothing for it but to get back onto the Shinkansen I suppose!

It’s hard to see what is in front of one’s nose

Yet another change of scenery, this time I find myself at the Konami building in Shinbomachi just a 10-minute walk from the BEEP headquarters in Kudanminami! I can’t believe Kamio-san was here all along. This really is a case of not seeing something right in front of your nose. Time to go inside.

On entering I’m immediately standing in front of the door to the advertising department. Just think, Kamio-san could be right on the other side. But as I move to open the door, a notice catches my eye: “Off limits to unrelated personnel. Please go to reception on the 3rd floor.” Naturally, I didn’t dwell on the fact that after all I’d been through, yet another hurdle had come between me and Kamio-san. Not at all! Instead, I obediently made my way up to reception. But I’m closing in, Kamio-san can’t escape now, hehe.

At long last. Kamio-san!

After speaking with reception I’m once again heading to the advertising department on the first floor. On entering it looks like a showroom. There’s all kinds of video game related paraphernalia on display, from various video game systems like Famicom and MSX, to arcade cabinets like WEC Le Mans 24. Even the model used in the Gradius TV advertisement. On the wall, we have the signatures of Noriko Watanabe and Tomoyo Harada (probably because of their connection to Hi no Tori). Just as I’m taking all this in, she finally arrives! Kamio-san is here!

I could make some attempt to describe what kind of woman Kamio-san is but it’s faster just to print a picture here and let you make up your own mind. Let’s see if we can interview her.

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Top: the elusive Kamio; bottom: Konami’s WEC Le Mans cabinet.

Kamio: I’m afraid I didn’t sleep well last night so I’m not at my best.

Not a great start to the interview, but I notice she is speaking Kansai dialect.

Kamio: I’m originally from Osaka but I moved to Tokyo from Toyonaka two years ago.

So she lives by herself. What, just making an observation.

Imo: May I ask your blood type and star sign?

Kamio: You’re going to print that in the magazine too? I’m a really awful combination I’m afraid.

Imo: A Sagittarius blood-type B? (That’s your star sign and blood type Imo!)

Kamio: No, a Libra with blood-type AB. I was born on October 10th which is Health and Sports day.

Imo: I suppose it’s not really appropriate to ask your age?

Kamio: You can put that down as 20, but really I’m just a little older.

Imo: No, I’m sure everyone will believe you’re just out of your teens.

Here’s a tip, if you ask a potentially offensive question always follow up with a compliment. Now I think it’s time for some more serious questions.

Imo: What exactly is your role here at Konami?

Kamio: I handle the advertising for MSX and arcade games.

This is a little bit off-topic, but when I took Kamio-san’s picture I asked her to pretend to work, and she replied: “Would it be okay if I played a game then?” …does she just play games all day?!

Kamio: That’s certainly part of the job.

So I imagine you’re probably better than a lot of gamers out there.

Kamio: No, I don’t think so. My job requires me to know all about them, but my skills can’t match my knowledge. I’ve never actually cleared a game all by myself. Even using the Konami code I can’t make it all the way to the end of Gradius (just at that moment the nearby Gradius cabinet plays it’s theme tune). Then before I’m able to get good enough to clear a game, a new one is released.

Konami is always releasing new games so I imagine Kamio-san must be really busy.

Kamio: Yes, I get to work around 8:30 in the morning and I’m often here until 8 in the evening.

Here she joked about wanting her youth back, but I noticed a hint of genuine sadness in her eyes.

Imo: What’s your favorite thing about the job?

Kamio: Going drinking with my workmates at the end of the day!

According to Kamio-san, the staff at Konami Tokyo get along really well. In fact, later that day they were all going on a ski trip.

Kamio: Also, the spirit of cooperation amongst the staff here.

That’s a great answer, I wonder if she’s telling the truth.

Imo: Is there anything you dislike about your current job?

Kamio: I guess, probably doing interviews for magazines like this!

Ouch!

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The Gradius mothership model on display
at Konami HQ (used in this commercial).

Kamio: But seriously, I think it’s the strange phone calls we get from members of the public asking for help when they’re stuck in games. I remember once a caller just suddenly shouted out “Just tell me, lady!”

How rude!

Kamio: We don’t normally accept calls from members of the public so I have no idea where they get the number from. If they’re stuck on a game then I’d like them to try and figure it out themselves.

Next we talked at length about Kamio-sans childhood, but unfortunately, we don’t have space to include it all here. Perhaps we’ll print it in a later issue.

Imo: Time for one final question. What is your favorite MSX game? I assume it’s something developed by Konami.

Kamio: I guess it’s probably the latest releases, so at the moment that would be Hi no Tori and King Kong 2. I want all the MSX fans to know that we’re working hard here at Konami to deliver you the best games possible, so please look forward to our future releases!

Finishing with some promotion there, as expected from a member of the advertising department. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule Kamio-san.

The sun sets on a job well done

We return once more to the BEEP headquarters.

Sami: Hey Imoyoshi, did you get to meet Kamio-san?

Imo: Sure did, I even shook her hand! You know, she said she thought Miyabi was cute.

Miyabi: Really?

Boss: Imoyoshi, sorry to interrupt. About your Konami article…

Imo: I got it, a full page spread on Kamio-san, right?

Boss: Well since you went all the way to Kobe and Tokyo I’d like you to write a little more, let’s say 6 pages.

Imo: Huh, but what about these other articles.

Fu: You better not be late with my article Imoyoshi!

Imo: …

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A fanciful map of Konami’s composer/music offices with notes (click to expand). Highlights: a CD library (or sampling in the upper-right corner; rackmount synths/processors on the left; and Konami’s in-house developed music composition program, which some of the composers use to write whole songs start-to-finish.