Masafumi Ohta interview

By Rob Zwetsloot. Posted

One of the things we like to do in The MagPi is cover the Raspberry Pi community outside of the UK and America. Seeing the different approaches in various countries to making and tinkering is always enlightening, and it’s thanks to the efforts of people like Masafumi Ohta that we’ve been able to see some of the amazing work from makers in Japan and even other parts of East Asia.

“I founded ‘Japanese Raspberry Pi Users Group’ with [around ten] Raspberry Pi nerds... in October 2012, I always remember the pics we got at Cafe in Jiyugaoka [in Tokyo] to have ‘Raspberry Pie’ with Raspberry Pi and started our community,” Masafumi tells us. “Now we have 150+ active members (600+ subscribed in the Google group), with eight of our 16 committee members being women. We hold meet-ups (Raspberry Jams) mainly in Tokyo and exhibit and present talks at open-source events – Open Source conference, Maker Faire Tokyo/Ogaki/Kyoto.”

What is your background in making and programming?

I graduated from a Japanese technical high school with a major in electric engineering. I have learned not only soldering to make electronic DIY, but also welding and programming with Apple IIe and punch cards.

I also came across the Sharp pocket computer PC-1416G (called Pokecon) as one of the learning materials at that time. It is for studying BASIC, though. I was trying to analyse its hardware to make some games with its assembly language. I investigated the internal system call to develop a mini graphical game with ‘poke, peek, and call’ commands, like IchigoJam. I tore it down, looking into the hardware itself. It was really fun for me to play with it – I am sure that is why I love programming and making.

We’ve met the Japanese community in person, and they’re incredibly creative

How did you learn about Raspberry Pi?

Frankly speaking, I was not so interested Raspberry Pi at first because I was still interested in OpenSolaris as a contributor. However, I saw it at an open-source event and tried it, and got interested and thought I would love to try to make some Linux servers with it. Now there are five original Raspberry Pi computers [used for] DLNA, MPD, Shairport (AirPlay), and Icecast streaming. They work really well. I’ve replaced one of them with Raspberry Pi 3 because of the lack of CPU power, though. Four of the Raspberry Pi boards are almost eight years old and work great.

What are the maker and Raspberry Pi communities like in Japan?

The Japanese Raspberry Pi community is still growing, but getting commoditised into business-to-consumer (B2C), [but] consumers often change their mind and B2C product life is really short lately.

The raspberry pie to celebrate the start of the Raspberry Pi User Group

On the other hand, the Japanese Raspberry Pi B2B business community is now growing rapidly. There are tons of use cases lately: AIoT, prototyping at an automotive company for self-driving, sensors at a vineyard, and more. Now I am planning to found a Raspberry Pi business community to help their businesses. There are also many more makers lately.

Do you have any involvement in other East Asian communities?

Yes, now I am concerned deeply with East Asian communities, especially helping the Taiwanese. CutiePi is the one of the projects I’m helping spread the word about. I will also help a couple of Taiwanese Raspberry Pi projects this year.

I have been attending COSCUP every year to expand and encourage their community. I am now staying in touch with some Taiwanese IT companies to use Raspberry Pi for their B2B business, and thinking of founding a Raspberry Pi business community there with them.

Supporting a community staying at home

“I am collaborating with the community in many ways: sending some official swag, holding events with them. Lately, almost all of the events are online or cancelled, and I have to find a way to help them […] – there are many more problems in communicating with others, especially as we cannot meet face-to-face. I hope the situation will get better and we can start growing again our Raspberry Pi community.”


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