Pressing the button on a video game controller quickly is like running the 100 meter dash. Both require dedication and a precise exercise regime. There is also an odd quality about both in which the range between the very best and complete neophyte is tiny. Sprinter Usain Bolt holds the record in the 100 meter run at 9.58 seconds, only three seconds faster than I ran in freshmen high school track. And yet there are thousands of sprinters from a hundred years of Olympic competition in between my performance and Bolt's.
In 1985, Takahashi Meijin (real name Takahashi Toshiyuki) became a celebrity in Japan by pressing a button on a video game controller 16 times in one second on television. If you picked up a controller right now you could probably pull off 10 with minimal practice, 12 after you get used to it. But you're about as likely to hit 16 as you are to beat Usain Bolt in a footrace.
At the start of 1981, Meijin was a college dropout working full-time at a supermarket in Sapporo, Japan. At night he taught himself how to write BASIC with a Sharp MZ-80B. One day, an ad for Hudsonsoft in a computer programming magazine led him to their offices in Sapporo, where he showed up unannounced and asked for a job. He got one, doing sales from 9 am to 6 pm, advertising work from 6 pm to 10 pm, and programming from 10 pm until 2 or 3 am. Eventually he was transferred to marketing, and then PR, where his 16 shot button-pressing technique and the Takahashi Meijin persona were born.
Takahashi Meijin in Japanese means "Famous Takahashi". He got the monniker while he was the head of PR for Hudsonsoft, also in 1985, where he was the spokesman for and public face of the company. By the end of '86 he had his own TV show, was the main character in a video game (Adventure Island, pictured right), emcee of the hugely popular Game Caravan events all over Japan, and generally the most famous gamer in the world.
That was the peak of his fame, but he remained a PR executive at Hudsonsoft until yesterday, when he announced his retirement after 27 years working for the company. He did not cite a reason for his departure, though AV idol and hardcore gamer Haruna Anno has announced that she is working on a project with him, but gave no details.
Video games in Japan have always had a different level of popularity than they have in the rest of the world. For the first 30 years of the medium's existence, the Japanese were clearly the foremost video game designers in the world. That has changed dramatically over the last 5-10 years. The West has taken the lead in games innovation, while the Japanese industry seems so mired in their traditions that they cannot create truly relevant content today. Hyper-fast button pressing is one of those traditions, and perhaps Meijin's departure is symbol of an overall shift in the gaming world away from its arcadey past and towards a more realistic, Western-dominated future.