In 1977, Kazuhiko Nishi, the founder of ASCII Corporation and publisher of I/O, the first Japanese magazine dedicated to home computers, convinced NEC Corporation executive Kazuya Watanbe to build the first home computer in Japan.
Kazuhiko Nishi was also a friend of Bill Gates who started Microsoft two years earlier and wanted to work closely with Japanese hardware manufacturers in the development of microcomputers. He introduced him to NEC in 1978.
The NEC PC-8001 was released in Japan in 1979 with a Microsoft operating system and Basic interpreter in ROM. Although it was not the very first Japanese home computer - The Sharp MZ80K and the Hitachi Basic Master MB-6880 were released in 1978 - it was by far the best selling 8-bit machine for two years in the Japanese domestic market. Up to 1983, about 150,000 machines were sold and a wide range of software was developed for the 8001, from games to management programs.
Although a few thousands machines were sold world-wide, NEC, like all of the Japanese computer manufacturers at the time, never made big efforts to promote its computer apart from its domestic market. If the PC-8001 had been launched in USA and Europe along with a real marketing support, it would have been a very serious competitor to the first Apple, Commodore and Tandy home computers.
The 8001 also marked the beginning of a close collaboration between Microsoft and almost all the Japanese manufacturers, up to the birth of the first MSX machine, in 1983.