Terrie’s Take Top 10 Japanese Modern Inventions
1. Instant Ramen Invented by Momofuku Ando, the founder of Nissin Food Products, in the 1950’s and first marketed in 1958. This amazing product is estimated to be served 65,000,0000,0000 times a year. While a technical marvel, especially when you consider the range of reconstituted flavorings now available, we find it ironic that the makers have not yet figured out how to make the product nutritious. After all, what good is it if your best customers (students) subsequently die of malnutrition?
2. Blue LED Invented by Shuji Nakajima in 1989. Originally his employer privately-held Nichia Ltd., wanted him to abandon his research, but Nakajima stubbornly stuck to his program, working around the lack of resources available in the then-small outfit to produce a revolutionary breakthrough in high-output LEDs. His discoveries now form the basis for all high-capacity optical media, and Nichia has been earning about JPY80bn a year from licensing and production. Nakajima sued Nichia for proper compensation and won a JPY840m award in 2005.
3. Floppy Disk Invented by the irrepressible Dr. Nakamats in 1952 and subsequently licensed along with a dozen other storage devices patents to IBM in 1979. Over the intervening 50 years since the invention, there have been at least 70,000,000,000 floppy disks of various sizes and capacities produced, and rumor has it that he receives a royalty on each one!
4. Karaoke Invented by Daisuke Inoue in the early 1970’s, but sadly not patented. Instead, a similar invention and one which is earning its creator global revenues was subsequently registered by Roberto del Rosario of the Philippines in 1983. Karaoke is a big business and the largest seller of machines in Japan is Daichikosho, with about 50% of a JPY100bn market.
5. Solid-state Electronic Calculator Invented in the early 1960’s by Sony and first displayed as a desk-top unit, the Sony MD-5 was the world’s first solid-state electronic calculator. While Bell Punch of the USA had a valve version, it was not practical for use in ordinary business offices, whereas the Sony unit was. The MD-5 included a number of features that today are standard on electronic calculators, such as disappearing zeros, floating decimals, rounding, percentages, and reciprocals. Sony eventually quit the calculator business in the late 1960’s.
6. Compact discs Although the person who invented the original concept of storing music as data on an optical medium was American inventor James Russell, it is commonly acknowledged that the current CD standard and viable player system were “co-invented” by a large development team from both Sony and Phillips of Holland, in 1980 (the group started the project in 1979). The CD went on to become the standard for all new music for 20 years and will probably continue for another 20. No one knows how many CDs have been produced globally, but extrapolating from RIAA shipments in the USA, one can guess the global number to be at least 1.5bn units a year.
7. Digital Cameras/Camcorders The first true digital camera was the DS-1P developed by FujiFilm and released in 1988. The unit used a removable 16MB memory chip to receive CCD images. The camera was not a commercial success, and it took efforts by Kodak in the USA to bring digital cameras into the mainstream. Today, Japanese digital camera makers are churning out more than 100m units a year. The first electronic camcorder was created by Sony as a demo unit called the Mavica, shown in 1981.
8. Pocket Monsters It’s hard to say whether Pokemon qualify as an invention or not, since anime videos and collector’s cards have been around for a some time. However, what creator Satoshi Tajiri of Nintendo did in 1995 that was unique was to take a set of compelling characters and simply continue to add on new ones to create more revenue — knitting the whole lot together with a loose story line. This is quite unlike baseball cards, which are clearly limited in content volume. Nintendo was paid a backhanded compliment for its infinitely extensible Pokemon concept when Disney created a similar open-ended set of characters for its Lilo and Stitch cartoon series. An estimated 155m Pokemon videos have been sold, and some billions of trading cards and other paraphernalia.
9. Convenience Store Onigiri Onegiri are supposedly a 17th century invention created for Samurai armies on the move. However, it took decidedly smart modern inventor, Kisaku Suzuki, to come up with the idea in 1986 to separate the nori covering from the rice ball (triangle) with plastic, and to create an unwrapping process to allow the consumer to enjoy dry nori with moist rice and wet fillings. Convenience store onigiri have not yet spread to 7-Eleven’s overseas yet, but we think it’s only a matter of time. Currently, 7-Eleven sells about 1bn onigiri a year in Japan.
10. Kumon Study Method If you have kids that don’t like school that much, you’ll know about Kumon — now a global self-study phenomenon. Toru Kumon’s system is the antithesis of modern Western education, in that it teaches child confidence and concept learning through repetition. Kumon created the system in 1954 for his son and despite what progressive educationalists might say about Kumon, if it didn’t work, parents around the world wouldn’t be sending their kids there to polish up their maths and science. There are now 22,000 Kumon learning centers around the world serving about 3.5m kids each week.
“Hmmm, OK,” you might say, “What about the Walkman, digital watches, and Nintendo Wii?” Aren’t those Japanese? The fact is that while these have been runaway successes, they were not invented by the companies that commercialized them.
And if you think Thomas Edison is the person in history who registered the most inventions you;d be wrong – he actually only had about 1,093 patents. Outdone by Dr. Yoshiro NakaMats, who at 78 years old is still going strong and now has more than 3,200 patents to his name.
You can read more about him in Japan Inc., www.japaninc.com/article.php?articleID=653.