Genius Inventions That Only Exist in Japanby Norma Burgess Aug 29, 2022
Japan is known globally for cutting-edge innovation in products such as video games and cars; not all of Japan’s innovations have made it abroad though. Nintendo and Toyota may be household names but let’s look at some fun Japanese inventions that haven’t made it over to us yet.
Running the gamut from big-budget aerospace drones to simple practical designs to whimsical consumer goods, some of these inventions that only exist in Japan will have you questioning what else we don’t have access to here in the States…
Eyedropper Assist Glasses
Putting eye drops into your own eyes is difficult because of the strange angle and the powerful instinctual drive we all have to protect our precious sight organs from potentially harmful foreign objects, even if we are the ones administering them.
First patented in 1991, these quirky-looking funnel glasses were designed in Japan to assist with the self-application of eye medicines. As simple as two funnels attached to a pair of glasses, they remove the aiming part of the process out of the equation altogether.
Air Conditioned Shirt
Japan gets hot, really hot in the summer but it is not socially acceptable to be scantily clad to beat the heat in Tokyo or Osaka like it is in say Miami or LA. Japanese business people have tried out several ways to keep cool yet maintain a respectable dress code, including short sleeve suit jackets.
Several Japanese garment companies have installed ventilating fans in their shirts and jackets. Whether in a boardroom or a crowded Tokyo subway, these air-conditioned clothes are designed to keep the wearer cool, calm, and collected.
A Great Butter Grater
If you’ve ever been frustrated by attempting to spread cold butter onto a fresh piece of toast, this butter grater is a godsend. No more mangling toast with a knife when a few twists of this grater will provide you with fine shreds of butter to gently lay down upon your bread.
We’ve been shredding cheeses for a long time to assist with faster melting times so it seems only natural that we would carry over the same principle to another staple dairy product. You can now find these handy graters online for about $5.
The Infinite Bubble Wrap Keychain
One of the most satisfying parts of buying something off the internet is unwrapping it and getting to pop all the bubble wrap between your fingers with childlike joy before tossing the flattened remnants into the plastic recycling bin.
The Mugen Puti Puti (in Japanese ‘Infinite Bubblewrap’) is exactly what it sounds like: a never-ending patch of bubblewrap that you can keep on you at all times. For only a few dollars you can pop to your heart’s content.
Doggles are canine sunglasses that were invented when their founders noticed that their dog was having trouble playing fetch in the sun and was often missing the ball. A great solution ensued: sunglasses that were specially designed for dogs.
While this product was inspired by a young, active dog, older dogs who have cataracts from age can also benefit from wearing these on a sunny day. Doggles also offers other dog-friendly products such as boots, beds, bowls, carriers, and more.
JEM Space Drone
Drone technology is being used for more and more applications. From cinematography to warfare to nature conservancy. This one, produced by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, has been created to assist astronauts in audio-visual data collection in space.
Designed to work in zero gravity, the JEM Internal Ball looks like a droid straight out of Star Wars. While most of us will never see one of these in action we all stand to benefit from the information it collects in deep space.
The Sound-Catching Pillow
Want to lay in bed and watch Netflix all day but don’t want to sit relatively upright in the same position the entire time? Well, this soft cube-shaped pillow allows you to lay on your side without muffling the sound to your lower ear.
The hollowed-out core of the FUJIPACKS All-Sound Catch Cubic Pillow allows sound to pass unobstructed by all the fluff found in a normal pillow. It’s surprisingly comfortable and comes in a variety of colors.
Instant Translation Smart Mask
Due to SARS and other previous viral outbreaks, the Japanese were accustomed to wearing masks even before the pandemic hit. No surprise then that they’ve already developed some fancy additions to the standard N95 surgical mask.
The C-Face Smart Mask fits over a standard mask and allows the speaker to instantly translate their native speech into one of eight different languages that is then amplified outwards. Expect these to become normal features of international tourism and diplomacy in the future.
Flush-in-a-Pocket Polite Pooper
This handy invention was created as an eco-friendly water conservation device for Tokyo urbanites, particularly women. In order to cover up conspicuous sounds while in public restrooms or in shared apartments, Japanese women used to run the faucet or flush the toilet repeatedly while doing their business.
Created to reduce water consumption, this battery-operated speaker on a keychain produces the sound of running water or flushing as a way to obscure unwanted noises while on the toilet without all the wasted water. Good for maintaining our environment, good for maintaining your poise.
Karaoke For One
Not sure if you are ready to debut your rendition of ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ at the Karaoke bar this weekend? This silent mic and headphone set made by Prodiea will allow you to train at home without bothering your roommates and neighbors.
The funnel-like mic mutes 70% of the volume of your singing so you can really belt it out to your favorite tunes. Performing karaoke is said to be a therapeutic way to reduce social anxiety and improve self-esteem; all the better if you’ve had lots of practice before getting up in front of others.
Mini Portable Washing Machine
At about 6 inches long and 3 inches high this has got to be the smallest washing machine out there. Powered by USB, this little gadget has a ten-minute wash cycle and was designed to allow those who work dirty jobs to quickly clean small items.
The Thanko Mini Mini Desktop USB Washing Machine is a handy way to clean glasses, sunglasses, jewelry, and wristwatches (provided of course that they are waterproof). It’s compact, quick, and non-abrasive.
Panasonic’s Robot Fridge
No more pausing your favorite show to go raid the fridge. Panasonic has created a 600 lb mini-fridge that will come to you when called. Using LIDAR light detection depth sensors this fridge can safely navigate from the kitchen to your coach side.
While this fridge was designed with the elderly and those with mobility issues in mind, this invention will surely be a hit with your average couch potato as well. This puts the built-in couch cooler to shame.
Children’s Seats in Public Restrooms
It’s a wonder why this simple utilitarian invention hasn’t made its way to every public restroom the world over. Designed to ease the burden breaks on already overburdened parents, these can be found in public restrooms across Japan.
Doing your business while holding a child is not easy or comfortable and the alternative is putting your child down on to one of the least hygienic surfaces on the planet: a public restroom floor. These seats should be available everywhere.
While everyone likely remembers the epic failure that was the launch of Google Glasses a few years ago, these new glasses by Fun’iki aren’t attempting to be an entire operating system half an inch from your eyeballs. The Ambient Glasses Digital Eyewear offers a far more simplistic version that focuses only on notifications.
Using mini speakers in the frames and six colored LED lights, the Ambient Glasses are designed to allow the wearer to take note of incoming notifications without having to pick up their smartphone every few minutes. They connect via Bluetooth and have a tiny rechargeable lithium-ion battery.
The Baby Mop Onesie
This onesie is designed to allow the youngest members of your family to help with housework. Since they are crawling around on the floor anyway they may as well help mop up while they are down there.
The soft mop material attached to the arms and legs of the onesie double as soft padding to protect the little ones from hardwood and tile flooring. Riding the line between novelty and practicality, these onesies have been available in Japan since the ’90s.
Qoobo the Interactive Cat Cushion
Study after study shows that having a pet can positively affect our mental and emotional wellbeing. Unfortunately, many people are either allergic to our most common furry companions or live in apartments that don’t allow tenants to have pets.
With these people in mind, Yukai Engineering created Qoobo, their soft faux-feline cushion that has a tail that wags when you stroke it. While it will never bring the same companionship of a living cat, it does have the benefit of never needing to be fed, it won’t bring fleas into your house, and best of all: no litter box cleanup.
Back in 2018, Asahi Power Service Company created a prototype for a drone umbrella that is designed to fly directly above the owner providing hands-free protection from inclement weather, whether it be rain or harsh sun rays.
Unfortunately for those who want to take advantage of this product, regulations on drone usage have prevented this invention from hitting the streets of Tokyo or anywhere else. For now, regulations prohibit the flying of drones within 30 meters of other people.
Sideloading Moving Truck
Anyone who has tried to use a moving truck in an urban area will be wishing they had one of these. It’s hard enough to find parking for a normal car in most cities. Finding a place to park a giant moving truck within eyesight of your new apartment is next to impossible, especially considering the extra space needed BEHIND the truck for the ramp.
These side-loading moving trucks (and even pickup trucks) are standard in Japanese cities. Not only do they require less parking space, but their wide side opening also allows multiple moving people to access the truck at the same time cutting down on the amount of time the move takes.
Mop Slipper/ Shoe Covers
While it’s nice to have the toddlers pulling their weight with the Baby Mop Onesie, as seen above, the rest of the family should pitch in with the household chores as well. To that end, one Japanese inventor put the same synthetic mop material on shoe covers.
The real benefit of these shoe covers is that they allow you to not immediately undo all of your hard work by walking over your recently mopped floor in your shoes or getting your socks and feet all damp if you decide to mop shoeless. Well worth the few bucks that they cost.
These robot waiters first appeared in a pop-up cafe called Dawn Ver in Tokyo in 2018. The restaurant is staffed by 10 paraplegic and quadriplegic workers and their robotic counterparts who go to tables to take orders and deliver meals.
Robotic workers and assistants are becoming more and more popular in Japan but they still tend to be stationary robots that serve as hosts and check-in attendants at hotels, theme parks, and the like.
Cat Accessories Vending Machines
It is well documented just how much the Japanese love vending machines, cats, and all things cute. Knowing their audience well, Kitan Club decided to combine all three and launch a line of cat accessory vending machines.
At first, only cat-sized bandanas were available but they were such a hit that the company expanded and now offers other feline accessories such as hats shaped like candy wrappers or other cute animals like lambs.
The Liberation Napkin
In Japan, etiquette in public is always important. There is a lingering traditional standard for women to have small mouths, called “Ochobo” in Japanese, so that means you’ll see less wide, toothy grins and a propensity to cover one’s mouth while chewing.
A chain of burger joints realized that the size of their burgers required two hands and large bites to enjoy properly. Figuring Ochobo was preventing women from enjoying their product they created the Liberation Napkin to provide them with some privacy as they chowed down. Sales of their classic burgers to women went up 213%.
Japan has quite the rainy season, and it is not uncommon to see umbrella lockers in Japanese stores, movie theaters, and malls. These batteries of lockable racks provide a free and secure place for visitors to leave their umbrellas upon entering a building.
Not only does this allow clients to browse and shop unencumbered by an object that is long and awkward to carry, but it also helps to increase safety as a wet umbrella can create slippery surfaces where people might fall and hurt themselves. As Japan’s population has more and more older folks with mobility issues this is crucial.
Noodle Eating Splash Guard
Ramen and other kinds of noodly soups are a staple of the Japanese diet. Unlike in American and Western European cultures, slurping is not only considered perfectly acceptable table manners in Japan, they believe the slurping action actually enhances the ability to taste the depth of flavor in a soupy dish.
That’s why this seemingly ridiculous splash guard makes a bit more sense in Japan, though we highly doubt you’ll see people wearing it out in public much. For some overzealous slurpers, this might be just the thing they need to prevent soup from getting into their hair.
TikTok-Ready Selfie Mic
For those with fewer inhibitions, this selfie stick with an integrated mic will be a must-have. Compatible with iOS and Android devices the SelfieMic is used with a companion app called StarMaker where you can download your favorite songs to sing along to.
These have already become a staple for bloggers and vloggers throughout Asia and will surely be a hit with Zoomers the world over. The recommended age is eight to fifteen so it is designed for kids but I’m sure more than a few adults will be able to have fun with this one.
Umbrellas With Moisture Activating Prints
Designed by the Japanese rainwear company RainStoppers, these umbrellas reveal their patterns when wet. Made of a blended material called pongee and with a standard wooden handle, these umbrellas come in a dizzying variety of designs.
Most people have a very utilitarian outlook on umbrellas: Does it keep me dry? Is it cheap? What is the size and weight? It’s a long shot for design to become a crucial factor in deciding which umbrella to buy but it’s nice to see that some companies are still trying to innovate in that area.
The Scream Jar
Similar to the Karaoke silencing practice mic we mentioned earlier, this one is marketed as a pure stress relieving tool. The Banraishop Scream Jar Voice Silencer is designed for one purpose: to get out all that pent-up rage in a way that doesn’t end with the neighbors calling the cops on you.
It is completely soundproof so even the most bloodcurdling rage scream is reduced to a whisper. $82 a piece for these things seems a bit steep but perhaps the peace of mind after a good screamfest is worth every penny. If you are frustrated by the cost you could always yell about it, silently, until you’re blue in the face.
Comfort Food Ramen Blanket
Ramen is considered the perfect comfort food in Japan, even more so since 2020 when these comfy blankets emblazoned with the quintessential squiggly noodles were first introduced to a world stuck inside because of COVID lockdowns.
Named 2020s Product of the Year by the review site Shutup&takemymoney the Ramen blankets come with a pillowcase designed like classic ramen brand packaging that you can stuff the blanket into for storage.
Japan loves gourmet designer fruit. The top-tier Yubari cantaloupe goes for an average of $160 a pop with some having been auctioned off for the eye-watering price of over $23,000. These shikoku suika watermelons are cheap by comparison at $50-100.
These ornamental square watermelons are grown in cube-shaped tempered glass containers. In order to achieve the proper aesthetic quality, they are harvested well before they have ripened meaning they are hard and tasteless. They’d be a great addition to a still-life painting.
Become Your Cat Custom Mask
They say that, after years of companionship, a pet and its owner can sometimes start to look alike. This product takes this concept to a whole new level. Modeling Workshop 91 has started making custom human-sized hyper-realistic 3D cat heads that look just like your pet cat.
Since they are custom-made to order they cost upwards of $2000 apiece. Just send them a photo of your furry feline friend and in a short time, you will be sent a wearable full-head mask that looks like your kitty. It will probably freak out your cat but it’ll also definitely be a great Halloween costume.
Onion Protection Fan Glasses
Everyone has heard of some trick to prevent crying while cutting onions but they never seem to work very well. Hopefully, these fan glasses, specially designed by Japanese product designer Kenji Kawasaki, might change all of that.
The reason we cry our eyes out while cutting onions is because they contain the chemical irritant called synpropanethial-S-oxide. When chopped, onions release this chemical into the air causing us to weep. These fan glasses make sure that irritant never makes it into our eyes.
Genki-jun Toe Stretcher
This toe stretcher is made of soft material and is available to help people that struggle with foot problems. For example, if your toes are too close to one another, you may experience issues with circulation which can cause stress on your feet.
This product comes in a variety of colors and three different sizes. It works over time to help create more space between the toes and improve balance. Note, this product is not waterproof so it’s advised not to wear it in the bath.
For the food influencer looking to find a new way to post mouth-watering food content, this cut-out tool can be used in a variety of ways to add flair to your dishes. For only $6.45, consider adding this to your repertoire of kitchen gadgets.
Instead of cutting your cucumber into boring circles, use this tool to create heart-shaped pieces that will make any salad worthy of one thousand likes. But wait, this tool isn’t just for cucumbers. Any soft fruit can also be cut with this kitchen staple, making it a great addition to your kitchen drawer.
Vending Machines With Hot Food
Vending machines are more popular in Japan than in nearly every other county around the world. Due in part to Japan’s low crime rates, vandalized vending machines are a very rare sight which makes their ability to be left outside and open around the clock possible.
Unfortunately, you won’t see these offered in the aisles at your local Target or Best Buy, but hot food vending machines are a real thing in Japan. If you find yourself in Japan, know that your mid-day Twix fix could easily be replaced by a hot Japanese meal.
Expect Rain Indicator
Osaka gets a tremendous amount of rain, even during the dry season, totaling nearly five feet of rainfall each year. Recently, they have installed these rain indication lights in elevators throughout the city to give people a heads up that they will need to have their umbrellas at the ready.
While this just seems like a courtesy notification it actually helps ease heavy pedestrian traffic flow out of large office buildings. When every employee is trying to leave at the same time, knowing you will need to have your umbrella ready ahead of time prevents bottlenecks in the lobbies.
Japan is known for its fake food products, and these fake food accessories (keychains, headbands, etc.) are not to be passed over. While this trend hasn’t quite yet made it to the U.S., they are all the rage in Japan and are readily available both in stores and online.
When picking the perfect headband, there are a lot of options to choose from. Why not choose a quirky option? You can choose to adorn your head with bacon and eggs, fried noodles, or chicken and green onions, to name a few options.
Hizamakura Lap Pillow
In the mid-2000s, the Trane Corporation created this very absurd and notable lap pillow. Featuring cushions that are shaped like women’s legs, this is definitely one of Japan’s more wacky inventions. Why shouldn’t you rest your eyes and take a nap on a pillow shaped like legs?
The Hizamakura was launched as a way to solve loneliness, according to the Trane Corp. It has been nicknamed the “Girlfriend Pillow,” and LA Weekly reviewed this product and actually said “it’s so bad” it actually “comes back around” to being a good product.
No Surgery Nose Shaper
For minor nose contouring at home, the Hana Tsun Nose Straightener can help get you that look you are going for. These silicon and plastic clips are placed on the nose to apply constant but gentle pressure on the cartilage of your nose for twenty minutes a day to shape it over time.
We can’t speak to how well it works but it has sold well over the last few years in Japan so we figure they must be doing something right. While they probably aren’t very comfortable it’s obviously preferable to surgery for many.
Putting on lipstick isn’t always the easiest task for some of us, so why not use a stencil to help guide you? Eyebrow stencils may be more popular than lipstick stencils now, but achieving the perfect pout is just as important for your look.
Coming in at only $3, you can buy this reusable plastic face stencil which can be worn just like a mask. Say “hello” to the perfect lips and no more blurry lines. When removing, just be careful not to smudge the mask or you’ll risk ruining all of your hard work.
Silicone Lip Plumper
Lip fillers have been popular for the last few years, thanks in part to the transformation of Kylie Jenner. If you want to emulate Kylie’s perfect pout, you may want to consider avoiding the needle and instead purchasing this product.
This lip plumper features a silicone ring that sits in the mouth and overlaps the lips. It’s more than likely worn as a prank product to harbor a few laughs, but it is possible that you could wear it out in public. Stranger things have certainly happened.