Japander1. a western star who uses his or her fame to make large sums of money in a short time by advertising products in Japan that they would probably never use. ~er (see synecure, prostitute) 2. to make an ass of oneself in Japanese media.




Dr. Nakamats: the Greatest Inventor of All Time?

I’d say the jury is still out on that question.  But, according to the genius himself, Dr. Yoshiro Nakamatsu, there is no debate.

Dr. NakaMats is undoubtedly the most prolific inventor of all time (he does hold more than 4,000 patents), and certainly one of the more inventive creators the world has ever known (just consider his creative process, “Dr. NakaMats’ Underwater Invention Method, which includes listening to music and concludes with diving underwater, where he says he comes up with his best ideas and records them while underwater – yes, he is the creator of the first and only underwater notebook!).  But if you ask him who the best inventor of all time is, NakaMats will proudly state that he is certainly one of the top five (just ask the US Science Academic Society who sent him a plaque that ranked his name next to Archimedes, Michael Faraday, Marie Curie and Nikola Tesla).

Now that I am sure I’ve piqued your interest, aren’t you curious to learn a bit more about this great minds’ impact on the world?  After, all, if he is up there with Archimedes, NakaMats must have conceived some pretty spectacular inventions …

… well, the “Self Defense Wig” was a real game changer.  You know, it’s an invention for those times when you are walking alone down a dark street late at night, wishing you had something to keep you safe – mace, a taser, or maybe martial arts lessons? Lucky for us, the Dr. NakaMats Self-Defense Wig can protect you from any potential attackers, as long as you’re wearing the hair piece. As the patent application above shows, it’s an easy and effective tool to stopping assailants dead in their tracks; with a strip and a weight attached to the wig, the wearer only has to swing his head to hit an attacker.  Genius!

Then there are the “Pyon Pyon” shoes.  NakaMats figured out that the creator of jogging died at only 41 because of the high impact of the activity on the body.  Thus, while running is good for exercise, it is hard on the body, hmmm … (light bulb) why not put springs on the bottom of running shoes to lessen the impact?! The Pyon Pyon shoes allow you to bound across distances with the greatest of ease, or jump really high like the good doctor above is doing, and it’s all easy on the joints.  They can be yours for the low, low price of $180 on Dr. NakaMats’ site!

His house is also a den of invention, full of fake doors, a gold-plated bathroom (he claims that the gold blocks out all outside distractions), furniture of his design, extra strong glass of his creation, NakaMats floor tiles with special energy-regulating properties to keep the room’s heating and cooling to a minimum, energy-saving lights, and a showroom of all of his inventions, of course.

NakaMats’ biggest claim?  He invented the floppy disk in 1950.  And, after six of Japan’s leading corporations turned down his request to have them produce the item, he granted the sales license for the disk to IBM, which now holds the patents for sixteen of his inventions.  But, an IBM spokesman, Mac Jeffery, said that while the company does license some of his patents, the floppy disk was their own creation.  Another source has mentioned that IBM reached nonexclusive patent agreements with Nakamatsu in the late 1970s to avoid conflicts.  Tricky, tricky.

The one thing that we can all agree to say about Dr. NakaMats … he is one unique dude.

The Inventions of Dr. Nakamats, a documentary created by Kaspar Astrup Schröder, captures his spirit perfectly.  Watch it as soon as you can!

Chindogu aka Unuseless Japanese Inventions

Ever come across an utterly bizarre invention and snapped your fingers looking for the right word to describe the oddity? Have no fear, an enterprising Japanese gentlemen called Kenji Kawakami has coined an official term … Chindōgu.  Literal translation: unuseless invention.  Because if anyone actually attmpted to use one of these seeminly useful inventions, he or she would find that it causes so many new problems, or such significant social embarrassment, that effectively it has no utility whatsoever.

portable office tie

The term Chindōgu encompasses any invention which is so mind-bogglingly, ridiculously absurd that you forget about its actual practicality.  So many inventions fit into this category (especially in Japan) that Kawakami actually founded an organization dedicated to these creations.  He named it the international Chindōgu society.  Simple enough.

noodle cooler

Defining a particular gadget as Chindōgu-worthy is more difficult than you would think. Believe it or not, the Chindogu society dictates several tenets which must apply to the said invention …

1. The invention must be useless

2. The invention must be real, and more than a concept.

3. The invention must be created for daily use

Pretty strict.  Here are some of the amazing inventions that have already made the cut!

hair ego booster

solar lighter

daddy nurser

the baby mop

hay fever hat

360 degree panoramic camera

cockroach swatting slippers

Backscratcher's Shirt

personal rain saver

For more amazing Chindogu check out the Big Bento Box of Unuseless Japanese Inventions by Kenji Kawakami. I promise you will be entertained.  What would your useless invention be?!

Finally Some Origami for Those Who Can’t Follow Directions

Originally titled “oreore-nai,” in Japanese (a playful way to say‚ “I cannot fold properly”), Origami: Strange Faces uses mixed images of faces to fold into some odd looking characters. While instructions are included, you can fold the paper in all sorts of different ways for some very unexpected results.  This easy origami kit comes with 15 square sheets of paper printed with photo images of cropped faces. When folded the sheets transform into bizarre kaleidoscopic versions of a face, as if a few people got together and went crazy with Apple’s Photobooth effects.

Capsule Toys and Prize Addiction

You know that feeling you get when you open up a box of cereal, or Cracker Jacks and there is an unknown, but undoubtedly amazing prize to be discovered deep down inside? Or when you turn the knob on one of those 50¢ vending machines to win a random prize? You hope for this one, or that one, but you never quite get the collectible you actually wanted, so you just keep going back for more, and more until you do get that golden prize. Well, some genius finally realized the money-making potential of that obsessional prize-hunting behavior, and they are changing the game altogether.

Capsule toys.  They used to really suck – dice, alien heads, putty, stickers, bad fake tattoos – but they evolved into something perfectly cute, weird, quirky, and highly collectible.  In the U.S. I think it all began with “Homies” in 1998.

With these characters there was finally a figurine collection that both children and adults alike thought was cool.  You could go to the supermarket and get a Homie from the machine, or the deli, or the movies, they were everywhere.  And since you only had to pay 50¢, getting a new one cost less than buying candy or a soda.  So people began to collect them, and search them out, and build fairly massive Homie collections (literally hundreds). And voilà, here we are 13 years later and collectible capsule toy mania is in full swing.

In Japan they have entire capsule toy stores.  I wandered around in one in a daze for a good hour when I was there.  But, if you are looking for some a little bit closer to home (and you happen to live in NYC), go check out Kid Robot, My Plastic Heart, or Toy Tokyo and start a new obsession!

Kid Robot

118 Prince Street
New York, NY 10012-3103
(212) 966-6688

My Plastic Heart

210 Forsyth Street
New York, NY 10002
(646) 290-6866

Toy Tokyo

91 2nd Ave
New York, NY 10003

(212) 673-5424





Tadanori Yokoo: Graphic Design the Way it Should Be

Tadanori Yokoo (b. 1936) is a graphic designer, but really he is so much more.  Whereas in the West printed work (posters, prints, animation, book design, album covers, illustrations, etc.) is created as either art or a commercial vehicle, Japan does not focus on such a distinction.  Instead, since the late 17th century a tradition of ukiyo-e has existed there which celebrates the potential for a poster or book cover to also be a work of art.  Yokoo is a part of that tradition, and looking at his posters will make you feel pretty bummed out about how ugly the advertisements are that are pasted everywhere on our city streets!

a ballad dedicated to the small finger cutting ceremony

recruiting members for tenjo sajiki (1967)

The art critic Yasushi Kurabayashi wrote, “Yokoo’s posters are not designed around conventional poster-like ideas. Rather his posters have been executed from his own desire for creative expression, with little regard for cognitive clarity or message.”  So essentially, instead of thinking of the poster as a tool for selling something, an object to inspire a specific impulse or thought in the viewer, Yokoo is more focused on making his commercial creations into works of art.  I guess the idea is when something looks that great, people will stop to check it out, and in admiring it figure out what it is that is being advertised in the image.   Works for me. I would certainly spend a longer time looking at something beautiful; and I would definitely appreciate the good taste and sensibility of a company that would support the production of such an alternative poster to sell their product, wouldn’t you?

Earth, Wind, and Fire (1976)


The Beatles, Star Club (1977)


Mazda 110s (1968)

London Philharmonic Orchestra (1978)

America (1968)

Check out the Japanese Gift Market for tons of Yokoo objects, including pins,statues, and notebooks (and a ton of bizarre Japanese stuff!), or learn more about him on his official website.




The Perfect and Imperfect Item for the Distractible

To be perfectly honest, I am a total stationary nerd.  Growing up I could spend at least an hour in any office or art supply store shopping the pencil/pen/eraser aisle.  I always carry a pencil case with me wherever I go and it is undoubtedly filled with a rainbow of colored writing instruments.  And embarrassing as it is at my age, those cute little erasers from Japan just put a smile on my face.

 But I think that these Animal Balance Erasers might just be the ultimate in eraser joy because not only are they cute, they can also provide you with hours of entertainment.  The animal-shaped erasers can be fitted together and piled high on a platform to form a perfectly balanced animal tower.  Easier said than done. Sure, the idea of a game that is meant to be played with your office sounds kind of distracting, but we all need a break sometimes, right?!

Click here to buy them now from Uncommongoods.com

Origami Furniture

If you like drawing, building, designing, or just playing with paper you may want to look into origami.  Just in case you aren’t familiar with the craft, origami is a traditional japanese art form that involves folding paper into all sorts of amazing designs.  The goal of this art form is to transform a flat sheet of paper, cardboard, or cloth into an object or sculpture using nothing but folds.  That’s right, no cutting or gluing allowed!  I know it is Spring Break, and lots of kids are at home this week looking for fun stuff to do, so why not an origami crafts project?  All you need is paper!

If you are ready to start today and don’t feel like leaving the house check out the Origami Club online.  They have all sorts of fun things to make with easy to follow diagrams.  Otherwise, you can order one of the really cool origami kits below!

Furniture Origami Set

The Furniture Origami set allows you to build dozens of mini pieces with no more than a few sheets of paper! The awesome kit will show you how to use the classic Japanese paper art to create sofas, chairs, tables, shelves and more. 100 sheets of paper are included, along with a how-to guide. $12

Buy it now from Fred Flare

The Most Amazing, Fantastic Book of Origami & Other Fabulously Fun Fold-Ups

Have fun creating incredible and fantastic fold-ups, from Japanese paper cranes to American paper-engineered planes. Learn how to make secret notes, dollar bill rings, cootie catchers, leaping frogs and more! Comes with 90 origami sheets.

Buy it now from Shure Products

Fast Food Origami

This fun, and very Japanese origami kit comes with pre-printed paper so you can make everything you see on the cover. The paper is not only printed with the food textures, it is also printed with faint lines that help you to fold without mistakes. The instructions are in Japanese, but are very clearly illustrated with step by step drawings. A fun set for any origami fan!

Buy it from Amazon.com

Foldschool Origami Furniture

Foldschool Furniture

And once you’ve had a bit of practice, why not make your own origami, full-sized furniture?!  Check out Foldschool and see how you can complete this DIY project at home.  All you need is a printer, cardboard, origami practice, and a bit of imagination!!

Retro Wednesday: Panasonic!

Before the ipod there was the Discman, and before the Discman people used the Walkman, its predecessor was the boombox, and then there were the Panasonic inventions of the 70s.  There five in below are truly amazing machines.  Each one was inspired by a desire to appeal to a younger, hipper audience (a.k.a. kids) in the 1970s.  Before these devices, radios were bland – boring grey boxes – but after them, nothing was ever the same…


The Panasonic Panapet - A radio with a chain so that you could swing it around like a pet as you walked down the street.



The Panasonic Dynamite - An 8 track player with explosive sound


And the amazing Dynamite commercial!



The Panasonic Toot-A-Loop - A radio that you could lie flat or wear around your wrist



The Panasonic Rolling Tone Radio - A great looking FM/AM radio with a little pop-out pedestal to stand onthat



The Panasonic Streetwalker - The first boombox


Donate to Japan and build a chair at the same time

Looking for a great after school or weekend project?  Muji has the perfect answer – the DIY Cardboard Child Chair.  That’s right, you buy it, build it, decorate it, and voila, you have the chair of your dreams.   And the best part is, Muji will donate $10 from your single purchase of a DIY Cardboard Child Chair to the Japan Earthquake Relief Fund, Japan Society New York.