Inventions You Didn’t Know Were Japanese | WhyNot!?JAPAN

Inventions You Didn’t Know Were Japanese

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Inventions You Didn’t Know Were Japanese


by Jordan Mounteer



Japanese ingenuity has long been the envy of the rest of the world, and though the public perception of this usually involves technology, Japan over the years has contributed a lot of inventions to world you might not have realized. But we’re not just talking about things like sushi or anime which have become popular across the world – rather, we wanted to look at some of the more surprising inventions that have come about over the centuries, from flying saucers to genetics.


CRISPR – for those of you not familiar with CRISPR, it is essentially a combination of genes in bacteria, which might not seem all that prestigious. However, the discoverer of CRISPR, one Yoshizumo Ishino, came across this DNA sequence in 1987 and it was quickly hailed as an amazing leap forward in terms of our understanding of how genetics functions at the microscopic level. Since then, Ishino’s original discovery has opened up the floodgates in respect to championing new data and techniques for looking at DNA and what role it plays in the development of biological systems. More specifically, it gave a foundation for the mapping of the human genome!

Mecha – although we don’t include anime in this list, it should be noted that Japan is responsible for producing several types of different genres in the arts. One of these is known as ‘mecha’, and tends to feature giant robots, often of the sort that includes a human pilot. This was behind the inspiration for a lot of Western shows, including the Power Rangers (whose different vehicles can fuse into a single unified fighting mech). Although this genre has been a staple of Japanese film and television forever, it’s begun to experience a resurgence in Western markets with the Pacific Rim movie franchise.


MSG – it gets a bad rap for being a flavor enhancer in all kinds of prepared foods, but we actually owe Kikunae Ikeda, a notable biochemist, for discovering it. This naturally occurring amino acid actually exists in a lot of things, including cheese and tomatoes, but it was Ikeda’s work that eventually led food producers to see it as a valuable way to make food taste better. So, while it’s certainly not something you want to fill up on, MSG (or monosodium glutamate) isn’t all bad – it’s all about having things in the proper quantity. Related to this though is another Japanese invention. When we think of different flavors like sweet, salty, and bitter, it’s thanks to Ikeda’s work that we now have umami as one of the basic flavor descriptions. Wondering what constitutes umami? Most people refer to it as a ‘brothy’ or ‘meaty’ type of flavor that lingers on the tongue.


Flying Saucers – believe it or not, the first occurrence of flying saucers in popular culture probably ow their origins to the Japanese as well. In the ancient narrative The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, which details the mysterious life of Princess Kaguya, one of the scrolls depicts what appears to be a disc shaped flying saucer. A copy of this tale dating from the 10th century is thought to be the initial representation of such a phenomenon.


QR codes – they are super common these days, but you might not believe that the QR code, which can be read by certain electronic devices, was first conceptualized by the Japanese as well. This style of barcode was originally in place in the automotive industry by the company Denso Wave, and was designed to track automobile numbers. The application of this kind of technology has expanded quite a bit since its original use, and is frequently used as a way to reference and link users to websites via the camera of their devices.


Pocket Calculator – leave it to the Japanese to make computing that much easier, and more mobile. We all know the first computers were gigantic monstrosities that took up entire rooms, and could only do a fraction of what they can do today. But with the advent of miniaturization, it was Japan which took the initiative to try and creative mathematical computing devices small enough to be carried by a person. These appeared in the early 1970’s, and the company Sanyo – which is still very much one of the most popular and biggest companies worldwide – was the forerunner when it released its ICC-0081 “Mini Calculator”. Today, of course, calculators are ubiquitous, and we take them for granted, but during the 70’s it was an amazing and revolutionizing invention.


Aircraft Carriers – the US military is famous for its gigantic ships, capable of housing jets that can take off at sea, and allows for considerable advantages when engaged in battle with other countries by giving them an incredible ability to attack from a great distance. But, in fact, it was Japan that first came up with the idea. The Hosho was the first of its kind, commissioned in 1922 and finally scrapped in 1945 following the war. It was capable of carrying 32 sea planes, and actually played a significant role in the Battle of Midway. Additionally, it also served an important function ferrying Japanese from overseas back to the mainland after the war.


Emojis – another thing we take for granted on an almost daily basis are emojis. A smiley face, a thumbs up, or a sad face, are all designed to convey emotion through a digital format. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a time when there wasn’t emojis to help us communicate through our computer screens and iPhones. But, again, it was the Japanese we have to think for them, and were featured by mobile carriers.  The first ones, created in 1999 by Shigetaka, were a set of 12 pixel by 12 pixel pictures meant to capture emotional sentiments. Since then, emojis have taken off and there are literally hundreds to choose from at this point (with more coming out each year, it seems). In fact, the preponderance of emojis has become so widespread they even made a movie about them – although it failed to impress critics or audiences. Nevertheless, those cutesy symbols are probably here to stay, so the next time you use a kissy face or a wink, just think of how far we’ve come!



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