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Ingenious Inventions From Japan That You Probably Had No Idea Even Existed

It’s amazing how technology makes life easier, even if it is only a little bit at a time. But in Japan, that ethos has been taken to a whole other level. Yep, these genius inventions embody all that’s great about the modern world – finding efficient, effortless solutions to problems that you never even knew you had. We apologize in advance for the amount of money that you’re about to spend on importing all these awesome items…

1. Burger napkins

Eating a burger in public can be a messy job, especially considering how jam-packed today’s meat-filled buns can be. In Japan, though, there’s an awesome solution for saving face – the burger napkin. The inventive creation has a print of a mouth on its opposite side so you can chow down without shame.

2. Umbrella lockers

Ever had that awkward moment when you walk into a building after sheltering from the rain, only to find there’s nowhere to put your sopping umbrella? Well, then this one’s for you. Umbrella lockers are the perfect solution: giving you somewhere to dry your umbrella without the risk of having it stolen — or getting dirty looks from your colleagues. Why these aren’t commonplace everywhere, we’ll never know.

3. Dinosaur receptionists

Automation has never been so fun. After all, who wouldn’t want to be greeted at their hotel reception by an animatronic dinosaur? It turns out that artificial intelligence isn’t all gleaming white androids. In the real world, it’s far more exciting – and far more Jurassic Park than I, Robot.

4. Cistern sinks

Toilets can be pretty uneconomical, to the point that many people will try to conserve water by only flushing when really necessary. Japan, however, has solved that problem with these super-eco-friendly cistern sinks, which mean that you can use the water twice. Pure genius.

5. Easy-open cans

Say goodbye to those sinking “I broke my nail”moments. We all know that digging your fingernails under a can’s ring pull might just be the most first-world problem out there. Even so, any little thing to make your life easier isn’t going to go amiss. And so, the addition of a tiny depression underneath a Japanese ring pull is definitely a very good thing. The extra space means any thirsty can owner can lift the tab with ease.

6. The breakfast machine

Have you ever felt that there are just too many moving parts to making your morning toast and eggs? Having to fry the eggs on the pan, but then also putting bread in the toaster — it’s just too much. Well, not really. But this Japanese company has nonetheless produced an all-in-one breakfast machine. Will it catch on?... hard to say. 

7. House surnames

Getting house numbers mixed up is pretty easy. We’ve all probably received someone else’s mail by accident at some point. However, some homes in Japan simply have family surnames, instead of door numbers, on their fronts, which virtually eliminates that problem entirely and hopefully ensures that they’ll only ever receive the right letters. Those with more common surnames be warned — you might want to work on another way of distinguishing whose mail belongs to who!

8. Cat face massager

Your cat deserves the best, but maybe your bare hands just can’t provide everything your furry friend needs. Well, fear not. This Japanese gizmo has been specifically designed to massage your feline’s face, hopefully in a way that it actually enjoys. Who knows if the contraption will eventually catch on in America?

9. Fully automated stores

Sure, self-serve checkouts are becoming a lot more commonplace almost everywhere in the world nowadays. But in Japan, they’ve taken things to the next level. There are whole stores where absolutely everything is automated, meaning you never need to interact with another human after going through their doors. Introverts, it’s time to grab your re-usable shopping bags and hit the shops. Alone, that is. 

10. Square watermelon

We’d always thought that watermelons only came in one shape: watermelon. But if you live in Japan, you can get your fruit fix in a variety of shapes. And that includes cubes. How do Japanese growers do it? Well, the melon is grown in the container of your desired shape and voila. Be warned though, it’s a really expensive way to get your five a day. 

11. Rotating train seats

What sort of crazy person would choose a train seat that leaves them feeling nauseous and out of sorts? No one, that’s who! Let’s face it: nobody likes traveling backwards on trains. Sure, you might tolerate it, but if given the choice, forward-facing seats will always come out on top. In Japan, that’s an option no matter which direction the train is going in – thanks to rotating seats. Simply brilliant.

12. Actroid

From the downright genius right through to the nightmarish. Brace yourselves! Meet — the Actroid — a humanoid that simulates realistic human facial expressions. The Osaka University initially developed it in 2003, and the results have been unnerving, to say the least. The life-like creations can imitate a number of human functions, even down to breathing and blinking. It’s like they’re staring straight into our souls... 

13. Butter grater

There’s nothing worse than setting your heart on a delicious sandwich, only to find that the block of butter is nowhere near ready to spread. We all know what comes next — broken bread and, even worse, no sandwich in sight. Even toast won’t be the same again when you add this kitchen essential to your cupboards. Thank us later.

14. Capsule hotels

Originating in the 1970s as a cost-effective form of overnight accommodation, capsule hotels are now a big part of Japanese culture. We can’t imagine how anyone could get comfy in such cramped confines, but if all you need is somewhere to lay your head, then there are far worse options available. Just don’t sit up too quickly if you forget something in the lobby.

15. Chip grabber

Germaphobes — take note. As satisfying as it might be, a bag of chips is undoubtedly a messy snack. It’s impossible to escape without your fingertips getting covered in salty residue – or is it? Well, this invention known as the Potechinote allows you to pick up a chip without ever having to touch it yourself. Genius.

16. Hand choppers

No doubt we’ve all had a close call with a knife and a chopping board at some point in our lives. And in that split second when your fingers performed the dance of death with a gleaming blade, we bet that you’d have given anything to have had this tool at your disposal. The concept is simple — the fake hand takes all the risk, while your well-protected digits rest easy way back from harm’s way.

17. Chopsticks fan

An invention perfect for the impatient eater, the “chopsticks fan” is a clip-on gadget that blows a stream of cooling air onto steaming hot noodles. Gone will be the arduous task of puffing onto your dinner before you can tuck in. Just don’t aim it into the bowl, or it might make a mess of your soup and create a nasty splash-back situation. 

18. Gum disposal unit

Sometimes a genius idea can be so simple that it’s a wonder no one came up with it before. Remember that scene in Elf where Buddy eats the gross discarded gum, stuck to the street furniture? That doesn’t happen in Japan because packets of gum there come with these handy little squares of paper, just big enough for you to wrap up your gum in when you’re done. Winning!

19. Face slimmer mouth piece

Despite making its user’s mouth resemble that of a freakish goldfish, this device is supposed to be the one-stop wonder to younger-looking skin. It claims to fight wrinkles and sagging. Simply pop the Face Slimmer Exercise Mouthpiece into your mouth and continually make loud vowel noises. The promise — a surgery-free facelift. What’s not to love?

20. Robotic farmers’ suit

Resembling an elaborate cosplay at an anime convention, this exoskeleton is actually a functional piece of kit designed for use in agriculture. The suit, which features eight motors to assist elderly farmers with physical tasks, was developed by Professor Shigeki Toyama in 2010. Whether it’s for farming or fighting crime, either way, you’re going to look pretty cool in this getup!

21. Transparent toilets

Yes, only in Japan can the bathrooms be completely transparent while in a public park. Admittedly they’re super pretty and look amazing. And you can see from a huge distance that they’re incredibly clean. But why would anyone want to pee in full view of the public? No one that’s who, which is why they become opaque when occupied. That’s what we call art.

22. Night-night light

The Japanese have come up with the perfect way to solve that age-old bedtime argument. Who hasn’t had a roommate that goes to sleep way too early? Or stays up way too late? Which means we’ve all been unhappy with the nighttime light situation at some point. Lucky, then, that this beautifully diplomatic example of nighttime harmony exists in Japanese hotel rooms. Half on, half off, 100 percent lit.

23. Handle with ’Za

Ever noticed how difficult it is to carry a hot pizza? We know it’s probably been a while, but the delivery drivers among you will totally feel this. It’s almost impossible to carry it and not melt you skin, or destroy the lovingly crafted ’za. Step forward Japan, with the perfect way to protect and serve your pie. A handle that goes across the box. And it keeps both you and your meal intact. Genius.

24. Hug pillow

On the surface, this hug pillow by the Japanese company Premium Bandai might look like an adorable plushie, but dig a little deeper, though, and it’s actually far cleverer. The idea is to position the pillow just so to make sure that you’re sitting upright at your desk. The result — this puffy invention sure is one useful back saver. Tell us where we can order one!

25. Robotic urinal

Any man suffering from anxiety issues when nature calls may want to avoid a bathroom where this high-tech invention is a fixture. The robotic urinal reportedly provides hands-free assistance for users with full bladders. We weren’t aware that toilet trips were missing words of wisdom, but who doesn’t love a good pep talk every now and again?

26. Daddy nurser

Anyone who has seen Ben Stiller in Meet The Fockers may already be familiar with the concept behind this one. The real-life “Daddy nurser” was seemingly developed to address gender inequality and helps fathers experience the joys of breastfeeding. The contraption certainly makes for a strange sight, though, with two breast-shaped bottles attached by a flimsy-looking harness. A word of advice — don’t forget to remove it before answering the door if you want to avoid some curious looks.

27. Ponytail-friendly helmets

Helmet hair is the bane of every motorcyclist’s life, no matter their gender. Folks with ponytails probably have the most room to complain, though, so it’s little wonder that someone in Japan has come up with the perfect solution. And it’s a simple solution, too. The helmets either have a specific ponytail-friendly hole or an indent to keep the wearer’s locks looking fresh. It seems so obvious now…

28. Solar lighters

Sure, a solar lighter may just be a glorified magnifying glass stand, but its application is the real genius here. After all, if you really insist on harming both yourself and the environment with cigarettes, the least you can do is to be eco-friendly when lighting them. While it may be green, it’s hardly a timesaver, as anyone who’s attempted to start a campfire this way will confirm.

29.Heated mirror

Fogging up the bathroom mirror while you shower is inevitable, but waiting for the fog to clear doesn’t have to be. This Japanese hotel has a heated portion of each bathroom mirror so that you can start getting ready as soon as you get out. Fingers crossed the handy hack catches on outside of Japan sometime soon.

30. Rubber fingertip gloves

Oven mitts are a wondrous invention, but sometimes they can wreak havoc with the way you grip things. If you’re removing a bowl from a microwave, for example, it might just slip out of your grasp. But not with these fingertip gloves! The finger shields are made from rubber, so you can guard your digits without the risk of dropping your beloved bowl. Just don’t think about how silly you might look!

31. The power nap chair

Say it’s a busy day at work, but you’re struggling to keep up with the pace. You may need a quick power nap to get yourself together. With this special office chair, you can get comfortable almost instantly. Produced by a company in Japan, this seat reclines and allows you to stretch out right at your desk. Just check with your boss first that they’re… okay for you to do so. 

32. Restroom accessory table

It’s actually really common for people to leave their belongings in public restrooms. They might, for instance, place their wallet on the cistern lid as they go about their business and then completely forget about it. But in Japan there are restrooms with accessory tables attached to the door handles. That way, people are faced with their belongings as they exit the cubicle.

33. Doggie treadmill

You have to take your dog for a walk every single day. But that can be hard to do when the weather outside is miserable. Yet that wouldn’t be an issue with this Japanese contraption. On one end you have a bike for humans to use, while on the other is a treadmill for pups. That means both you and your pet can work out., err… together.

34. Carton handles

You might be inclined to think that these handles for cartons are quite unnecessary. But if you have children, then you might begin to see the logic. Why? Because it really helps young kids to pour their own drinks. Promoting independence while saving on spills seems like a win-win. So maybe the families using them in places such as Japan have the right idea?

35. Braille cans

Soda cans obviously all have different designs on them. Otherwise, how would we buy the right drink? But what if you can’t see the design? All cans feel the same to the touch, so how can a visually impaired person tell the difference between Mountain Dew and Root Beer? They can’t. Unless some incredibly clever person adds the names of the sodas on the top of the can – in braille. Which they do in Japan. 

36. Subway setback certs

If you’re late for work because of a late subway in America, you don’t really have any proof to show your boss. But in Japan and Germany, you can get a certificate that officially states that your transportation was delayed. It should then keep you out of trouble with management. How long before the forgers get into this one, though?

37. Grow-Your-Own-Rice Bra

Developed by Triumph International in 2010, the Grow-Your-Own-Rice Bra is a concept garment that aimed to capitalize on the public’s enthusiasm for agriculture. With cups that double up as portable plant pots, we can’t really imagine that this is either useful or comfortable. Hopefully the rice turned out okay, at least?

38. Calorie-counting stairs

How’s this for an incentive to use the stairs instead of an elevator? This helpful staircase in Japan informs you of the number of calories that each step burns off as you climb. It’s a handy little incentive to energize, rather than to look for an easy way up to the next level. Don’t forget to pack your calculator, though.

39. High-tech toilet seat

There’s more to this Japanese toilet than meets the eye. Arguably, you could call it a marvel of engineering. Some models have seats that get rid of germs using UV lighting or heat, while some even come with the ability to play audio. Some can clean themselves with specially treated water, while others have a dryer included. The future is here.

40. My chopsticks bra

This strange bra design from Triumph International takes fast food to a whole new level. The outlandish outfit comes with food bowls in each cup and reusable chopsticks tucked into the cleavage. Sadly, the bizarre lingerie – seen here in 2007 – isn’t available in the shops; no doubt the mess it patently created wasn’t worth the bother.

41. Fancy Bathrooms

Japan has also perfected the art of domestic restrooms. Whatever you think you know about restroom options, be prepared to have your mind blown. Because how much would you like to have a porcelain throne that emits white noise? Or perfume? And comes with an automatic seat as well as a built in bidet and a dryer? A ton, that’s how much.

42. Mayo Margarita, anyone?

Mayo is a big deal in Japan. But perhaps the most unique method of delivery is in a cocktail. And yes, it’s as grim as it sounds, to our ears anyway. Catchily named the Mayogarita, it’s a regular Margarita with just a hint of creamy mayo mixed in… Yum? If you’re ever in the mood, you can grab one at the Mayonnaise Kitchen in Tokyo. 

43. Napping on the job

No, you read that absolutely correctly. Grabbing a winker at work is totally fine in Japan. The Japanese workforce works longer hours than any other on the planet, but they get the least amount of sleep at night. We kid you not. So taking power naps at your desk is a sign of how hard you work, not how much you party. And bosses don’t mind. 

44. Vending machines for EVERYTHING

We think it’s pretty safe to say that the Japanese have completely and utterly embraced vending machine culture. Where Westerners really only use vending machines as a last resort, they’re the shopping location of choice for many in Japan. And we’re not talking just soda and terrible coffee here. The country’s five million machines serve their customers everything from drinks to freshly cooked pizza, insects and yes, underwear. Second-hand underwear!

45. More Adults wear diapers than babies do

This one is… probably what we’ve all got in store, if we’re being honest. As Japan’s population is politely considered “aging,” the number of seniors has begun, it seems, to outstrip the number of newborns. Japan has the largest percentage of over 65s on the planet. And that means diaper companies sell 2.5 times more adult-sized incontinence products there than they do infant-sized diapers. 

46. No More Fours

Where we in the West can be said to have something of an aversion to the number 13, in Japan they dislike a completely different number. Yes, over there, it’s the number four. So elevators will leave it off the keypad, and the entire fourth floor will be skipped in Japanese buildings. Why the fear of four? Well, it seems, the Japanese word for that number sounds a little too much like the word for death. 

47. Godzilla can vote

Japan is clearly very proud of its famously monstrous creation, the giant, fire-spitting lizard, Godzilla. The character has spawned myriad movie, TV and anime spin offs. But the Japanese have taken that adoration just a tiny bit further. So beloved is the giant lizard, he’s been made an actual citizen of Japan. Which, we assume, means he can vote. His official duties, though, don’t end there. The cultural icon is also an official tourism ambassador.

48. Bowing Deer

Sharing cities and towns with wildlife is something a lot of us are used to. But few of us see the natural world quite like this. In the Japanese town of Nara, deer roam free. Yup, they actually share the space with their human neighbors. And like all good neighbors, they have impeccable manners. If you approach one, cracker in hand, it will bow to you before receiving your crunchy gift. Make sure you bow first, though. It’s only polite.

49. Postal Dive

The country has an actual underwater mailbox...for actual, waterproof mail. And it also holds a world record. Because this particular mailbox is around 33 feet below the surface of the ocean. And while you may think it probably is the least used mailbox in the world, you’d be wrong. Apparently, 200 messages are dropped into it during peak periods. 

50. Black Cats are Good luck

In Western culture, black cats get a fairly bad rep. For a start, they’re associated with witches, thanks Sabrina, and apparently that’s not good. Then there’s the idea that crossing paths with a black cat is bad luck. In Japan, though, black cats fare much better. The sleek felines are considered good luck there, signifying wealth and prosperity. And have absolutely nothing to do with witches. 

51. Blue Traffic Lights

In Japan some traffic lights give drivers the all-clear to move off with a blue signal. The explanation is a bit long-winded, so here’s the short version. There wasn’t always a word for green in the Japanese language, so the word for blue was also used to describe green things. But even though green now has its own word, some people continue to use the old-style description. And that results in blue traffic lights.

52. Ramen Baths

Ramen soup is delicious And in Japan they’ve found an altogether different use for this popular meal. It’s got nothing to do with eating it. In parts of the country, giant bathtubs full of the stuff are used for… bathing. Yup, soaking in Ramen is apparently good for your skin. But if a Ramen bath isn’t for you, there are also green tea and sake versions available. 

53. Arty Iron Work

It seems everything is prettier in Japan. Be that the cherry blossom trees, the vistas or even the food. Nothing is allowed to be ugly or utilitarian. And that aesthetic even extends to stuff in the road. Can you see how beautiful these manhole covers are? And let’s just remind ourselves that these only cover the entrance to the sewage system.

54. 3D Menus

Restaurant menus can be dry affairs. Flowery descriptions of food that oftentimes leave you with little clue as to what you’ll actually be eating. In Japan, though, they’ve taken menus to the next level. See that perfectly plated delicious-looking table of food at the front of the restaurant? It might look enticing, but do not eat it. It’s a plastic 3D rendering of the menu. Clever, right? Because that’s how you get people to eat.

55. Bunny Island

It’s colloquially called this for a very good reason. The cute little bouncers have been allowed to breed like crazy on Okunoshima Island. Thus they’ve turned the place into a literal bunny island. With no natural predators there, the population has exploded. But they’re super friendly and love cuddles and having their picture taken, apparently.

56. Carp in the canals

Given that Koi carp require only the very best water to survive, it’s nothing short of a miracle that they’re thriving in this city’s drainage canals. It was actually an earthquake and tsunami in 1972 that makes it possible to spot these beautiful fish in such an unnatural habitat today. The result of extra spring water- crystal clear drains. Miracle or not, they’re now a tourist hot spot and beautiful to boot.

57. Weird Kit-Kats

We all love a special edition Kit-Kat. But in Japan their candy tastes vary ever so slightly. Popular seasonal flavors include the likes of sake, wasabi and purple sweet potato. With chocolate. Anyhoops, the popularity of this particular candy might not just be down to the, ahem, interesting flavors. The crispy snack’s name, Kitto-Katto, is very close to the Japanese phrase “kitto katsu,” which means, “Surely, you will win.” 

58. Front Seat viewing

Now, we’re not saying there’s anything wrong with having a TV in the car. As long as it’s in the back for keeping the little ones entertained on long journeys. Screens in the front of the car in the West are reserved exclusively for navigation, because, you know, safety. But in Japan, drivers are more than comfortable with the TV on the dashboard while they’re driving. Wow. 

59. Restaurant in a can

If you’d gone to a restaurant and discovered that you’d been served food from a can, you’d be livid right? But in Japan there’s a chain of eateries that only serves food from a can. But it’s not your usual Chef Boyardee fare. These tins contain, shall we say, slightly more exotic meals. Salad in a tin, anyone? Or maybe some curried sea lion? How about the chrysalis of a silkworm? 

60. Polite Ground Crew

Good manners are such an integral part of Japanese culture that they do occasionally, maybe, take it to extremes. And this is one such extreme. Japanese ground crew extend their good manners to all who cross the tarmac, including those that take off from it. They actually bow before waving goodbye to aircraft as they head for the skies. And we bet every single passenger waves back.

61. Stand, Eat, Leave

While Japan has a well-established vending machine culture, allowing consumers to buy almost anything in the street, there’s one thing they simply won’t do. Where we might think nothing of grabbing a bite and eating while we walk, that simply does not happen in Japan. Eating and walking is considered the height of bad taste. Which means that when hungry Japanese commuters grab a snack from a machine out of convenience, they’ll eat it standing still. 

62. Point-less Place

No matter how hard you might try, sometimes pointing is the only way to get your message across. Despite your mom’s warnings that it’s just rude, pointing is an invaluable communication tool. Unless you’re Japanese. Because pointing just isn’t done there, in any fashion. And it’s because your mom was right. Anyhow, if you absolutely have to gesticulate in such a fashion, use your entire hand. 

63. Everybody Slurps

It seems there’s a whole other set of rules for sit-down eating. And one of them is really noisy. It’s something we absolutely can’t stand in the West, but in Japan, it’s the height of good manners. What are we talking about? Slurping your food! While we might think it rather uncouth, the Japanese want you to make appreciative noises when you eat. It shows you’re enjoying your meal and compliments the chef.

64. KFC for Christmas

In an example of just how powerful marketing can be, in 1974 the Colonel changed an entire country. Christmas, historically, hasn’t been massive in Japan, with just a small fraction of the residents identifying as Christian. But that doesn’t stop them queuing up for a family-sized bucket of the Colonel’s finest chicken in holiday season. All thanks to a slogan in the 1970s!

65. Forever Frozen

We love ice cream. But unless you can stuff it all into your mouth quickly, it can end up one big, gross-looking puddle. Clearly the Japanese feel us, because they’ve come up with a way to stop melting. And we don’t mean slow it down, they’ve actually stopped it. Which means your ice cream stays cold, semi-solid and delicious. No sticky fingers here.

66. Spa Trains

Not content with having the planet’s fastest public transport, Japan has also claimed the most luxurious. What makes them so? Well, how would you like to soak your feet at the end of a long day, before you get home? On a Japanese train, you absolutely can, equipped as they are with foot spas. Plus once you’ve soaked your tired feet, and you decide you don’t like your view, you can simply swivel your seat for a better one.

67. Selfie help

Taking that perfect, Instagram-ready picture can sometimes be tricky. Getting the right angle, distance and, most importantly, looking fine all takes work. If you’re traveling in Japan, though, snapping that shot is a tiny little bit easier. Rather than letting people jostle for position, the Japanese authorities installed selfie stands at popular tourist spots. A thoughtful and practical addition to street furniture that ensures beautiful pix every time. 

68. Maid Cafes

Ever wanted to be waited on, a la Downton Abbey, but don’t have the English connections or money? Well, in Japan they’ve come up with a solution. Welcome to the concept of the Maid Cafe. A place where you can go and get a meal, served to you by your very own maid. She’ll call you master or mistress and if you’re very lucky, you’ll get spoon fed.

69. No germs please

We’ve all become a little more germ-aware over the last couple of years. But the Japanese have been all over it for much longer. And that means they’ve come up with lots of cool inventions to help keep bugs at bay. How would you like free anti-bac wipes for your phone? But our fave germ-fighting bit of kit is a book-cleansing machine. Simply place your favored tome inside it and the lights zap away all those paper-loving nasties.

70. Olympee-c Games

A toilet with a built-in games system? Yes, but it’s not just any old games system. Because that would require the use of your hands, and technically, if you’re standing at a urinal, they should be otherwise engaged. In Japan, these games are controlled with… pee. Yup. Pee. Not sure why, but at least it encourages wayward pee-rs to reign in their urine. And, we assume, earn Pee Points like a good boy.

71. Invisible Ink

While tattoos continue to gain popularity worldwide, not everyone is a fan of body art. Which is why, we presume, showing your ink in public in Japan can be a social no-no. But help is very much at hand. And it comes in the form of some handy little stickers that completely cover your tattoos. Making trips to the gym far less stressful.

72. Narrow abode

Japan isn’t just one landmass, it’s actually made up of loads of islands. And while a handful, including Osaka, are fairly sizable, the rest of them are pretty small. Which means that living space is at a premium. What’s the best way to combat a lack of space? By building narrow houses that reach for the sky. Yup, they might be skinny, but they go up several floors.

73. Manga on a roll

Such is Japan’s love for Manga animation and comics that they’ve even added it to one of life’s absolute essentials. Although considering just how many tie-ins are available, from laundry detergent to coat hangers, it was always just a matter of time before they got to the bathroom. Because you can actually buy – and use – manga themed toilet paper. 

74. Game show artistry

It’s fair to say that Japan does game shows unlike the rest of the world. Some of them are incredible, while others are just terrifying. And there’s the show where contestants have to guess whether something is made of candy or not, and then eat it. It’s made all the more unpredictable by the amazing things candymakers can do these days. Which sometimes means people end up eating things that aren’t candy, like shoes.