Oh Japan. We’ve already put together a video of some of our best moments in Japan and talked about why we love the country so much (we even talked about the one thing we didn’t like), but we haven’t yet touched on a subject that made us alternately thankful for the ingenuity, laugh out loud and shake our heads. Crazy.
Wacky. Brilliant. Advanced. WTF? Products and systems we saw across the country can be placed in some, or all, of these categories and if you’ve ever seen a Japanese infomercial, you know that there are endless numbers of products being showcased, often in a hilarious way.
Japan is known for it’s crazy inventions and products and during our 3 months there, we sure saw our fair share of them! While some of them were confusing to us, others were absolutely genius, even if limited in use. The list of these could go on for quite some time but we decided to share some of the more useful or clever (at least we think so) inventions and systems we saw during our time in Japan.
Whether they are infomercial-worthy or just plain interesting, we’ll leave that for you to decide!
We could wax poetic about the toilets in Japan, they are just that wonderful. Public or private, toilets in Japan are clean, stocked with toilet paper and incredibly high-tech. Rarely did we see a basic, lift-the-lid and do your business toilet. Nope, we’re talking sophisticated loos that make you sigh in comfort rather than cringe in disgust. Let us take you through one of the most impressive washrooms we found in Japan:
Entering the washroom, you notice there is no unpleasant smell and it’s pretty clean. Choosing a stall you push open the door and, after a brief moment, the toilet lid lifts in greeting. As you step into the space, a speaker beside the toilet starts with soft water-like sounds that serve to mask any sound you will make.
A disinfectant dispenser and wipes stand to the side for you to clean the seats or if you prefer, a disposable seat cover is available. You sit on the seat and notice it’s warming feature has automatically turned on. After you do your business, you can choose from a variety of different buttons – rinses, fans, little flush or big flush or, you can just stand up and the toilet automatically flushes on its own.
You step up to the sink and notice the automatic dispenser for soap over the sink is beside the automatic faucet AND a hand dryer. All three in one sink. You hesitate. Perhaps you can find a reason to stay here for just a little longer…
Alright, so that was a description of the best washroom we encountered but truthfully, the others weren’t too far off with most of those features and usually a disinfecting station of some sort. Needless to say, after squatting over holes in the ground for toilets in China, southeast Asia and some parts of Taiwan, we REALLY appreciate the cleanliness and comfort of Japanese toilets.
What You Want, You Know They Dispense It
Pop, beer, cookies, coffee, T-shirts, sandwiches, cigarettes, fruit, rice, – you name it, there’s probably a vending machine that dispenses it! This is THE land of the vending machines with estimates of over 5 million of these metal boxes you’re sure to find one just about everywhere you look. Vending machines may not be wacky or crazy inventions in Japan, but some of the products they dispense are quite different and there are even some that shouldn’t be mentioned in polite company!
Interestingly, there are even pop machines that use facial recognition technology to identify the demographics of the person approaching in order to make recommendations about which drink you may enjoy. We saw a few of these and thought they were a pretty fascinating version of a traditional pop machine.
It’s raining. This generally means you’ll be unfolding that umbrella and taking it with you as you go about your business for the day. When you reach your destination however, the umbrella becomes an inconvenience. Soaking wet, there’s nothing to do but shake it off as much as possible, and bring it with you as it drips a trail behind you, or is there another option? In Japan, there almost always is.
Usually, in restaurants and larger establishments, you’ll find plastic bag dispensers to cover your umbrella until you are ready to head back out again. Sometimes, as is the case in larger malls, there are safes. Stands to place your umbrella which are then secured and locked in place until you are ready to come back and claim it again.
While it seems to us to be an excessive waste of plastic, we still think these bags are brilliant and a great solution to the wet mess that one usually associates with rainy days and carrying an umbrella.
The Never-Ending Pencil
While cell phones and computers are the more common form of dictation and communication, there are still people out there that use pencils (I know we were shocked as well). Most of us can remember the days when we’d pull out a notepad, sharpen that ol’ wooden pencil and jot down a list, or a note, or really anything at all.
Most of us will also remember when that pencil got too small to sharpen any further and the small stub had to be thrown out, oftentimes with a good portion of the lead still available – if only sharpening it was a possibility. Well folks, Japan has found a way to eliminate that pencil-waste!
Let us introduce Tsunago, the pencil sharpener that will help you create a never ending pencil. This little device has three slots. One is a typical sharpener for your regular sharpening needs, but the other two are where the Nakajima Jukyudo company (a Japanese company that solely produces sharpeners) really revolutionizes the pencil sharpener.
One slot creates a hole in the end of the pencil and the other creates a protrusion that allows two pencils to be connected together with an interlocking joint. Adding some wood glue makes the connection permanent and you’ve now got a longer pencil with which you can continue writing. Crazy or genius, you tell us!
Once you’ve got your never-ending pencil creating sharpener, you’re sure to want to upgrade more of your stationery. Not to worry, Japan’s got you covered. The staple-less stapler is not only economical, as you don’t need to keep buying staples, it is also eco-friendly for the same reason. Not only that, the holes created could be placed in a position that allows it to act as a hole-puncher as well.
Brilliant?! We think so. While we didn’t end up buying one of these, we did have a friend demonstrate exactly how effective it is – and believe us, those papers weren’t coming apart anytime soon!
Take a look at this commercial to see exactly how it works. Actually, watching a Japanese infomercial in itself is worth it.
Cycling In The Rain
Alright, so it’s raining and you’re carrying your umbrella around with you. You know you’ll avoid any inconvenient puddles when you reach your destination because there’ll be a stand or a bag for you to place your umbrella. Only one problem: You’re not walking, you’re riding your bike. This isn’t an issue in Japan as there are umbrella holders for the handlebars of bicycles allowing you to ride in the rain and keep at least the upper part of your body fairly dry.
We were amazed when we first saw these contraptions and only got more intrigued as time passed and more and more of these appeared.
Tech Savvy Transit
Every time we rode public transit we thought the various systems in place were innovative even if they weren’t so wacky. Even though transportation in Japan is expensive, it seems well thought out. When we boarded a bus, we’d receive a ticket with the stop number we got on. A screen at the front of the bus would display how much you were to pay for each subsequent stop.
So, if you got on at stop number 1, you’d keep an eye on number 1 on the screen. The amount displayed would increase as the bus travelled along the route and when you got off, you need only look to that screen to pay the required fee. It made shorter trips less costly then a one-time fee might have been but could get a bit pricey for longer trips.
We also loved the adjustment machines at train stations. Let’s say we hopped on thinking to go to one stop but along the way we realize we don’t really want to go there after all, we’ll get off sooner, or later, or transfer to another line and go somewhere completely different. Think you’re stuck with the ticket you paid for? Nope! Just head to an adjustment booth at the station you end up getting off at and the machine will either refund your money if you’ve overpaid or let you know how much extra you need to pay.
It was a great help when we weren’t too sure which station we needed to exit at – we’d pay the lowest fare and top up once we got to our destination.
For some strange reason, we were incredibly fascinated by parking in Japan. As there isn’t a lot of space for parking lots, and perhaps due to earthquakes (though we’re not too sure if that’s true), many parking garages are above ground. And true to fashion, Japan has created some high-tech, interesting designs for them.
We’re used to multi-level, drive-in garages that are basically just floors of parking lots for you to pick a spot and park yourself. In Japan, things are a bit more complex. The above photo is a common sight. Cars are raised above each level and “parked” in a vertical row. How they get them down without a huge amount of effort and re-parking, we’re just not sure but we’re almost positive there’s a simple and amazing way it’s done. We’ve even seen some make-shift home garage systems that look quite similar.
There are also automated parking towers, like the one above, that mechanically lifts the car up to one of the hundreds of “parking spots” and brings it back down for you when you return. The rotating wheel also ensures it is pointed in the right direction for you to leave. We’ve seen some footage inside one of these automated garages and it’s a pretty fascinating system!
If you’re parking in one of the rare parking spots on street-level, you’ll often find metered-lots with a style of locking or security device in the centre of the spot. The car is able to move over the hump while entering the spot but would be prevented from leaving due to the spikes on the reverse side. This means you have to pay for parking before you leave in order for the spikes to fold down and allow you to safely exit.
A Night In A Capsule
The above photo is of the capsule hotel we stayed in – just because we could – but it isn’t quite the typical capsule-style. We got this private room with bunk-bed capsules as we were a couple and capsule hotels generally don’t mix genders in the same room.
Mostly for businessmen on business trips, capsule hotels are for one night or short stays and typically there is a larger room with many pods (or capsules) open in the front, rather than the side as it was for us. We had wanted to experience a night in one of the many capsule hotels across the country, and while we didn’t exactly get the complete experience, we were happy to have seen a bit of what it is like!
No Waiter Needed
Especially convenient for those of us with limited Japanese, electronic ordering systems are amazing when dining out.
Many ramen, other noodle shops and various other restaurants (even Indian) have machines at the front where you order and pay for your meal in advance. We found it extremely helpful when there was no english menu as there are often photos of each dish on the machine. We also love paying in advance so we can eat our meal and leave at our own convenience. No waiting for the cheque. No waiting for change.
The other ordering system we truly miss is found at many chain conveyor belt sushi restaurants. Small touch screens where you can select what pieces of sushi (or other sides) you want, submit the order and wait as the plates are delivered to you by whatever manner that restaurant uses, be it conveyor belt or mini train! Definitely one of the best of the inventions in Japan, although that may be our stomachs talking!
Okay, we’ll be honest, this isn’t really so much of an invention of Japan and we don’t have an opinion on them either way. We just thought they were really funny. Japan has some TALL escalators, especially in their major subway stations, but we also found several very short, silly looking ones too.