Japanese tech companies are well known for improving foreign inventions, from the car to the video game console, but there have been many significant technologies to come out of Japan in the last 50 years – some of which are still widely used today. Here are 11 of the very best to come straight out of Japan.
11. The Karaoke
Meaning literally ‘empty orchestra’, the first Karaoke machine was invented by Daisuke Inoue in the early 1970s, but unfortunately was not patented. Instead, an almost identical invention and one which is earning massive revenue around the world was registered and patented by a Roberto del Rosario in the Philippines in 1983. Karaoke is a huge business and large part of Japanese culture. The largest seller of machines in Japan is Daiichi Kosho, with about fifty percent of a JPY100bn market.
10. The Quartz Wristwatch
Released in 1969, the Seiko Astron was the world’s first quartz wristwatch. Quartz technology was a considerable upgrade over its mechanical watch predecessors, because it eliminated the need for easily damaged moving parts, while keeping time much more accurately. It is powered by and electronic circuit that produces a repetitive electronic signal that is regulated by a small quartz crystal to keep time. To this day, Quartz remains the standard for wristwatches and clocks.
9. The Pocket Calculator
In January of 1971, portable calculators became widely available with the release of the Busicom LE-120A by the Nippon Calculating Machine Corporation, which subsequently later changed its name to Busicom. Although it was initially released at a cost of $395, (the cost of several weeks salary at the time), the technology improved over the years and mass production took over. As a result, the price of pocket calculators plummeted. Sharp’s EL-8086 released in 1978 was the first solar-powered calculator, and this further extended the popularity of the device around the world.
8. The Flat-Panel Display
The first consumer available flat-panel display of any kind was found on the Sony Watchman FD-210, a pocket television launched in 1982. The FD-210′s display was a measly five centimeters, but the technology involved in its production was impressive for the time and carved the way for the home television and computer flatscreens we see today. The first LCD and Plasma televisions were also created by Japanese companies – Sharp and Pioneer.
7. The Digital SLR Camera
The first digital camera with single-lens reflex elements was the Sony Mavica, released in 1981. Sony’s first full-fledged digital camera was the Mavica MVC-FD5 released in 1997. However it wasn’t until 1999 and the release of the Nikon D1, that Japanese-developed digital SLRs started to widely replace 35 mm film as the popular choice among professional photographers, thanks to their superior combination of speed, ease of use, and image quality.
6. The Video Cassette
The video cassette and VCR, both made by Sony, were first released in 1971. Thanks to the video cassette, consumers were finally able to watch films at home, and at a time of their choosing. You could stop, rewind, and fast forward through your favorite movies, and see them over and over again. The idea of capturing the movie-going experience and putting it in each home was a technological breakthrough – and not just for the audiences. Movie Studios benefited enormously too, as they were granted a new revenue stream in the form of the home video market, which eventually overtook the box office in value.
5. The Camcorder
The process of on-location video recording used to require at least two people, in other words, a film crew. Prior to the 1980s TV news crews used video cameras – that is, the devices that were actually used to shoot video – with separate recording units. The earliest portable video recorders still had to be connected to the camera through a cable, which limited their mobility and utility in the field. With the Sony Betacam, released in 1982, a video camera and video recorder were combined into a single device for the first time. The ‘camcorder’, as it came to be known, revolutionized journalism and filmmaking, and eventually brought video recording home.
4. The High-Speed Passenger Train
If you’ve ever ridden one of these, you’d instantly know why it made the list. The 12-car 0-Series Shinkansen bullet train, which ran from 1964 to 2008, was the world’s first high-volume, high-speed passenger train. Superior rail transport was one of the major factors that helped to power Japan’ economy to number two in the world, and the design of the early Shinkansen influenced overseas engineers as well. The technology is still relatively new overseas, but has seen a sudden surge in popularity from European regions, The United States is said to implement bullet trains into commercial use in the near future.
3. The Portable Music Player
Before the iPod, Zune, and mp3 player, the Sony Walkman was the leader of music on the go. While it’s technically not the world’s first portable music player, the Sony Walkman was hands down the most successful, bringing the concept of portable music to the mainstream. Everyone in the mid 80s either had one, or wanted one. Sony constantly introduced a number of new features along the line, including a recording function, and playback of other media, like compact discs and TV and video cassettes. Imagine what the world would be like without portable music players.
2. The Floppy Disk
The floppy disk is counted among the many inventions of the colorful Yoshiro Nakamatsu, AKA Dr. NakaMats. The details behind the invention, and how the technology wound up in IBM’s hands, are shrouded in mystery, but Nakamatsu was awarded a patent for the base technology behind the floppy disk in 1952, long before they went public. While floppy disks are now considered a relic, they were the primary portable storage medium for computer users everywhere for a good three decades. It basically introduced the idea of carrying and sharing information easily, and effectively. Something we now have implemented and integrated into what seems like every part of our society.
1. The Compact Disc
Created in collaboration by Sony and Philips in the late 1970s, the compact disc and the Sony-developed CD player is the most important technological inventions to have come out of Japan. Originally intended simply as a smaller, more mobile replacement for vinyl records, the CD proved incredibly useful as a general data storage medium in the form of the CD-ROM and then the CD-R. Its successor technologies, the DVD and Blu-ray disc, are both also Sony and Philips collaboration creations. The digital optical disc still remains one of the modern world’s most important inventions to date.