10 Japanese Inventions that Changed the Way We Live

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Writer’s profile

Mao Goto is a Japanese freelancer who was born in Hayama, Kanagawa prefecture, and raised in Tokyo. Since 2016 she lives in the Taito Ward, home to a lot of Japanese culture hotspots such as Asakusa, Akihabara, and Ueno. She has been interested in the field of English education in Japan and got her Master’s degree in March 2020. A lover of photography, travel, sweets, and cross-stitch. Contact her via Facebook.

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Japan is a land of tradition and culture, with a history stretching back thousands of years and a proud heritage of samurai, ninja, and geisha. However, in contemporary society, Japan is also known for its modernity and innovation as it has time and time again cranked out products that have changed the world. Let’s look at some Japanese inventions that have spread all over the globe and have shaped the way we all live our lives.

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1. Electric rice cooker

Rice cookers are a staple of the Japanese kitchen

One of the most indispensable cooking utensils in the Japanese kitchen is the rice cooker. Before the invention of the rice cooker, rice was cooked by placing well-watered grains in a kamado pot and heating it vigorously with a fire underneath. 

It was not until 1921 that the rice cooker was invented, with an electric heater built into the kamado. Today, rice cookers have made their way into most Japanese households, and the latest models are constantly evolving, adding functions such as a timer and cooking rice to set degrees depending on the brand of rice.

2. The Shinkansen

The shinkansen is the fastest way to get around Japan

The Shinkansen was born as “a dream super express train” when the Tokyo Olympics were held for the first time in 1964. The first Shinkansen to begin service at that time was the Tokaido Shinkansen, which connected Tokyo and Shin-Osaka in about 4 hours, a groundbreaking innovation that made it extremely easy for people to travel from one big city to another in Japan by super express at speeds of over 200 km/h. Today, the Shinkansen is used not only by local residents but also by tourists and business people coming from abroad. 

3. Tactile paving

You can find these tiles all over Japan

There are yellow blocks that you almost always see when you walk down a Japanese city street. If you look at them closely, you will notice that the surface of these blocks is covered with small dots and bumps. These are tactile pavings, which are very useful for visually impaired people when they go out. 

Visually impaired people are able to touch the blocks with their canes to read the directions and warnings given by these blocks. Therefore, it is a traffic rule that nothing should be placed on These blocks so as not to impede the passage of the blind.

4. The Laptop

Today, the laptop can be found virtually in every home

While the desk-top PC was born in the U.S., the portable notebook PC was actually invented by a Japanese company, Toshiba. In 1989, we saw the launch of a portable PC under the series name Toshiba “Dynabook.” Soon, many computer manufacturers, including NEC, Apple, and IBM, later launched notebook computers with new features. This product overturned the perception of people that a computer was something to be installed on a desk. Today, people all over the world use portable notebook PCs.

5. The Walkman

Sony‘s Walkman was the first portable music player and came about in 1979. At the time, music was stored on cassette tapes or vinyl records, but the Walkman made it possible to take it with you and listen to it anytime. Today, with the development of Sony’s compact Walkman and Apple’s iPod, more and more people are able to listen to music on the go. But the Walkman had a major impact on the music industry at the time and will forever have a place in our hearts.

6. The Novel

Japan has one of the highest literacy rates in the entire world

The Tale of Genji is a long work of romantic literature written by Murasaki Shikibu, who was active in the Heian period. It describes the love story, glory, and downfall of the main character Hikaru Genji. 

At the time, her literature was well received among Murasaki Shikibu’s friends and soon became highly popular among the aristocracy. Later, during the Edo period, picture scrolls and other works based on The Tale of Genji were created and had a great influence on the Japanese art world

Not only that, it has had a profound influence on the culture of Japan today. For example, Kawabata Yasunari, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature, is said to have loved reading The Tale of Genji, and his student Mishima Yukio also wrote a novel inspired by it too. Though their literature has evolved and adapted independently around the world, The Tale of Genji is considered to be the first known full-length novel according to modern standards and will always have a deep place in Japanese culture.

7. Blue LED lights

In the winter time, many parts of Japan decorate with blue LEDS

The story of LEDs began with the invention of the red LED in 1962 by Nick Holonyak, Jr., who was born in Illinois, U.S.A. LEDs are a type of semiconductor known as light-emitting diodes. At the time, this LED light could produce only dark and weak red color. Later, M.George Crawford developed the yellow-green LED in 1972. In 1989, the LED industry underwent a major change. 

Three Japanese scientists succeeded in inventing a blue LED light. This brought together the three primary colors of red, blue, and yellow-green, increasing the range of colors available in LED lights and making it possible to create a variety of expressions with these lights. Today, LED lights are used not only for room lighting but also in various places, such as traffic signals.

8. Car Navigation System

The car navigation system, which is useful for checking your location and where you want to go when driving, is actually an invention that originated in Japan. The world’s first car navigation system was developed by Honda in 1981. At the time, GPS was not widely available, and it is said that it was not easy to use because it required setting the current location correctly before use.

Later, however, car navigation systems with GPS were created, to which a function was added to provide routes, and car navigation systems are said to have spread rapidly. The car navigation system is now one of the most indispensable devices for our car drivers, and many cannot imagine a world without it.

9. Instant noodles

Cup noodles are so popular, they have even been to outer space!

One of Japan’s proudest inventions that has had a major impact on food culture is the instant cup noodle. Momofuku Ando, the founder of Nissin Foods, developed “Chicken Ramen” as a solution to Japan’s postwar food crisis, and since then, sales of instant cup noodles have only skyrocketed.

At the time, it was revolutionary to be able to make ramen by simply pouring hot water into a cup. However, it is said that a great deal of time and money was spent on the development of Chicken Ramen, and a huge number of prototypes were made. The turning point came when Momofuku Ando saw his wife frying tempura, which gave him an idea of “frying noodles.” Today, they are sold as “Cup Noodles” in many countries around the world and happily eaten by millions of people.

10. DVD and Blu-Ray disks

DVDs are a good way to watch a movie you love again and again!

The development of the DVD and Blu-ray discs began with a request from the Hollywood industry in the U.S. to develop a low-price optical disc that could store the capacity of a single movie with high quality. Initially, Sony and Philips, who were leading in the CD standard at the time, began development. Meanwhile, Toshiba, which had already begun the development of a new optical disc, sought the cooperation of Matsushita Electric Industrial (present-day Panasonic), which had strong video development technology and they developed its own optical disc. 

Soon other electronic companies such as Hitachi and Pioneer also started to support Toshiba and Matsushita electronics. Concerned that the DVD standard would become more complicated as a result of increased competition among the various companies, these companies began negotiations. As a result, the new disc was created using technology from Sony and Philips with help from Panasonic and Toshiba.

Years later, Sony took the lead in developing the Blu-ray Disc, which far exceeded the capacity of DVDs. Today, DVDs and Blu-ray discs may be used less frequently due to the spread of Internet streaming sales, but before streaming sales, DVDs and Blu-ray discs were very useful for repeatedly watching movies and cartoons.

In this article, we introduced 10 Japanese inventions developed by Japanese people. Have you ever used one of them? From electric appliances closely related to Japanese food culture, such as rice cookers, to laptop computers now used around the world, many machines born in Japan have influenced the lives of people not only in Japan but all over the world.

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