Listed by the US Science Academic Society alongside Archimedes, Michael Faraday, Marie Curie and Nikola Tesla as one of the five great scientists of all time, Dr. Yoshiro Nakamats is an enigmatic inventor who’s had a hand in all kinds of creations down the years, including the floppy disc, jumping shoes, and the self-defense wig.
By Matthew Hernon
He currently has 3342 patents to his name, yet he has no plans to stop there, believing he has much more to give. So what is it that makes this eccentric 85-year-old from Tokyo tick? Weekender recently visited his house/office to find out…
An Inspirational Mum
I think my mother is the greatest inventor of all time: after all, she made me! I’m not interested in others—she was always the one I looked up to. From the age of three she started educating me, and not just about simple things, but important subjects like chemistry and physics. That’s why I started inventing at such a young age and by five I’d made an automatic center of gravity adjuster for airplanes that is still being used today.
She was also the inspiration behind my first patented product at the age of 14: the kerosene pump. During WWII there was no gasoline or fuel which made it very cold. I saw her hands shaking as she poured soy sauce from a big bottle into a smaller one, so I decided to make a pump so she wouldn’t have to hold it. This was then subsequently used for the transfer of all kinds of fuels and liquids.
The Floppy Disk
Two years after the war I got the idea for the floppy disk. Listening to Symphony No.5 by Beethoven at home, I was frustrated by the scratching sound caused by the friction of the groove and needle: it was disturbing the music. It was then I decided to create something without that noise; that was the starting point of the disk. The name came about because at that time two butterflies were flopping around outside my window.
Of course IBM did their own research, but my patent was earlier than theirs so they had a problem. They sent their vice-president to meet me and I agreed to grant them the sale license in return for a financial settlement. They confirmed it was my invention and I respect them for that. The front gate of my house is in the shape of the disk because this is where I first got the idea. (IBM spokesman Mac Jeffrey claims that the floppy disk was entirely IBM’s own creation, though Dr. Nakamats does have a number of patents related to it).
His Wackier Inventions
The Love Jet—a spray that is supposed to heighten sexual stimulation—is both a political and medical product. What I mean by this is that adults who use it become more attractive to the opposite sex and consequently this can help save Japan as we are suffering due to a low birth-rate [Such is his concern about this issue, he decided to sell it at a cheaper price than it costs to produce]. I tested it on 50,000 people and everyone was satisfied. One American couple wrote to me saying it was the best thing since apple pie!
On top of that it has many health benefits, as do the majority of my products: take the Cerebrex armchair, for example. This has an enhancing robot which boosts human performance, improving eyesight, memory, calculation ability and more. The “pyon pyon” jumping shoes were also made with people’s well-being in mind. Everyone sees them as a joke item, but my intention was to create something that caused less stress on the body when running. This was after I found out that the pioneer of jogging in America—Jim Fixx—died in his early fifties.
Winning the IgNobel Prize
As well as exercising it’s important to eat right. I started recording what I ate from the age of 42. Known as yakudoshi, it’s considered an unlucky year when our health starts to deteriorate. Wanting to know why I began writing down about every meal. Then I realized it’d be better to take a picture of each one, and I only eat one a day. I did this for 35 years and that’s why I won the IgNobel Prize.
People from Harvard University called me to tell me, but I’ll be honest: I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about. Some kind of joke? I did some research and discovered it was a real science award with a comedy element attached. I liked the sound of it. The Nobel Prize concerns research that normal people can’t understand, whereas the IgNobel one can be enjoyed by everyone and that’s what science should be about. Before getting the award I was told the acceptance speech must be short and include a joke, they said mine had been the funniest they’d heard.
Places that stimulate the brain
I have a calm and dynamic room. The latter is full of pictures and loud music which makes my brain more creative. My calm room is the bathroom, where all noise is completely shut out. It’s made entirely of gold, including the toilet. I sit there and get ideas, sometimes in a few seconds, other times I’ll be there for hours. I’m especially productive between 12 am and 4 am, the best time for creative thinking, I then usually sleep between 4 and 8 am.
Another place I like to go is my water tank, which I dive into without any oxygen. How long depends on my body condition, but the best ideas come 0.5 seconds before dying. This is when I get the most extreme inventions, though I wouldn’t recommend it to normal people. I developed a special underwater writing system as ideas come and go very quickly.
His celebrity status and why he runs for governor
I’m a singer/songwriter and dancer who holds regular concerts. I have fans all over the world. In America they have Dr. Nakamats days, while the film about me—The Invention of Dr. Nakamats—has won many awards and proved very popular, particularly in Europe. [You can see a preview of the documentary below]
I enjoy being in the public eye, but that isn’t why I run for governor. My ancestors were Jikisan Hakamoto, an elite samurai in direct service to the shogun, and that is why I should be elected, but the people don’t know about that. [In the last election he received 64,744 votes]. I’ll keep trying, and if I win I’ll revolutionize this city. Nobody is coming up with anything new; we need more inventive education and more inventive companies. As the chairman of the “World Genius Convention” for 27 years I also feel I have the experience to cope with international events such as the 2020 Olympics. This is something the new governor—Yoichi Masuzoe—lacks. I wish him luck, but I believe there are many problems behind the scenes.
I don’t trust politicians: they talk lots but don’t take action. You saw how slow they were regarding the nuclear disaster. While they sit on their hands, I’m trying to discover alternative energy that is good for the environment and is cost effective. That’s my main target for the future, that and cancer therapy.
I am constantly investigating all kinds of therapy so people can live longer. You never know what’s around the corner; I could have an accident or be diagnosed with a terminal illness, but I believe I could possibly live until I’m 144. That’s my goal, so hopefully I have another 60 years to create many more inventions.
All images courtesy of Dr. Nakamats. Main image from the movie poster for The Inventions of Dr. Nakamats.
Dr. Nakamats, Japanese inventors, inventor of the floppy disc