Back to Contents of Issue: January 2002
by Tim Hornyak
THIS MAN'S GOLD-TRIMMED business card is probably the only one in the world that compares its bearer favorably with Thomas Edison. It states that Yoshiro Nakamatsu has devised over 3,000 inventions, while the creator of the first practical light bulb only came up with 1,093. And at 73, Dr. NakaMats, as he is known, says he's only halfway to his goal of dreaming up 6,000 innovations by the time he shuffles off this mortal coil, which, according to his research, should be at age 144.
Sound like a Japanese mad scientist? Well, NakaMats is serious about his predicted longevity, and about another claim on the card: that he invented the floppy disk, one of the greatest developments of the information age -- and did it all the way back in 1950, when IBM was introducing its Model A Decimal Tabulator typewriter. But while NakaMats is no household name outside Japan, and his fame within Japan failed to get him elected to office here in recent elections for Tokyo governor as well as the upper and lower houses of Japan's Diet, he may be one of the great unacknowledged minds of our time, or at least one of the most eccentric.
The address on the card is a nondescript building facing an elevated section of Tokyo's No. 3 Metropolitan Expressway, not far from the Japanese Patent Office. The eighth floor, home to the Dr. NakaMats Innovation Institute, is cluttered with a myriad of sonic contraptions, mind-enhancing recliners, revolutionary golf clubs, and shoes that allow the wearer to leap into the air with minimal effort. Honorary degrees, photos, and a letter from former US president George Bush, Sr. line the walls.
One of the first things that greets the visitor, however, is the display of Love Jet, a sex-aid spray that NakaMats says is better than Pfizer's Viagra because it increases secretion of the androgen dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) to safely boost libido. He also claims it improves memory and minimizes the effects of aging on the skin. Love Jet brought in over $5 million in Japan sales in 1999, the year it was unveiled in the United States.
"Many people know I'm the inventor of the floppy disk, but they don't know that I've been working in many areas of visible and invisible inventions," says the blue-suited, graying creator from behind a desk strewn with schematics, models, copies of the nearly 100 books he has written, including Invention of Politics and How to Become a Superman Lying Down, and a statuette of Archimedes in a tub. "My policy of working in 10 areas has not changed from my first invention at the age of five."
The first contrivance of the doctor, who estimates he has made over $8 million from his innovations, was a landing gear for model airplanes. While still a child, he also concocted an automatic kerosene pump. But his greatest claim to fame started with a bomb shelter and a piece of music written in 1808. The World War II shelter was still in his Tokyo backyard in 1948, when NakaMats, 20, was trying to figure out how to improve the sound and reduce the size of phonograph records of his favorite composition to invent by, Beethoven's Symphony No. 5. He experimented with fine wood taken from the shelter to produce a medium that had less hiss than the cumbersome shellacked records, each of which could play back only five to seven minutes of music.
He completed the project while at the University of Tokyo's Faculty of Engineering. The result, he says, was a "floppy media and drive" that could be read with magnetic and light sensors and for which he received a Japanese patent in 1952, 20 years before IBM got a US patent for a basic floppy design and 28 years before Sony and Philips Electronics introduced the compact disc in 1980. Big Blue will only say it owns the legal patent to the floppy and that it reached several nonexclusive patent agreements with NakaMats in the late 1970s to avoid conflicts.
From his experience with the medium, NakaMats says he looked at existing analog technology and tried to digitize it. Hamilton Watch Corp.'s 1970 Pulsar is recognized as the world's first digital watch with its LED display, but NakaMats says he was the first to invent such a timepiece. After working in marketing at trader Mitsui & Co., he went on to found the Dr. NakaMats Hi-Tech Innovation Corp. and built up his staff to 110 scientists in several countries who help him with prototypes.
The scion of an ancient samurai family, NakaMats lays claim to thousands of other creations, some well-known -- such as pachinko and the taxi meter -- others novelties that have failed in the marketplace. There is the Dr. NakaMats Putter, the Dr. NakaMats Yummy Nutri Brain Snack and Brain Drink, the anti-aging DHEA spray Young Again, his trademark Pyon2 jumping shoes, and the Cerebrex, a curtained easy chair that uses sound frequencies to increase blood flow to the brain, sharpen math abilities, memory, and creativity, and give the user the equivalent of eight hours' sleep in one hour of relaxation.
"My next big project is the Dr. NakaMats House," he says, pointing to a white cardboard mockup on his desk. "The whole thing is inventions." It doesn't look like much, but the doctor says it will be totally self-sufficient power-wise, using cosmic rays converted into electricity.
In his own house in Tokyo, NakaMats uses three areas to spark his creativity. A "static room" adorned with a rock garden, running water, and other natural elements provides a serene background for free thinking. The black and white "dynamic room" has special video and audio equipment and high-powered speakers that blare jazz and Beethoven's Fifth to refine his ideas. Finally, he spends hours underwater each day in his pool, using a special breathing technique and jotting brainstorms down on a waterproof Plexiglas writing pad.
He spends little time sleeping -- only four hours a day -- and less on food, limiting himself to one 700-kilocalorie meal, the elements of which are carefully selected to enhance his brain power. He photographs every dish he eats to recall the stimulating ones, and says his research indicates that a regimen of proper diet, teetotalism, exercise, sex, and spiritual training will keep him alive until 2072.
"I enjoy every minute of my work 100 percent," says NakaMats, who attributes his success as an inventor to total financial independence. "I don't need relaxation because I relax all day. I don't need to drink alcohol in the evening or go to nightclubs. Instead of that, I'm thinking and creating inventions all the time."
NakaMats says he believes Japan should be doing the same thing to pull itself out of its decade-long economic slump. He wishes the country's leaders, like prime minister Junichiro Koizumi and his predecessor Yoshiro Mori, would stop focusing so much on IT as a potential savior. With the economy showing no signs of reversing its collapse, who knows -- the doctor's jumping shoes may just catapult him into office one day.
"In order to improve economic activities, new industries should be born that make new products," he says. "New inventions make new industries. Therefore, I think invention is a key for the future in Japan to recover from its present miserable situation. And I'm the only one who can create inventions to save Japan." @
Tim Hornyak is a Tokyo-based freelance journalist who has written about the Raelian religious movement in Japan and master swordsmith Sadatoshi Gassan.
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