Yoshihiro NakaMats, 79, is Japan's most prolific - and bizarre - inventor. He claims to have 3,350 patents (Thomas Edison only had 1,093), and that several of them are for the floppy disk. "Everyone knows about the floppy disk," he says. "But I also invented the fax machine, automatic pachinko, and the taxi meter." While running for mayor of Tokyo last spring, he announced that he possessed three secret tools that would save the world from mass destruction: a device capable of turning North Korean missiles around in mid-air, a love potion more effective than Viagra that would reverse the declining birth rate, and a new water-to-fuel technology that fights global warming. The weird thing is that he could be telling the truth.
Image by the Dr. NakaMats Innovation Institute
NakaMats' repertoire of inventions spans from the useful to the ridiculous. Thousands of pages of neatly hand-written notes and diagrams document the man's mental journey, and prototypes of the gadgets he invented—the magnetic strip, a computer-calculated putter, the aerial duster, jumping shoes, an anti-gravity float-vibrate 3D sonic system—are stacked against the walls of his Invention Library, which he sometimes opens to the public. Every month, he invites 50 students into his Innovation House, where he teaches classes like Exercising the Imagination and The Logic of Invention. He also recently made his male model debut at a Tokyo runway show.
Image by Roger Hutchings
NakaMats attributes his prolific output to a routine that's every bit as eccentric as his inventions. He wakes up at 8am every morning in his Innovation House—an elaborate, three-story, zero-carbon-emissions building in the heart of Tokyo—and eats breakfast. His meals are a constant rotation of 55 foods he has deemed optimal for longevity and creativity based on 35 years of documenting his own dietary habits and correlating them to inventive output. (It was NakaMats' meticulous culinary research that won the Ig Nobel prize for nutrition in 2005.) He then retreats to his home office for most of the workday. He often listens to Beethoven's Symphony No 5—it's the inspirational tune that spawned the floppy disk "Aha!" moment sixty years ago.
Framed photographs of the inventor with everyone from the King of Sweden to the late emperor of Japan line the walls, as well as letters from foreign dignitaries—including one, on White House letterhead, from George Bush, Sr. circa 1988—praising him for his contributions to "technology that is so fundamental to the world' s future prosperity, health, and peace."
At night, NakaMats jots down inventive "flashes" on his Plexiglass notepad while hovering at the bottom of his private indoor pool. He claims that that moment, when he's 0.5 seconds away from death, unveils a part of his brain inaccessible to an oxygen-infused brain. "Hundreds of inventions outside the realm of ordinary thinking have come to me in this environment," he says. NakaMats doesn't fall sleep until the break of dawn. "Midnight to 4AM is the golden time for invention," he tells me. "While everyone is sleeping, I am thinking."
NakaMats didn't become mayor of Tokyo, but he campaigned again in the July Upper House elections by singing a parody version of Do-Re-Mi on street corners filled with youngsters and leaning out of his white election van, holding up his signature peace sign. He managed to rack up over 90,000 votes, landing him in the top 10 (out of 20 candidates). He's going to continue running for office, he says, because he has important technologies that could save Japan from destruction. "I can make North Korean missiles do a 180-degree U-turn and go right back to their point of origin," NakaMats insists. How? "It's not a secret, exactly. But if I tell you, the enemy might find out."