It’s well known that many of the conveniences of our modern world originally came from Japan. The country’s many innovations have included CD players, video cameras, toilets that wash your butt for you, the lithium battery in your phone and the LCD screen you’re reading these words on now. But it’s fun to explore some less-famous things that come from Japan. Let’s explore 11 things that originated in Japan.
Based on a cookie sold in Kyoto in the 19th century that contained an omikuji fortune, and first sold in the U.S. at the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco in the 1890s or early 1900s. They eventually became associated with Chinese-American food culture instead of Japanese.
Lots of Words
The Occupation of Japan from 1945-1952 naturally brought Allied soldiers into close contact with Japan, and a lot of words entered the English. These include “head honcho” (from 班長 hancho, the leader of a group or team) and tycoon (from 大君, a word created to serve as a formal address for the Shogun). Other words that are Japanese include bokeh, panko, and emoji. Also, if people still use hibachi, those small chacoal grills for apartment-dwellers, that’s originally the word for the hearth in a traditional Japanese home.
Modern Reality Television
Back in the 90s, I watched a show called Susunu! Denpa Shonen, which had such interesting concepts as following two comedians as they hitchhiked from the bottom of South America to the top of North America, or another comedian who lived in a one-room apartment naked, subsisting on food that he managed to win in online contests, or another segment that followed two other comedians as they try to escape from a desert island (though the drama is lessened by the fact that they’re obviously being followed by a camera crew). To me, these shows seemed to inspire the later wave of Western reality television.
Rock, Paper, Scissors
Although based on similar hand games created in China, the modern form of jan-ken-pon developed in Japan in the 17th century. It was first described in English in the New York Times article in 1932. So rock-paper-scissors really does come from Japan.
For years, tornadoes have been ranked on the F-scale. The F stands for Fujita, as the system was developed by Tetsuya “Ted” Fujita, who spent his life researching them.
I was surprised to see on Wikipedia that the idea of futures contracts began in Japan with the Osaka Rice Market in 1730. Also, the candlestick charting method was also developed in Japan. Actually if you ever learn investing, it’s rife with weird Japanese terms like bozu patterns and ichimoku clouds, it’s quite surprising.
Do robots come from Japan? Karakuri ningyo, wind-up mechanized dolls that can do things like serve tea or do simple performances, can be thought of as the origin of robots. They date back to 1662.
We all know that instant ramen was invented in Japan, when Monofuku Ando started the Nisshin Noodle Company at the age of 48. (So don’t let anyone tell you you’re too old to try something new.) But did you know that instant coffee was also invented by a Japanese? In 1881 a Japanese student named Satori Kato was researching matcha powder and was able to create coffee that could be vacuum dried for easy drinking later.
The Cell Phone Camera
I remember when the first crappy cell phones with cameras in them, sometime around 1997, which were called sha-me (from shashin meaning photo and mail) at the time. The pictures were the size of a postage stamp and looked terrible.
The Tale of Genji, the story of the many loves of a fictional member of the Japanese Imperial Family, the book is considered the first novel, with characters and structure similar to today’s novels. There are several anime adaptions, by the Genji Monogatari Sennenki version from 2009 is my favorite.
The idea of obsessively dressing up as your favorite fictional characters kicked off at a science-fiction convention in Yokohama in 1978. The term itself emerged in 1983, when the editors of My Anime Magazine needed to shorten “hero costume play” to “cosplay” to fit the copy on the page.
BONUS: Energy Drinks
Back in the 80s, when Japan’s star was rising like China’s has been in recent years, it was fashionable to bash Japan by talking about all the things they were able to do (like creating newfangled detergent that used bio-engineering to get your clothes cleaner) because they weren’t busy fighting the Soviet Union like the U.S. was. There was also criticism at the time of TV commercials for Regain, the first modern energy drink, because it showed Japanese businessmen marching off, as if to war, chanting “Japanese…businessman!”
Can you think of any more interesting things that originated from Japan Let us know on Twitter!
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