Japan's gadget failures: the futures that never happened

It gave us the Walkman, the pocket calculator and heated toilet seats, but Japan's path to innovative greatness is littered with failures such as the TV-shaped radio and the "walking" toaster.

These and other retro appliances are part of a treasure-trove offering a glimpse of futures that never happened on Japan's journey to becoming a worldwide byword for invention during the late 1950s and early 1960s.

"Way back before Cool Japan was an Uncool Japan," said Kenichi Masuda, 49, referencing the marketing slogan Tokyo uses to sell itself at home and abroad.

Masuda has made a life's work of gathering the also-rans in the race to consumer supremacy.

Witness Iwatsu Electric's "Both Phone" -- two telephones attached back to back with only one receiver, apparently to allow someone to make calls from either side. But only one at a time.

Marvel at Fuji Electric's double-decked electric fan -- the "Silent Pair", which definitely is a pair, but not exactly silent.

Browsing Masuda's collection sends the viewer through a portal to a different time, a period when the "three sacred treasures" -- the television, refrigerator and washing machine -- were status symbols to which all self-respecting housewives in booming Japan would aspire.

But for those who could not afford a real television -- Japan's first domestically-produced set cost the equivalent of three years' salary for a mid-1950s high school graduate -- the next best thing was readily available.

The "Sharp Cinema Super" is a radio in the shape of a television and cost 10,900 yen -- a little more than a month's salary for an elite public servant of the time.

"The delight of having the impression of watching TV would, however, fade quickly with this still screen, " said Masuda, adding: "I bet the man who bought this was scolded by his wife."

Panasonic's television-shaped gas stove GSF-1 is the most expensive model among a range of gas heaters the company sold over 30 years.

"Is there any real meaning in this? No, but this shows how people admired television sets," he said as he showed AFP the stove, one of the 2,000 items he has amassed over nearly three decades.

Other marvels include the "satellite-type" washing machine -- a round metal pod with a handle that stirs dirty laundry in water and detergent.

The product was launched in 1957, amid public excitement over the Soviet Union's Sputnik, the world's first artificial satellite.

Sharp's "Quicky" -- a pair of electric scissors and Toshiba's prosaically named "CK-31A" electric can opener were both failures.

Hitachi's "Piano" is a desk-top electric fan that is, for no discernable reason, shaped like a miniature piano and is supposed to emit a gently scented breeze.

Not to be confused with typical hotel "conveyor belt" toasters, Toshiba's "walking-type toaster" has a slit entrance for the slice of bread, which is then "walked" vertically down inside the toaster on metal rails.

When the toast eventually emerges at the other end, it feels like a major achievement.

"This didn't sell. There's no way Japan's small kitchens had room for a product whose size and price were twice those of common models," Masuda said.

His personal favourite in this category is Toshiba's "Snack-3", a device that can warm milk while toasting a slice of bread and frying an egg.

Would-be consumers might have seen through this one.

"People may have wanted to have Western-Style breakfast at the time... though you would become tired of that fairly quickly," he said.

For Masuda, these quixotic gadgets show the bravery and idealism of Japanese companies in a high-growth era that was crowned by the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and the launch of bullet trains.

"They are adorable. You can see how they came about from companies pouring so much effort in to pleasing customers. It's just that sometimes, these efforts backfired," said Masuda.

"But they were serious products made by adults for adults."

Japanese consumer electronics evolved from this trial-and-error period to sweep the world in the late 20th century -- with Sony's Walkman standing as perhaps the epitome of Nippon Know-how.

But then it all went wrong.

Household names that appeared almost indestructible in the 1980s -- Panasonic, Sharp and Sony -- are shadows of their former selves, struggling to keep up with their South Korean and Taiwanese rivals.

For Masuda, these companies lost their nimbleness and their playful sense of adventure when they got too large.

"As they grew bigger and bigger, they became mindful of 'marketing,' 'profitability', 'safety' and the like. They may have become too slow to act," he said.

"But companies in this period were vigorous and had a 'go-for-it' spirit. They weren't afraid of failures."

So how do they get back to their roots?

That, admits Masuda, has him stumped.

"If I knew that, I'd be a company president."

--

Get stories like this on the Yahoo app and discover more every day.
Download it now.
Loading...
  • Deutsche Bank worries hit US stocks
    Deutsche Bank worries hit US stocks AFP News - 8 minutes ago

    US stocks tumbled Thursday after a report on withdrawals from Deutsche Bank revived worries about the health of one of the world's largest banks. News of the withdrawals sent a shudder through Wall Street, where trade had been muted earlier in the … More »

  • Senator: Education Dept. mishandling Corinthian student debt
    Senator: Education Dept. mishandling Corinthian student debt Associated Press - 21 minutes ago

    The Education Department is pursuing debt collection — rather than debt relief — for nearly 80,000 former students of Corinthian Colleges, despite federal and state findings that the now-defunct for-profit ... … More »

  • ECB's Nowotny says Europe not facing new banking crisis
    ECB's Nowotny says Europe not facing new banking crisis Reuters - 23 minutes ago

    European Central Bank Governing Council member Ewald Nowotny said on Thursday he did not believe that Europe faced a new banking crisis similar to that seen in 2007 and 2008, but the financial sector was clearly in a transitional phase. During the … More »

  • MSCI Still Monitoring China A Shares After ‘Positive’ Signs Bloomberg - 41 minutes ago

    MSCI said it has seen a “marginal” drop in the number of suspended mainland shares after Shanghai and Shenzhen exchanges released stock suspension rules in late May. The announcement comes after MSCI in June cited accessibility issues among the … More »

  • Oil rises close to $50/bbl; doubts on OPEC plan cap gains
    Oil rises close to $50/bbl; doubts on OPEC plan cap gains Reuters - 46 minutes ago

    Oil jumped more than 1 percent on Thursday, with Brent nearing $50 a barrel on optimism over OPEC's first planned output cut in eight years, although gains were limited by doubts the reduction would make a substantial dent in the global crude glut. … More »

  • Oil rises close to $50/barrel; doubts on OPEC plan cap gains
    Oil rises close to $50/barrel; doubts on OPEC plan cap gains Reuters - 48 minutes ago

    Oil jumped more than 1 percent on Thursday, with Brent nearing $50 (39 pounds) a barrel on optimism over OPEC's first planned output cut in eight years, although gains were limited by doubts the reduction would make a substantial dent in the global … More »

  • Stocks Fall as Deutsche Bank Woes Roil Lenders; Treasuries Climb Bloomberg - 50 minutes ago

    Equities erased gains after Bloomberg News reported about 10 hedge funds that do business with the German lender have moved to reduce their financial exposure. Traders pushed down the value of equities after the report on Deutsche Bank rekindled … More »

  • ECB's Lautenschlaeger says bank needs to craft exit from stimulus  Reuters - 51 minutes ago

    FRANKFURT (Reuters) - The European Central Bank should not provide further stimulus, including through stock or bond purchases, but needs to carefully craft its exit from asset buys to avoid turbulence, ... … More »

  • Nutanix IPO shows risks of 'unicorn' valuations Reuters - 52 minutes ago

    In the run-up to its initial public offering, cloud computing company Nutanix scrambled to avoid a situation that has increasingly marred technology IPOs: a price that's below the most recent private funding round. After bumping up its price … More »

  • US stocks tumble on worries about Deutsche Bank AFP - 52 minutes ago

    Wall Street stocks tumbled Thursday on renewed worries about banks following a report on withdrawals from Deutsche Bank and a bruising Capitol Hill hearing with the head of Wells Fargo. The Dow Jones Industrial ... … More »

  • $1 Coal Mines Turn to Jackpots as China’s Cuts Power Price Rally Bloomberg - 1 hour 7 minutes ago

    Stanmore Coal Ltd. bought the Isaac Plains metallurgical coal mine in Australia for A$1 in July 2015 from Brazilian miner Vale SA and Japan’s Sumitomo Corp. when the price of met coal, used to make steel, averaged the lowest in about a decade and … More »

  • With Deal Done, OPEC Faces Hurdles in Making Output Cuts Work Bloomberg - 1 hour 7 minutes ago

    In an angry and sometimes incoherent briefing, Iraq’s oil minister railed against the journalists and analysts who estimate the amount of crude each member produces. Iraq’s minister, Jabbar al-Luaibi, complained in Algiers that published estimates … More »

  • PBOC Seen Switching to Broad Monetary Tightening as Soon as 2017 Bloomberg - 1 hour 7 minutes ago

    Seven expect the PBOC will make its next broad policy move by guiding interests in a corridor using changes to short, medium and longer-term lending facilities. Just one economist forecasts the next policy move will be a change to benchmark … More »

  • Indonesia Raids Google Office After Warning on Tax Audit Refusal Bloomberg - 1 hour 7 minutes ago

    Officers visited Google’s office in central Jakarta “many times” in the past two weeks to collect data and repeatedly sought meetings with senior company officials, Muhammad Haniv, the head of special taxpayers at the Finance Ministry, said in a … More »

  • Singapore’s ‘Golden Week’ Courts China Tourists as Retail Falls Bloomberg - 1 hour 7 minutes ago

    Brands from Estee Lauder to Nike to Samsonite are offering discounts in the city-state starting Friday, coinciding with China’s National Day public holidays. Singapore is trying to revive its flagging retail industry, where sales excluding motor … More »

  • ECB's Nowotny says expects Austria to resolve Heta crisis
    ECB's Nowotny says expects Austria to resolve Heta crisis Reuters - 1 hour 11 minutes ago

    European Central Bank Governing Council member Ewald Nowotny said on Thursday he expected Austria to resolve a crisis surrounding the "bad bank" Heta Asset Resolution (HAABI.UL). Nowotny told Reuters he expected Austrian Finance Minister Hans Joerg … More »

  • Oil gains, Deutsche Bank weighs on stocks; yen cuts losses
    Oil gains, Deutsche Bank weighs on stocks; yen cuts losses Reuters - 1 hour 16 minutes ago

    By Rodrigo Campos NEW YORK (Reuters) - Crude oil futures rose on Thursday, adding to the previous session's rally on optimism over an OPEC plan to curb output, while stocks fell as Deutsche Bank tumbled ... … More »

  • Oil prices rise despite doubts over OPEC output deal
    Oil prices rise despite doubts over OPEC output deal AFP News - 1 hour 20 minutes ago

    Oil prices added Thursday to steep gains fuelled by OPEC's deal to cut crude output, but analysts doubted the cartel's ability to seriously tackle a supply glut. Following a meeting that included Russia, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting … More »

  • How the Dow Jones industrial average fared on Thursday Associated Press - 1 hour 25 minutes ago

    U.S. stocks skidded Thursday as drug companies and banks absorbed large losses. Drugmakers faced scrutiny over price increases, while banks fell as investors worried about the stability of Deutsche Bank ... … More »

  • 'Farmville' creator Zynga names former EA executive CFO
    'Farmville' creator Zynga names former EA executive CFO Reuters - 1 hour 32 minutes ago

    Zynga in March named EA veteran Frank Gibeau its chief executive, as part of efforts to transition into a mobile games-focused company. Griffin, a gaming industry veteran, spent more than 10 years at the "FIFA" videogame publisher. Zynga, once one … More »

  • Deutsche Bank admits 'perception issue' as U.S. shares slide
    Deutsche Bank admits 'perception issue' as U.S. shares slide Reuters - 1 hour 34 minutes ago

    Deutsche Bank (DBKGn.DE) admitted on Thursday it had an image problem with investors as fresh concerns over the stability of Germany's largest lender pushed its U.S.-listed shares to a record low. The latest lurch came after Bloomberg reported that … More »

  • U.S. energy envoy says OPEC deal likely to be self defeating Reuters - 1 hour 43 minutes ago

    The top U.S. energy diplomat said he has little faith an OPEC deal would raise world crude prices for long because America's drilling revolution and global efficiency gains mean energy markets are resilient to producer cuts. Details are to be … More »

  • US hedge fund to pay $400 million in African bribery case Associated Press - 1 hour 44 minutes ago

    Authorities in New York say a major U.S. hedge fund has agreed to pay more than $400 million to settle charges accusing it of using a web of middlemen to pay bribes to African officials. The Securities ... … More »

  • Markets Right Now: Stocks end lower on Wall Street Associated Press - 2 hours 1 minute ago

    The latest on developments in global financial markets (all times local): 4:00 p.m. Stocks are ending lower on Wall Street, led by drops in drugmakers and banks. Mylan slumped 4 percent Thursday after ... … More »

  • Boss of UK's John Lewis selected to run for West Midlands mayor
    Boss of UK's John Lewis selected to run for West Midlands mayor Reuters - 2 hours 7 minutes ago

    LONDON (Reuters) - British department store chain John Lewis will have to appoint a new leader after Managing Director Andy Street was chosen by the ruling Conservative Party as its ... … More »

 
Recent Quotes
Symbol Price Change % Chg 
Your most recently viewed tickers will automatically show up here if you type a ticker in the "Enter symbol/company" at the bottom of this module.
You need to enable your browser cookies to view your most recent quotes.
 
Sign-in to view quotes in your portfolios.

MARKET MOVERS

  • Most Actives
    Most Actives
    NamePriceChange% Chg
    0.16+0.01+5.96%
    N21.SI
    0.112+0.003+2.75%
    40E.SI
    0.285+0.010+3.64%
    5ME.SI
    0.13+0.01+6.56%
    A50.SI
    0.107+0.002+1.90%
    40F.SI
  • % Gainers
    % Gainers
    NamePriceChange% Chg
    0.13+0.02+16.07%
    BEH.SI
    0.119+0.015+14.42%
    A7S.SI
    0.34+0.04+13.33%
    AYV.SI
    0.395+0.045+12.86%
    BQF.SI
    0.182+0.020+12.35%
    BGO.SI
  • % Losers
    % Losers
    NamePriceChange% Chg
    0.154-0.013-7.78%
    5WJ.SI
    0.16-0.01-5.88%
    5G1.SI
    0.185-0.011-5.61%
    B7K.SI
    0.100.00-4.76%
    42D.SI
    0.142-0.007-4.70%
    5AM.SI

Market Data

  • Currencies
    Currencies
    NamePriceChange% Chg
    1.3643+0.0003+0.02%
    USDSGD=X
    1.5303+0.0001+0.01%
    EURSGD=X
    1.7679+0.0002+0.01%
    GBPSGD=X
    74.0680-0.004-0.01%
    SGDJPY=X
    5.6834-0.0006-0.01%
    SGDHKD=X
    3.0229-0.0087-0.29%
    SGDMYR=X
    9,542.7129-18.8896-0.20%
    SGDIDR=X
    4.8870-0.0232-0.47%
    SGDCNY=X
    1.0411+0.0001+0.01%
    AUDSGD=X
  • Commodities
    Commodities
    NamePriceChange% Chg
    1,323.50-2.50-0.19%
    GCZ16.CMX
    19.17-0.02-0.09%
    SIZ16.CMX
    95.01-0.66-0.69%
    ^XAU
    2.190.00-0.07%
    HGZ16.CMX
    43.85+0.41+0.94%
    CLV16.NYM
  • Bonds
    Bonds
    TreasuryYield (%)Yield Change
    1.12-0.01
    ^FVX
    1.56-0.01
    ^TNX
    2.28-0.01
    ^TYX