Who is Japan’s most famous inventor? No doubt about it, it’s Yoshiro Nakamatsu — or Dr. NakaMats as he styles himself. The doc says he has 3,218 inventions to his credit, including the floppy disk and the compact disc. Although his childhood dream was to become Finance Minister, from the age of 5, Nakamatsu has been coming up with inventions one after another.
According to Nakamatsu, inventing is simply a matter of “suji, pika, iki” — meaning “theory, a flash of inspiration, practicality.” He reveals the secret of how he gets his inspiration in his book, “The Legend of Dr. NakaMats’ Inventions” (C.P., 2003), in which he describes how he likes to dive underwater, where the lack of oxygen gives him “the flash.” He then takes notes with his waterproof memo device.
Along with inventions, though, politics is Nakamatsu’s specialty, and he has run for the office of Tokyo governor several times. During the elections, he campaigned in his Flying Shoes, equipped with special plastic springs. (Nakamatsu originally created them for joggers to soften the impact on the body.)
Nakamatsu also has his eyes on the medical field. Yummy Nutri Brain Powder is a seasoning he developed to increase I.Q., while he claims his spray-on Love Jet sex enhancer works better than Viagra. But such limited benefits are not the limit of Nakamatsu’s ambition, since he now aims to “rebody” entirely. This, he explains, will involve “restructuring” his body by taking his own Yummy Nutri Brain snacks, along with candy and tea. That way, Nakamatsu plans to live to be 144. As he is now a mere 76 years old, that puts him about halfway through his remarkable life.
Currently “working on 500 new inventions at once,” Nakamatsu took time last week to talk about patents, politics and the Japanese economy with The Japan Times.
Who influenced your decision to become an inventor?
I had a relative who was very good at making model airplanes. He was older than me, and I wanted to surpass him and make an even better plane. That is why my first invention was an automatic gravity-control device when I was 5 years old. In this way, competitive spirit is very important from a young age. And, of course, my mother was a great influence. From when I was 3, she taught me English, Japanese, mathematics, physics and chemistry. And that is why I was able to come up with an invention at the age of 5. As an expression of my love to my mother, I created a kerosene pump for her. That is why all of my inventions are born out of love, not for money.
Compared with other countries, do you think Japan has many more inventors and scientists?
No, not at all. For a long time, the Tokugawa Shogunate closed the door to foreigners, so Japan had no competition. With the Meiji Restoration [in 1868], Japan suddenly opened its doors. There was a very big gap and the Meiji government started sending people abroad to copy everything they had. That is the base of Japan, and I think it is still continuing. It is often said that Japan is the center of technology, but it’s “copy technology.” The structure of the country has become a “copy nation.” In this state, there is no need to invent things because all you have to do is copy from abroad.
The Patent Law seems to be undergoing many revisions. Why is that necessary?
The Patent Law in Japan was made because other countries had them. In other words, they created a Buddha without putting any spirit in it. This law was supposed to protect the rights of the inventor, but in reality, it is not in favor of the inventors at all. Japan is an anti-patent country, not respecting patents at all. The government is afraid that Japanese companies will go bankrupt through importing foreign products protected by foreign patents. So the law is basically to eliminate such products.
On the other hand, America is a pro-patent country, protecting patents. Even if an individual inventor sues a large corporation, that person can win. In Japan, though, the government or the large company almost always wins.
Recently, there have been several corporate-invention lawsuits making the headlines. What is the problem in this area?
In Japan, when you join a company, you are asked to sign a written oath stating that anything you invent belongs to the company. In the United States, your invention belongs to you, not to the company.
One person started a lawsuit for corporate inventions, and many people followed. The companies became concerned and are trying to have the law revised to prevent further claims. But I think that they need to change the basic fact of corporate inventions belonging to the company. I don’t think that revising Article 35 of the Patent Law [which states that although an inventor who is a company employee must be credited as such, the company has an automatic right to buy the patent rights from the employee and reward him or her according to the company rules] will help improve inventions or Japanese companies at all. All it does is prevent lawsuits and protect companies from their former employees. A discussion over whether it is right for companies to take full credit for employees’ inventions is what should be happening.
After I graduated college, I was offered a job at Hitachi, but went to Mitsui & Co., which offered half the salary. Why? Because of Article 35. If I went to Hitachi, I would have been tied to the law, but at Mitsui & Co., I had no ties. (laughs)
Compared with other countries, is it expensive to register a patent in Japan?
Because Japan is anti-patent, they charge a lot of money. They screen people first by demanding a huge examination fee. Then there are the annual payments. You don’t receive, you pay the patent office. And the amount keeps doubling. I’ve never heard anything so absurd! The more inventions you have, the more you have to pay. I think I paid for half of the new patent office building. (laughs)
Considering all the problems, do you think that Japan needs to reconsider its whole patent system?
Well, I think the Constitution comes first. (laughs) The Constitution stresses peace and human rights, but there is nothing about inventions. In the United States, inventions are included, and many presidents were inventors, like Lincoln and Franklin. In Japan, there is nothing about inventions in the Constitution, and the Patent Law below it is a mess. And no prime ministers have been inventors. I think that the United States came this far through inventions.
Do you think that if Japan changes its education system, the number of inventors will increase?
Yes. The Education Ministry went the wrong way by introducing a more relaxed education system, thinking that this will help expand children’s creativity. A relaxed education system does not foster inventors. As a person with inventing experience, I think that you need to do the exact opposite — study! study! study! Understanding every theory leads to invention. Having more free time means playing, and that does not give you intelligence. Without intelligence, there is no way you can become an inventor. That is the basic misunderstanding of the Education Ministry.
If Japan had more inventors, would it help the economy?
Yes. The reason why the Japanese economy is stagnant is that old industries are no good. In order to revive the economy, we need new industries. How to create new industries? The answer is invention. That is the most important thing, but the government has hardly done anything. All it does is use taxes to support banks. That is completely meaningless.
How are inventions and politics related?
In this world there is a visible world and an invisible world. The invisible world is about, for example, happiness and education. Because there are visible inventions like machines and electricity, I figured that there are invisible inventions. And the biggest invention is politics. People often say that I am an inventor, and that’s why I have nothing to do with politics. But they are wrong. Politics is a part of inventions.
What does it take to become an inventor?
I never wanted to become an inventor, nor do I think of myself as one now. Yet, I wondered why I can create invention after invention. I guess you could say it is a gift from God, but scientifically, it’s DNA. I believe that daughters inherit their fathers’ DNA, and sons inherit their mothers’. Therefore, in my case, I have inherited my mother’s DNA. She was very smart and was an elite woman before the war. She inherited genes from my grandfather, who studied medicine in the United States and built a hospital there. This DNA has been handed down to me. I think that inventors have special DNA. But not only that, you need to study. If you do not have the DNA, you will not be able to invent anything no matter how hard you study . . . but on the other hand, even if you have the DNA, if you don’t study, you will not become an inventor. So in this way, I think that, although I don’t call myself an inventor, inventing things is a mission from God. And through my inventions, I hope that people in Japan as well as those all over the world will become happy.
Interview by MASAMI ITO, Staff writer