Dr. Yoshiro Nakamatsu
Design Engineer, Inventor,
Patents, 3,218 Inventions,
the floppy Disk, the CD, Digital
Yoshiro Nakamatsu Inventing Genius Yoshiro Nakamatsu makes many bold claims
to fame. His resume lists him as one of the five greatest scientists in history,
alongside Archimedes, Michael Faraday, Marie Curie and Nikola Tesla. But he
prefers to be known as the inventor of the floppy disk, the CD, the digital
watch and a grand total of 3,218 inventions at last count.
Such a feat would make Nakamatsu the world’s most prolific inventor, well ahead
of Thomas Edison, who logged 1,093. Nakamatsu’s unconventional mind has made
him a celebrity among tinkerers, academics and bureaucrats alike. Dozens of
awards from such sources plaster the walls of his office, situated in Akasaka,
one of the most expensive office districts in Tokyo, and conveniently located
a short walk from the Japanese patent office.
A visit to Nakamatsu’s “laboratory” begins with a video pastiche of his achievements,
honours ceremonies and television appearances, played on a giant flat screen
set among a jumble of inventions in one corner. One sequence shows him welcomed
to the United States by President George Bush. Squashed under the documents,
diagrams and models stacked deep on his desk lies his latest award, the Certificate
of Special Congressional Recognition, awarded for outstanding service to the
The sprightly 73-year-old’s inventive streak showed itself when he was 5 years
old. He created an automatic gravity controller for a model plane that he says
makes autopilot possible. His parents took up a family friend’s advice to patent
the device. The patent has expired, and he earns no royalties from autopilot
systems. But subsequent patents have made Nakamatsu a wealthy man.
One invention for which he says he still holds the patent is a plastic kerosene
pump that can be found in any hardware store. He invented the pump at the age
of 14. Another invention he made that year was a heat pump. The pump compresses
carbon dioxide or air to generate heat and is used in air conditioners.
Nakamatsu’s greatest fame stems from his efforts in 1948 to shrink the size
of phonograph records and eliminate the scratchy quality of their sound. Nakamatsu,
then 20, used fine wood for a “floppy media and drive.” He completed the project
two years later at Tokyo Imperial University’s Engineering School. The drive
could be read with magnetic and light sensors. He received a Japanese patent
for the disk invention in 1952, which he points out was 20 years before IBM
secured a US patent and 28 years before Sony and Philips Electronics released
the compact disc in 1980.
Nakamatsu considers his vision of a method of digitising analog technology to
have been “the beginning of Silicon Valley and the information technology revolution.”
IBM now owns the patent for the floppy disk, but the company struck a number
of computer-related patent agreements with Nakamatsu in the 1970s. Nakamatsu
also lays claim to having invented a digital watch in 1953, well before Hamilton
Watch Corporation developed the famed LED display Pulsar in 1970.
Nakamatsu attributes his inventive drive to early childhood experiences. His
mother, who attended Tokyo Women’s University, began teaching him physics, mathematics
and chemistry when he was only 3 years old. A portrait of his mother sits on
his desk, and a metre-high print of her leans against a whiteboard behind him.
Nakamatsu says his interest in model aeroplanes was also a factor. He built
them and competed with his young cousins on how far they would fly. This competition,
along with his mother’s teaching, fuelled his drive.
The key to successful innovation, according to Nakamatsu, is “freedom of intelligence.”
By this he means working with no strings attached. Nakamatsu says he has never
sought funding from any person, company or government and prefers to develop
and produce his own inventions. “If you ask or borrow money from other people,
you cannot keep freedom of intelligence,” he says simply.
His company – Dr NakaMats Innovation Institute – has independently developed
brands of Yummi Nutri Brain biscuits and tea meant to improve cognitive function.
Then there is the Love-Jet, a spray he says will increase sexual stimulation
three-fold, due to an ingredient that prompts the body to produce more of the
adrenal gland hormone dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). Nakamatsu has not granted
licence rights to companies other than IBM, which held 70 percent of the computer
market at the time their agreements were reached.
“If I license an invention, sometimes the company will not make what I really
want,” he explains. “If I make it myself, I can make it my ideal product.”
As wondrous as Nakamatsu’s capacity for invention seems to be, it is perhaps
matched by his personal regimen for maximising creativity and longevity. The
inventor says he has consumed only his own products for 30 years. He sleeps
just four hours a night and believes more than six hours is unhealthy. Yet he
does look considerably younger than his age. Nakamatsu says people can live
144 years if they follow his advice.
“So I’m only in the middle of my life,” he says. “I can make almost double as
many inventions. I said 3,218, so maybe by the end of my life, 6,000 is possible.”
Nakamatsu is critical of people who approach inventing
as merely a tool for making money – “similar to investing in stocks, or gambling.”
This approach, he says, often leads to failure.
“My spirit of invention is completely different,” Nakamatsu says. “My spirit
is love. Take, for example, the kerosene pump I invented. I loved my mother,
and so I wished to make my mother’s work easier in the kitchen.”
Nakamatsu also believes in dogged persistence. When faced with the choice
of an easy way and a difficult way, he says, people inevitably choose the
easy way. “But I always go the difficult way,” he says. “And I enjoy it. There
is a world there that is completely unknown to people looking for the easy
Among the Nakamatsu’s many ideas is a cigarette that he says makes a person
smarter, and a chair that cools a person’s head and warms his feet to induce
clarity of thought. Nakamatsu has also created a water-powered engine, which
he calls Enerex. It’s this engine, unveiled in 1990, that lies at the heart
of Nakamatsu’s assertion that he invented the fuel cell.
Energy generation remains the most fertile area for future inventions, Nakamatsu
says. Among the 500 projects he has on the go is a “next generation” house,
crammed with new technology – from an improved form of cement, to the “world’s
smallest toilet” and a new take on stairs. The house is powered not from the
regular electricity grid but from what Nakamatsu calls “cosmic” energy.
“We receive much power from cosmic sources,” Nakamatsu says. “In the past
we never used such energy.”
Nakamatsu says he has 50 patents on cosmic energy technology, but when pressed
for details, he declines, chuckling. “It is my invention,” he says. And we
have 71 years or so to see exactly what he means.