6 Japanese tech treasures

September 8, 2010: 5:30 PM ET

In the land of the rising sun, a widespread early adopter mentality has encouraged tech companies to think outside the box. Way outside the box. Here are six of the country's craziest gadgets.

When early adoption is brought up in American media, it focuses on the small, vocal group of consumers who need the latest tech products, and stat: the Apple faithful who queue up days before a product launch, the players who pick up a videogame at 12:01 a.m. At best, they're viewed as bellwethers for the market; at worst, they're social oddities.

In Japan, it's a different story. Early adopters are as diverse as they are numerous. Adolescent schoolgirls, twenty-something anime-loving guys, even parents fork over yen on day one for tech that's culturally appropriate to them but might strike us as downright eccentric. But that same widespread early adoption mentality is why the Japanese remain global trendsetters, even if many of those gadgets are too quirky for U.S. distribution.

We explored the wild world of Japanese tech and rounded up the wackiest for your enjoyment. Here are just a few.

The Dryer Box

Anyone who has dropped a cell phone in the sink, toilet or pool knows the searing pain of losing your mobile device all too well. But there just might be hope for the forlorn. The Dryer Box, recently announced by JMC Risk Solutions, is basically one big hair dryer in a microwave-like chassis that can reportedly dry a distressed device in 30 minutes or less. Installed in several Yodobashi Camera stores around Tokyo, the company promises a dry device, but it doesn't guarantee it'll work again. Less fortunate customers can get their $12 upfront fee back and face one of two solutions: stick the phone in a bag of rice or just buy a new unit altogether.

Toshibareru, or the "Age Prediction Machine"

Designed to expose blind dates lying about their age, Epoch's Age Prediction Machine ($10) emits a high-frequency sound like a mosquito buzz that becomes less audible as you age. Switch the device to one of four settings -- Young to teenager, Early 20s, Barely 30s, 40 years-plus  -- and see if your date squirms. The company argues that once you've observed the cut-off point, you can estimate your date's real age. Of course, you could also be straightforward and just ask your date how old they are -- but that would just be too easy.

Toto Intelligent Toilet

If Apple (AAPL) is a leading innovator in computing, then Toto is a bold pioneer in the, er, bathroom space. Whereas toilet bowls in the U.S. are of the usual flush-and-run variety, Toto has made great strides in differentiating its products from the rest with toilets that pack in a wide variety of functions, like posterior shower jets and noise-masking audio effects for the self-conscious. The Intelligent Toilet (which starts at $3,500) ups the ante by adding urine analysis to the mix. The self-cleaning toilet's built-in urine analyzer not only measures blood sugar levels, a monitor and a small set of scales adjacent to the bowl also track blood pressure, body mass and body mass index. It's possibly worth consideration for senior citizens, but no one else.

Endless Banana

Enter "infinite toys," key chains that recreate pleasurable experiences, like popping bubble wrap or opening packages, ad infinitum. Some companies, like Epoch, however, may have gone a little too far with the idea. The company's "Endless Banana" is a replica of the tropical fruit that allows its owners to peel to their heart's content. The oddest part? Epoch execs hired anime voice actress Saki Fujita to recreate peeling sounds. Why they needed a person to do that escapes us, but we've got to give them points for creativity.

Ikemenbank, or "Handsome men banks"

In 2008, Bandai Corp., makers of the Tamagotchi virtual pet game, released "Ikemenbank," or "Handsome Men Bank" ($46), a piggy bank with an LCD screen that pairs personal finance with virtual relationships. Users get the option to choose from five "types" of guys: the cool model; the witty comedian; a gentle, public-school boy; the young athlete; and an older man with patience.  As you deposit coins, an onscreen Japanese cartoon character acts as your boyfriend, responding with flattering compliments like, "You are looking prettier these days." Fail to deposit coins for five days straight, though, and the virtual guy walks out. Harsh, but a good incentive to save up if ever there was one.

Tuttuki Bako, or Tuttuki Box

The Tuttuki Bako ($30) is a fist-sized plastic box for finger games. Stick your digit inside and a digital representation of your finger appears on the LCD screen, which you can use to play any number of flicking games: flick the panda, flick the miniature stick guy, flick the woman in the face. You get the picture. There isn't much more to the Tuttuki Box than that, and yes, it's pretty much as creepy and nonsensical as it sounds.

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JP Mangalindan
JP Mangalindan
Writer, Fortune

JP Mangalindan is a San Francisco-based writer at Fortune, covering Silicon Valley. Since joining in 2010, he has written on a wide array of topics, from the turnaround of eBay to the evolution of net neutrality. A graduate of Fordham University, Mangalindan has also written for GQ, Popular Science, and Entertainment Weekly.

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