Meet the genius behind Japan’s viral ‘barely useful’ inventions, who designs over-the-top contraptions for oddly specific needs — and earns a living doing it

Kazuya Shibata designs quirky machines from his apartment in Hiroshima, quitting his job several years ago to make his hobby full-time.

Hisano Motohiro. Courtesy of Kazuya Shibata

Kazuya Shibata, 27, is a Japanese engineer who makes what he calls “barely useful” inventions.
His comical designs are often overly complex, but they’ve let him quit his job to do inventing full-time.
Take a look at some of his creations, including a “business card launcher” and “toothpaste squeezer.”

If Kazuya Shibata is remembered for only one of his quirky creations, he hopes it’ll be his “Gorgeous Show Box.”

It’s an unassuming black locker that, with the press of button, dramatically unpacks itself and unfolds a series of lights from all sides. Whirring and buzzing, panels give way to a rising platform that showcases whatever’s inside (hopefully for Kazuya, someone’s product.)

The “Gorgeous Show Box” is meant to do exactly what its name implies — make something supposedly boring seem, well, gorgeous. 

—カズヤシバタ(KAZUYA SHIBATA) (@seevua) August 4, 2017

The box, Kazuya’s first-ever design, took him nearly 18 months to create and test before its debut in 2017.

The 27-year-old has since introduced more than 20 “barely useful” inventions to the world, using 3D printers in his apartment in Hiroshima to make toothpaste squeezers, business card launchers, and a battery-powered plastic bag opener.

Kazuya Shibata’s “business card launcher” in action.

Kazuya Shibata

Each is advertised by Kazuya in a self-made infomercial, during which he extols the benefits of his goofy designs. 

Need to open your bottle but have an ice cream cone in your hand? Kazuya’s plastic bottle cap opener, “an ally of busy modern people,” can help.

—カズヤシバタ(KAZUYA SHIBATA) (@seevua) November 10, 2021


“What I’m making isn’t very useful, but it’s something that no one has seen before,” Kazuya told Insider. “I want to tell people that if they put aside the question of whether something is useful or not, and just think ‘this looks interesting,’ their horizons will broaden and they will discover something fun.”

Kazuya’s father was an electrical contractor, and inspired him to dabble in inventing and electronics. After graduating from university, Kazuya tinkered with his own joke creations as a hobby, while he worked for a venture company designing and manufacturing robots, he said.

But he’s a comedian first, and an inventor second. “I’ve always had the desire to crack jokes,” he said. “And I wondered if I could transfer my serious work skills to my hobbies.”

The ultimate goal for all of his inventions, he said, is to make people laugh.

Kazuya’s snack-moderating box only opens its lid once every few minutes to prevent over-eating.

Kazuya Shibata

After the “Gorgeous Show Box” went viral in 2017, Kazuya was determined to start inventing full-time. He quit his job in 2021, and has since devoted himself to making “barely useful” creations.

Several people have tried to buy his prototypes, but the Japanese engineer doesn’t want to sell them. Instead, he partners with companies that use his designs to advertise their products, while he keeps ownership of the machines, he said.

So far, the “Gorgeous Show Box” has been used to present medicine, whiskey, and other products, Kazuya said. Someone’s even used it to propose to his girlfriend, he added.

And for April Fool’s this year, he worked with video game developer Capcom to design a controller that allows cats to play Street Fighter 6.

—カズヤシバタ(KAZUYA SHIBATA) (@seevua) April 1, 2023

Kazuya’s made repeated appearances on Japanese TV and magazines, but said he’s yet to grow his following to the point where he can make a profit just by running ads on his content.

Still, he said he earns enough from partnerships to pay rent and living expenses, though he declined to share how much he makes in these deals. 

“I enjoy making things and surprising many people,” he added. “And I feel very lucky to be able to live off of it.”

Meanwhile, he’s been taking requests from people on social media. On August 14, he debuted the “T-Shirt Pata Pata,” a device worn on the waist that keeps the user cool by thrusting at the hem of their shirt. It was inspired by an air-conditioned jacket that made headlines in Japan this summer.

—カズヤシバタ(KAZUYA SHIBATA) (@seevua) August 14, 2023

“It’s very difficult to come up with ideas that are ‘just barely useful,'” Kazuya admitted. “When I am awake, I am always looking for inconveniences.”

His notebook is filled with ideas he’s struck off, he said.

Kazuya said he takes care to avoid inventions that will disgust people or make them uncomfortable just for shock value. Ideally, people should identify with the need for his products, though Kazuya’s solutions may be way too complicated, he said.

Kazuya’s “glowing glasses” help the user imitate stereotypical “nerdy but cool” manga and anime characters. But they don’t help much with vision.

Kazuya Shibata

Though he’s just making ends meet, Kazuya hopes the name he’s created for himself as a wacky inventor will one day give him a platform to be a professional comedian. He dreams of one day wowing crowds the way Steve Jobs did at Apple announcements.

For now, he plans to scale up his home workshop so he can work on multiple projects at once.

“I’ve been on my own from start to finish, so something unexpected happens every time,” he said. “But that unexpectedness has been unexpectedly enjoyable.”

Read the original article on Business Insider


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