By age 24, Yusuke Funaki had his life mapped out. “My dream was to be a good scientist and good engineer,” he says. He studied for two years at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency—where he researched the robotic arms used in the International Space Station—then graduated in 2005 from the Tokyo Institute of Technology with a master’s in engineering. Funaki, who is from Okayama, Japan, was offered a job at Tokyo-based Bridgestone’s research and development department. Within a few years he had already applied for his first international patent to cover a non-pneumatic tire he had invented.
Then he went to a touring production of Quidam, one of many shows produced by the world-famous Cirque du Soleil. “At first I was impressed,” Funaki remembers. “But then I became moved, and I cried.” Funaki was especially affected by a solo rope-skipping performance by Norihisa Taguchi, and he decided almost immediately that this was something he wanted to learn. “Just as a hobby,” he says. “I didn’t have any ambition to perform. I just wanted to see if I could do it, if I could think like they think.”