Skip to content
Subscriber Only
Noah Smith

Japan Isn't Just a Knockoff Nation

Its record of creativity and innovation is long and impressive.
One more Japanese invention.

One more Japanese invention.

Photographer: Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)

Every once in a while, you hear the old claim that Japan doesn’t create new things, but simply copies the West and makes small, iterative improvements. Most Americans no longer believe this canard and a recent Pew survey found that 75 percent of Americans think of Japanese people as “inventive.” But people still repeat the old saw from time to time, and it needs to die. 

First of all, if anyone ever asks you “What did the Japanese ever invent?” you can quote them a long and impressive list. In the area of electronics, for example, Japanese inventors came up with the digital single-lens reflex camera, the floppy disk, flash memory, the VCR, the portable calculator, the Walkman, the laptop computer, the DVD and more.