Our 11 favorite Japanese Ig Nobel prize recipients – from wasabi alarms to karaoke

Posted on by Jin

A Japanese team of scientists was recently awarded an Ig Nobel in the field of chemistry for determining the ideal density of airborne wasabi (pungent horseradish) to awaken sleeping people in case of a fire or other emergency.

The Ig Nobel prize is granted to researchers who “first make people laugh, and then make them think.” The wasabi alarm is at first ridiculous, but is actually a lifesaving invention useful for alerting the deaf.

With this Ig Nobel award, Japanese researchers have received Ig Nobels for five straight years. In the entire 21 year history of the Ig Nobel awards, Japan has received fifteen prizes.

Here is a list of some of our favorite Japanese Ig Nobel prizes:

  • 2011, Chemistry
    Makoto Imai, Naoki Urushihata, Hideki Tanemura, Yukinobu Tajima, Hideaki Goto, Koichiro Mizoguchi and Junichi Murakami
    Awarded for the aforementioned wasabi alarm
  • 2010, Transportation Planning
    Toshiyuki Nakagaki, Atsushi Tero, Seiji Takagi, Tetsu Saigusa, Kentaro Ito, Kenji Yumiki, Ryo Kobayashi of Japan, and Dan Bebber, Mark Fricker of the UK
    For determining optimal routes for railroad tracks using slime mold
  • 2009, Biology
    Fumiaki Taguchi, Song Guofu, and Zhang Guanglei
    For reducing kitchen waste by 90% in mass using panda poop
  • 2008, Cognitive science
    Toshiyuki Nakagaki, Hiroyasu Yamada, Ryo Kobayashi, Atsushi Tero, Akio Ishiguro, and Ágota Tóth
    For discovering that slime mold can solve puzzles
  • 2007, Chemistry
    Mayu Yamamoto
    For extracting vanilla flavor from cow poop
  • 2005, Nutrition
    Yoshiro Nakamatsu
    For photographing and analyzing every meal he’s eaten in the past 34 years and going. Dr. Nakamatsu is an icon in Japan for his crazy inventions and his unsuccessful runs for political office.
  • 2004, Peace
    Daisuke Inoue
    For inventing karaoke and “providing an entirely new way for people to learn to tolerate each other.”
  • 2002, Peace
    Keita Sato, President of Takara Co., Dr. Matsumi Suzuki, President of Japan Acoustic Lab, and Dr. Norio Kogure, Executive Director, Kogure Veterinary Hospital
    For creating the bowlingual, a translation device for communicating with dogs
  • 1999, Chemistry
    Takeshi Makino, president of The Safety Detective Agency in Osaka, Japan
    For developing a spray you apply on men’s underwear to check whether they have been cheating on their wives
  • 1997, Economics
    Akihiro Yokoi and Aki Maita
    For inventing the Tamagotchi and “diverting millions of person-hours of work into the husbandry of virtual pets”
  • 1995, Psychology
    Shigeru Watanabe, Junko Sakamoto, and Masumi Wakita
    For training pigeons to discriminate between Picasso and Monet paintings

Congratulations to all the winners this year and another round of applause to the fabulous research Japanese people have put their time and efforts into in the past two decades. While the recent trends seem to have drifted from peace to poop and slime mold, we commend you!


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