Japan report: Tokyo's oddest tech companies

From musical toilets to randy rovers, we reveal Japan's kings of odd

Fittingly for a band of 21st-century geeks, the Maywa crew promote their work by giving electronica concerts – they call them 'product demonstrations' – releasing DVDs and appearing on late-night TV to talk about the avant-garde philosophies behind their creativity. Let's see Sony or Panasonic try that.

2. Strapya

Looking at the riot of colour and kaleidoscope layout of Strapya's website, you'd never guess that the Kanagawa firm is Japan's most popular merchant of mobile-phone accessories.

Starting in 1998, Atsushi Higuchi's forerunner company to Strapya began by selling tiny cartoon characters and the like for dangling from the then newly popular mobile phones the nation was touting with abandon.

Within months, the company was counting its revenue in the millions and beginning an expansion that few could have predicted.

Today, Strapya goodies are made by a host of third parties. They can be bought everywhere from eBay and Yahoo in Japanese to bricks-and-mortar shops and 15 different online mobile-phone stores in English too.

Strapya president Tomonari Higuchi explains: "We do business with over 400 Japanese toy manufacturers, factories and distributors.

"Some are big and internationally well-known companies while some others are very small and a few are at craft-worker levels."

That diversity is important as it means Strapya "can get almost all sources available in Japan for mobile accessories, toys and gadgets," says Higuchi. Still, some of the best-sellers might appear a little baffling to most outside observers.

Currently riding high in the Strapya sales chart is the 'Endless Edamame', a rubber bean pod that expels tiny soybeans with faces when squeezed and the 'Electric Bubble Wrap Key Chain', which is fake bubblewrap that can be popped again and again and again…

Best of all, though, is the 'Lucky Golden Poo' – a shiny golden charm in the shape of a, well…, with a face and a million sales in Japan to its name.

1. Thanko

Regular readers will know that the top rung on the ladder of wackiness simply had to go to everyone's favourite merchant of the bizarre, Thanko.

The Tokyo gadget vendor was founded in 2003 by Hiroyasu Yamamitsu as an online-only shop and has now expanded to three real-world stores, including one in Osaka.

Although Thanko is well known for products that most sane individuals would take as a joke – the cooling necktie with a USB-powered fan and the anti-hayfever USB facemask spring to mind – the fertile minds there assure us they're not kidding.

The company's Ernie Murakoshi says: "We are very serious about our products – our policy is to provide the unique and the useful."

Serious enough to rake in about half a billion yen a year (£2.4 million) at the minute, it seems.

The three or four new products Thanko pumps out each month come from many sources, particularly from within.

Murakoshi explains, "We have internal meetings most weeks and employees share their ideas, so we discuss those and evaluate whether there's a good product in them, but the final decision is made by the president, Mr Yamamitsu.

"We have a mixture of original products and those bought in from outside, but we do have an R&D office in China where we manufacture our unique products," he continues.

So, given that rich background, what's the most useful thing, or the best seller? "As a series, the Goronoe line of desks has sold the most in total … many thousands so far."

If lightweight, portable computer desks made to be used while lying down can make millions, surely we're all in the wrong business – or the wrong country, at the very least?

As for the future, Thanko has designs on your wallet too. The English-language 'Rare Mono' brand will be used in a new online US store from the summer and the existing international site will be revamped for customers in Europe. You have been warned.