Japan report: Tokyo's oddest tech companies

When it comes to writing about Japan it's amazingly easy to get carried away and overstate the case, ending up with a twisted portrait of a mostly ordinary country that instead looks like Disneyland on acid.

And we've all seen, TV shows about the place struggle to strike a balance between entertainment and sensationalism. Some, like Adam and Joe Go Tokyo succeed (mostly); others, such as Jonathan Ross's Japanorama come across as attention-seeking 'Aren't they peculiar little Hobbits' ego trips.

Fortunately, when it comes to our corner of the world – gadgets and gizmos – we don't need to do much sensationalising to bring home just how odd some Japanese tech toys really are.

So, read on for a fun-filled whizz round five companies responsible for some of the oddest (and most popular) devices money can buy.

5. Toto

Bringing up the rear, if you will, we have Japan's largest toilet manufacturer, Toto, from Kitakyshu (ok – we cheated; they're not all in Tokyo).

Named after either an abbreviation of the Japanese for 'Oriental Porcelain' or Dorothy's dog in the Wizard of Oz, Toto is all-but ubiquitous in Japan and even has subsidiaries in the US, China, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, making it the world's fourth-largest purveyor of toilets.

If you've been to Japan, you won't need us to tell you why Toto's products are a little unusual. You'll be all-too familiar with the famous Washlet brand of electric seats with more functions than most TV remotes.

A typical modern Washlet – they've been around since 1965 – includes a bidet with an adjustable-position spray nozzle (work it out), heated seat, blow dryer, water massage option, odour absorber and a sensor that automatically opens the lid when anyone approaches.

All these functions are controlled from a button- and light-laden electronic panel that's either to the side of the throne or on a separate wireless unit. Yes – these toilets have remote controls.

4. Cube

By far the smallest company on our list, Cube makes the No4 slot by virtue of selling the most pointless PC accessory we've yet to see. The Tokyo firm's USB Humping Dog does precisely what it says on the pack.

Plug it into any free USB port and watch it demonstrate how much it loves your computer – physical love in a very canine way, we mean.

Aside from executing more hip gyrations than Elvis in his prime, these electronic mutts do absolutely nothing else. Yet somehow they became the big stocking-stuffer hit of Christmas 2006, selling by the truckload for around £10 each.

Mind you, Cube has plenty more up its sleeve, including a USB chameleon with boggly eyes and flickering tongue, a self-destruct button that fakes a PC fate worse than a BSOD and a USB hub that doubles as a miniature replica petrol engine ("You can enjoy powerful vibration and big exhaust sounds!").

3. Maywa Denki

Maywa Denki may seem like an odd choice, as it's not really a normal electronics firm. Instead, it's an art collective that dabbles in everything from music performances to robotics exhibitions.

Founded in 1993 by brothers Masamichi and Nobumichi Tosa, Maywa is best known for the very limited runs of electrical devices called 'Nonsense Machines' that it sells at irregular intervals.

Most famous in Japan is the Knockman Family of tiny robot-like figures that do little more than bash each other (and themselves) on the head.

Something inherently cute about self-flagellating machines made these critters the talk of the internet in 2003.

Slightly more useful is the 'Fish Cord' – one of the only other Maya Denki pieces to go on sale outside their boutique/workshop.

Not content with simply joining A to B, the blue-coated Maya boffins gave the electrical extension cord a fish's skeleton, complete with tail, skull and glowing eyes.

J Mark Lytle was an International Editor for TechRadar, based out of Tokyo, who now works as a Script Editor, Consultant at NHK, the Japan Broadcasting Corporation. Writer, multi-platform journalist, all-round editorial and PR consultant with many years' experience as a professional writer, their bylines include CNN, Snap Media and IDG.