We're always tickled by the obsessiveness of Japanese product designers, specifically the ones who create objects that monomaniacally perfect a single task. But this here is the first one I've seen that I actually want to buy—and it's a $230 toaster.
What it does is make absolutely perfect toast, using a not-so-secret ingredient: Water.
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Inventor Gen Terao, who runs a small appliance manufacturing firm outside of Tokyo called Balmuda, stumbled upon the importance of water in toastmaking quite by accident—and it was all due to lousy weather. As Bloomberg explains:
It was at a company picnic on a rainy day, warming bread on a grill, that company founder Gen Terao and his band of product designers accidentally made great toast. After the showers stopped, they tried to reproduce it in a parking lot and realized that water was the key. Thousands of slices later, they figured out that steam traps moisture inside the bread while it's being warmed at a low temperature. The heat is cranked up just at the end, giving it a respectable crust.
"The best results are with croissants," said Mark Oda, who works on web and media content in Tokyo and was among the first to buy Balmuda's toaster. "I can never go back to 5,000-yen toasters."
Sales have been brisk to the point that they've outrun the manufacturing; Gen can't keep up with his shipping target of 10,000 units a month. And, disappointingly, he has no plans to begin selling the Balmuda Toaster in Europe or the U.S.
Gen, if you're reading this and worried about not being able to fill orders, listen to me: Start a Kickstarter. I've seen far crazier things funded and can almost guarantee you'll have eager pledges for a small production run, high price be damned.
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Lastly, for product designers who serve the Japanese market, there is a lesson contained within the article:
"Consumers are embracing gadgets that do one thing well," said Hiromi Yamaguchi, an analyst at Euromonitor in Tokyo. "Larger appliance makers are selling products with too many functions, and not a lot of people use them."