From cyborg housemaids and water-powered cars to dog translators and rocket boots, Japanese researchers have racked up plenty of near-misses in the quest to turn science fiction into reality.
Now the finest scientific minds of Japan are devoting themselves to cracking the greatest sci-fi vision of all: the space elevator.
Man has so far conquered space by painfully and inefficiently blasting himself out of the atmosphere, but the 21st century should bring a more leisurely ride to the final frontier.
For chemists, physicists, material scientists, astronauts and dreamers across the globe, the space elevator represents the most tantalizing of concepts: cables stronger and lighter than any fiber yet woven, tethered to the ground and disappearing beyond the atmosphere to a satellite docking station in geosynchronous orbit above Earth.
Up and down the 22,000 mile-long cables — or flat ribbons — will run the elevator carriages, themselves requiring huge breakthroughs in engineering to which the biggest Japanese companies and universities have turned their collective attention.
In the carriages, the scientists behind the idea told The Times, could be any number of cargoes.
A space elevator could carry people, huge solar-powered generators or even casks of radioactive waste. The point is that breaking free of Earth's gravity will no longer require as much energy — perhaps 100 times less than launching the space shuttle.
"Just like traveling abroad, anyone will be able to ride the elevator into space," Shuichi Ono, chairman of the Japan Space Elevator Association, said.