Born in Kira, Aichi Prefecture, in 1962.
It was following his matriculation in the Fine Arts Department at Tsukuba University in 1981 that IWAI became involved in experimental animation, the experience which inspired his interest in making videos. While becoming involved with film and video, he became interested in the potential of flip books, zoetropes and other visual illusions that were precursors to film. His interests then shifted to art produced on computers. In 1985, while IWAI was still a student, his installation "Time Stratum" won the High Technology Art Exhibition Gold prize. He also won the grand prize at the 17th annual Modern Japanese Art Awards, becoming the youngest artist ever to win the award. In 1987, following the completion of his work at Tsukuba University's Plastic Art and Mixed Media master's course, he went on to exhibit his interactive art at shows both in Japan and overseas, winning wide acclaim.
His works were displayed at the Seville EXPO in 1992 in Spain, at the EC Japan Fest in 1993 in Antwerp, Belgium, at the Biennale d'Art Contemporain de Lyon in 1995, at the Mediascape Exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1996, and at the G7 Summit Exhibition in Lyon in 1997. As these examples demonstration, he has become one of Japan's leading artists and continues to exhibit his work world-wide.
IWAIi is a multitalented creator whose works also include the creation of characters and computer graphic designs for Fuji Televisions, "Einstein TV" and "Ugo Ugo Lhuga" TV programs, as well as computer game software.
In 1996 IWAI published a Windows CD-ROM "Simtunes" in the United States, issued in Japanese, German and French editions. He has also been active in many locations overseas. In 1991-92, he was based at the San Francisco Exploratorium. In 1994-95, he was a visiting artist at ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany, where his work included a major one-man show. In 1997 he had a retrospective exhibition/innovative workshops at ICC.
In 1990s, IWAI had been particularly interested in the relationship of sound and image. One major result of this interest was the performance in collaboration with SAKAMOTO Ryuichi first at the Art Tower Mito, Japan. This performance won the Golden Nica of the Interactive Art Division at the 1997 Prix Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria.
In recent years, he has co-developed an electronic music instrument "TENORI-ON" with YAMAHA Corporation. On the other hand, he has branched into non-computer creations, such as handmade toys, and picture books for children.