Japan from the inside out

Chindogu: Unuseless inventions

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, January 27, 2007

WE’VE ALL GOT PROBLEMS, but Kawakami Kenji has solutions for problems we never knew we had.

For example, suppose you’re getting ready to prepare a fish for sashimi—particularly one that’s still alive—and you get unnerved by that fish eye staring back at you.

Kawakami’s solution? A fish face cover that slides over the fish head so you can slice in serenity.

Suppose you’re a Japanese housewife whose husband has to get up at 5:00 a.m. Sunday morning to tee off with some customers at a golf course that’s two hours away by car. Kawakami lets you fulfill your wifely duty to see him off in the morning, yet remain comfortably asleep, by providing an automated waving hand that can be attached to the alarm clock.

You need an explanation?

These and dozens of other problem solvers are inventions that Kawakami calls chindogu, which means “unusual tools”. A self-described “designer, anarchist, and pathological mail-order enthusiast”, Kawakami is the founder of the International Chindogu Society, which claims 10,000 members.

Another Kawakami term for chindogu is “unuseless inventions”, and I think several circuits in my brain have shut down permanently just by reading it.

Take the plunge and start with this review of Kawakami’s “Bumper Book of Unuseless Japanese Inventions” that appeared in The Scotsman. (Ignore their claim that chindogu literally means “distorted tools”.)

If you have the nerve to keep going, try the website of the International Chindogu Society in English. It has photos of some of these marvels, a few of which were actually shown on TV. If you read Japanese, you can visit the official Chindogu site in Japan here. Kawakami claims on the site that chindogu are the pastime of the nobility–though he doesn’t tell us which country those nobility were thrown out of!

The Hay Fever Hat!

If you’re ready for more, you can try this site featuring the Chindogu Manifesto. Number 2 is, “A chindogu must exist”, and declares, “You are not allowed to use a chindogu, but it must be made.”

If you’ve seen the light and want to commune directly with the source, Kawakami’s books in English are sold by the usual Internet merchants.

Don’t be surprised if people cross over to the other side of the street when they see you coming, however.

Basically, chindogu is the same as the Industrial Revolution in Britain.” – Kawakami Kenji

UPDATE: The New York Times beclowns itself by falling for a chindogu prankster and writing a serious story about how they are used as crime-prevention devices. No, I am not making this up. You can read more here.

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2 Responses to “Chindogu: Unuseless inventions”

  1. Ken said

    Great stuff. I could really use the ramen fan. I just don’t like it as hot as some people do…I end up in pain quite often. The quote from Kawakami is brilliant as well. Hope he keeps it up!

  2. […] chindōgu (珍道具, “strange tools”), a movement of odd-ball inventions that Ampontan points out has both Japanese- and English-language websites. (I’ll also allow for the possibility that […]

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