In this article:
- Chindogu is an artistic style that involves inventing “unuseless” items, things that seem to have a use but may actually create more problems than they solve.
- The term “Chindogu” was coined by Japanese inventor Kenji Kawakami, who is credited with inventing the artform and has laid out a set of rules to define what constitutes Chindogu.
- You may have already seen some popular Chindogu items across the internet, including chopsticks with a miniature fan attached to them, a baby onesie with a broom attached to the bottom, and a pair of shoes with umbrellas on them.
What is the purpose of inventing? To make life easier, right?
The Roomba was invented so that we could all save time vacuuming our floors. Calculators were invented so that none of us would ever have to listen in math class ever again. Sliced bread was invented so that we wouldn’t have to, well, slice our own bread.
The core purpose of invention is to make meeting our human needs that much easier. It’s common sense.
Well, a man by the name of Kenji Kawakami thinks about inventing a little bit differently. The creator of the Chindogu craze that has taken over Japan and made its way to other parts of the world, Kawakami sees inventions as a vehicle for humor. He creates objects that do actually solve a particular problem, but may also create many more problems along the way.
To illustrate the point, take a look at Kawakami’s patented Eye Drop Funnel Glasses. At first, you may think, Wow! Those actually would make it so much easier to get eye drops in my eyes! However, after further consideration, you realize, Hold on. Seeing through those things must be a nightmare.
This is the magic of Chindogu. These inventions are almost useful and not fully useless. They’re “unuseless” (as the Chindogu community likes to say). In this article, we’ll dive into the history of Chindogu, the rules that govern what is and what is not Chindogu, and some hilarious examples of this inventing style.
The History of Chindogu
As previously mentioned, the man responsible for Chindogu is Kenji Kawakami. Before this craze started, Kawakami was working at a Japanese magazine called Mail Order Life as a contributor and editor.
This magazine was primarily geared toward stay-at-home shoppers (in the pre-internet era) who lived in the countryside and didn’t want to commute to the big cities to shop. The pages were filled with the latest clothing items and knick-knacks that could be delivered right to your door.
Left with unfilled pages in some editions of the magazine, Kawakami decided to do a little social experiment or, at the very least, get some people to chuckle. He began filling these pages with his Chindogu inventions.
Some of the first to make the pages of Mail Order Life were the Eye Drop Funnel Glasses and the Solar-Powered Flashlight (which sounds practical at first; however, if you have enough sunlight to power it, then you already have enough sunlight to see).
These inventions quickly gained popularity among the Mail Order Life audience and they demanded more. People began subscribing to the magazine only to see Kawakami’s inventions. Soon, he got the opportunity to start displaying his wacky inventions at exhibitions and Chindogu was born.
The Laws of Chindogu
A man from the United States named Dan Papia, who had been working for the English-printed Tokyo Journal, caught wind of the Chindogu craze in the 1990s and soon became a major proponent of the style.
Working with Kenji Kawakami, the two men founded the International Chindogu Society and laid out rules for what does and does not qualify as a Chindogu.
The rules are as follows:
- A Chindogu cannot be for real use.
- A Chindogu must exist.
- There must be the spirit of anarchy.
- Chindogu are tools for everyday life.
- Chindogu are not for sale.
- Humor must be the sole reason for creating Chindogu.
- Chindogu is not propaganda.
- Chindogu are never taboo.
- Chindogu cannot be patented.
- Chindogu are without prejudice.
If you invent something that fails to adhere to any of the ten principles just listed, it cannot be a Chindogu.
As you can see, Chindogu is meant to break outside of the confining ideology that everything must be useful. It’s meant to encourage people to create things for humor’s sake rather than to make money.
It’s not meant to be profound, yet it should challenge the consumerist status quo. Most of all, Chindogu should make people laugh.
So, in the interest of laughter, let’s take a look at some of the awesome Chindogu inventions out there. And, as stated in the rules of Chindogu, all of these inventions actually exist and are not merely thought experiments.
Here are some of my personal favorite Chindogu inventions from around the world. Enjoy!
The Baby Mop
First of all, yes, you can buy the Baby Mop on Amazon and similar sites, which is in direct violation of the laws of Chindogu.
However, the invention actually comes from the book 99 More Unuseless Japanese Inventions by Kenji Kawakami himself and then was nabbed by people looking to make a profit (as will happen in a capitalist and consumerist society).
In the book, Kawakami clearly outlines the purpose of this outstanding invention, saying, “After the birth of a child, there’s always the temptation to say, ‘Yes, it’s cute, but what can it do?’ Until recently, the answer was simply ‘lie there and cry.’
But now, babies can be put on the payroll, so to speak, almost as soon as they’re born.” I agree with Kawakami. These babies need to start pulling their own weight.
The Back Scratch Guide
Here’s an invention that solves a problem we’re all familiar with. You ask your buddy to scratch your back for you and, when you tell him to go a little to the right, he goes to the left! When you tell him to go left, he goes right! No more! The Back Scratch Guide lets you show your friend exactly where that itch is.
Using the Back Scratch Guide is like playing a game of Battleship, except you always win. You can carry the Back Scratch Guide t-shirt in your purse at all times and then just pop it on when you feel an unreachable itch.
Then, seek out the nearest loved one or friendly stranger and alert them to the coordinates of your affliction.
The Chopstick Fan
There aren’t many bad things you can say about eating a bowl of spicy ramen. But, if I had to name one, it would be waiting for the noodles to cool down so that you can stuff them in your face and slurp them out of existence.
Not all of us are Zen Buddhist masters. Some of us don’t have all the patience in the world and don’t have time to wait for our noodles to cool down.
Well, lucky for us, some radical genius came up with the perfect invention to cool down each and every bite of ramen so that you can get it in your mouth quicker without ending up with third-degree burns.
It’s called the Chopstick Fan and it’s amazing. Just be careful not to eat too sloppily or you might short-circuit that little fan with some flying ramen broth.
The Umbrella Shoes
It’s starting to seem like the major shoe companies are in cahoots with Mother Nature. You buy a super expensive pair of shoes and, next thing you know, a rainstorm comes along and ruins the leather. Then, you’re right back in Macy’s spending hundreds of dollars on a new pair!
Give your shoes the rain protection they deserve with the Umbrella Shoes. They’re stylish. They let people know you’re practical. And, most of all, they’ll keep your feet from getting wet and uncomfortable. The Umbrella Shoes are another invention of Kenji Kawakami himself.