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Japanese inventions are known all over the world for their ingenuity, inventiveness, and downright insanity. Just look at Dr. Nakamats (if you’re into the awesome insanity part). Chindogu inventions, however, personify most of the strange aspects of Japanese inventiveness and less so their aspects of practicality. For those of you familiar with Rube Goldbergism, Chindogu is kind of a similar concept. Created by amateur inventor Kenji Kawakami in the 1980s, Chindogu is the art of absurd invention. It merges the bizarre absurdity of a mad scientist with the genius and innovation of an aspiring armchair inventor.

[yframe url='http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FjuCwnoNWQw']

Did someone say armchair inventor?

Literally translated, Chindogu means unusual tool. They are everyday gadgets that are ideal for solving very specific problems. However, Chindogu have no utility at all. They would either cause new problems, be embarrassing to use, or just plain not be practical. They are often described as “unuseless” as they really do solve a problem but there’s something else that prevents them from being put into practical use.

Chindogu can probably be best described as a kind of modern sport or hobby in the same vein as Googlewhacking. As there is no real point to Chindogu, there isn’t really a winner or anything, but there are a set of concrete tenets set out by Kawakami himself. These guidelines separate the true Chindogu from the wannabes.

The 10 Tenets of Chindogu

The snooze button on this alarm clock sits amid a bed of spikes.

1. Chindogu Cannot Be For Real Use

It is fundamental to the spirit of Chindogu that inventions claiming Chindogu status must be, from a practical point of view, (almost) completely useless. If you invent something which turns out to be so handy that you use it all the time, then you have failed to make a Chindogu.

2. Chindogu Must Exist

You are not allowed to use a Chindogu, but it must be made. You have to be able to hold it in your hand and think “I can actually imagine someone using this. Almost.” In order to be useless, it must first be.

3. Inherent In Every Chindogu Is The Spirit Of Anarchy

Chindogu are man-made objects that have broken free from the chains of usefulness. They represent freedom of thought and action: the freedom to challenge the suffocating historical dominance of conservative utility; the freedom to be (almost) useless.

4. Chindogu Are Tools For Everyday Life

Chindogu are a form of nonverbal communication understandable to everyone, everywhere. Specialized or technical inventions, like a three-handled sprocket loosener for drainpipes centered between two under-the sink cabinet doors (the uselessness of which will only be appreciated by plumbers), do not count.

5. Chindogu Are Not For Sale

Chindogu are not tradable commodities. If you accept money for one you surrender your purity. They must not even be sold as a joke.

6. Humor Must Not Be The Sole Reason For Creating A Chindogu

The creation of Chindogu is fundamentally a problem-solving activity. Humor is simply the by-product of finding an elaborate or unconventional solution to a problem that may not have been that pressing to begin with.

7. Chindogu Is Not Propaganda

Chindogu are innocent. They are made to be used, even though they cannot be used. They should not be created as a perverse or ironic comment on the sorry state of mankind.

8. Chindogu Are Never Taboo

The international Chindogu society has established certain standards of social decency. Cheap sexual innuendo, humor of a vulgar nature, and sick or cruel jokes that debase the sanctity of living things are not allowed.

9. Chindogu Cannot Be Patented

Chindogu are offerings to the rest of the world, they are not therefore ideas to be copyrighted, patented, collected, and owned. They must be freely available for use by everyone.

10. Chindogu Are Without Prejudice

Chindogu must never favor one race or religion over another. Young and old, male and female, rich and poor, all should have a free and equal chance to enjoy each and every Chindogu.

The Spirit of Chindogu

Out of these ten tenets (which I found on DesignBoom) we can draw three main conclusions. Chindogu have to be possible to make in spite of their absurdity, they have to remain in the public domain without a patent, and they must not be exclusively a vehicle for humor, or the warped satirical world view of the inventor. Regardless of this, pretty much all Chindogu are hilarious. However, the humor found in them is merely a byproduct; their main purpose is not actually to amuse.

Kawakami has created about 700 Chindogu since he came up with the idea in the 80s. They are everyday objects ranging from shiatsu shoes to a rotating spaghetti fork. Since 1990, they have appeared in books like his three-volume series Gakuri Hassou and 99 More Unuseless Japanese Inventions, a popular English translation from 1998. He has also appeared in numerous media both in Japan and overseas such as the video below.

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Top Ten Chindogu of All Time?

There are a ton of different Chindogu out there so I’m sure I haven’t seen them all, but of the many I have seen, these are my top favorites. Some of them I have lumped together into one placing, but those inventions serve roughly the same purpose or center around a similar idea. Enjoy.

10. The Butter Stick

Do you find that buttering your bread is the most painstaking task you undertake all week? Well now we have butter sticks. Making bread and butter just got that much easier!

9. The 360-Degree Camera on a Budget

Too financially strapped to afford a fancy panoramic 360-degree photo taking apparatus? Try this cheap alternative and really wow your friends and relatives!

8. The Eye Drop Funnel Glasses

Hay fever woes getting you down? Never worry about eye drops missing your eyes again with these handy dandy funnel glasses!

7. The No More Tears Onion Glasses

[yframe url='http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3Mgj-zUz7w']

Can’t chop onions without turning into a big blubbering baby? Try these masterfully designed glasses complete with fans and blow your worries away!

6. The Tie With Pockets

Can’t fit all your belongings into traditional means of transport? Shove all your extra crap in this ingenious tie of holding!

5. The Noodle Eaters

Always burning your mouth on and accidentally getting hair in your bukkake udon? Not anymore you’re not!

4. The Floor Moppers

Too lazy to take the time to clean your hardwood floors and tile? Just stick mops on everything that moves! Problem solved!

3. The 10-in-1 Gardening Tool

Losing track of your garden tools on a daily basis? Why not keep them all in one place with this handy dandy tool? Gardening will never be the same again!

2. The Umbrella Tie

Tired of always having to carry around an umbrella like a boring ol’ normal person? Defy convention and wear your umbrella as a tie like a man!

1. The Subway Sleeper

Does falling asleep on the train cause you endless amounts of embarrassment when you pass out and fall into the aisle? Never again!

Endless Possibilities

I see Chindogu as a very noble and selfless art. These people aren’t in it for the money. They’re not in it for the fame. They just want to make the most unuseless things that they can and share them for the whole world to enjoy.

There are plenty of minor annoyances in this world that can be combated with the magic of Chindogu. Chindogu inventors take their work very seriously and I don’t see this hobby/job/sport dying out anytime soon. There are so many unuseless things left uninvented!

So tell me, would you actually use any of these inventions? And have you seen any crazy Chindogu you think should have made the above list? Do you have a great idea for the next big Chindogu? Let us know in the comments!


Sites Referenced:
Kenji Kawakami’s Nearly Useless Inventing
10 Bizarre Japanese Inventions

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=630637211 Brandon Inoue

    I’d use them!  I think that using them should be part of the fun of making them. 

    However, I guess that spoils the purity of the art.

  • simplyshiny

    Dude, If I could attach mops to my dogs paws, I’d save 20 minutes a day sweeping up hair. Awesome article as always, John!

  • John

    Thank you very much :3

  • http://www.facebook.com/doloewe Doreen Löwe
  • John

    Yeah I linked to this site at the bottom of the page – it was a big help for finding good Chindogu pictures,

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001079326564 Michael Baltazar

    OMG 10, 8, 6, and 5 are actually useful in my opinion. The butter stick is GENIUS! And number 3 is just an oversized Swiss army knife O_o

  • ZXNova

    That Butter Stick and Subway Sleeper are actually quite useful really. It’s makes it so much easier to put butter on bread, and the Subway Sleeper allows to sleep standing up, and won’t allow to slump over. Really good idea really. I don’t see how the Butter Stick is almost useless really.

  • Jam

    Tenants? Do you mean tenets?

  • John

    Why yes, yes I do. I am silly. Thank you.

  • Michael

    When I used to see these kinds of things in the newspapers over here – when I was quite young – I actually thought they were serious inventions that were sold and used by a lot of people :D  The articles never mentioned the word/concept chindogu, as far as I can remember; I just used to think “Oh Japan, you so crazy!”.

  • Mark

    ONION GLASSES DON’T COUNT!
    They sell them in Ireland as a real product.

  • someone alive

    Buttersticks are also sold here in America. Except they are square and are sold empty so you can refil them.

  • CelestialSushi

    I don’t know… that butter stick’s lookin’ mighty convenient :D  So are the eyedrop funnel glasses.  And I lol’d at the pocket and umbrella ties XD Those are just genius.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003410150338 Nicole Yamagawa

    I could really use the onion-glasses.. and the noodle-things.. 

    I think I’ve seen the mop-thing at 100 yen store though.. Mop-slippers! Perhaps I should go and get some.. my floor needs cleaning… >_>

  • gorghurt

    the tie with pockets seems so usefull, and it would give some reason for wearing a tie (no social conventions dont count as real reason). i saw someof them in the german media, but they never said something about the concept of chindogu. i thought they would be serious invention, not this kind of art. well some seem to be buyable,spite those guidelines.

  • E.

    ARE YOU SERIOUS?!  WHERE can these be found?!?!?

  • Adde

    The Butter stick and the Pocket tie are now on my wishing list.

  • Rashmi

    I would like a butter stick:)))

  • Karin

    Amazing inspiration for a cosplayer like me who always picks costume designs with hardly any pockets – gotta sew a few into the coming-up ones, pocket tie style :D

  • Mescale

    I remember watching a TV series on UK TV called 
    It’ll Never Work, the one I remember best was the special subway 

  • John

    Yeah, the helmet thing I included in the post has a sticker on the front that says what stop they want to get off at, lol – I wish more people used these things, they’re hilarious. But I suppose if people actually used them they wouldn’t be Chindogu anymore now would they :(

  • http://twitter.com/sushimanster hoshiro-

    I would love one of those butter sticks.

  • http://profiles.google.com/jonadab.theunsightlyone Jonadab the Unsightly One

    Those glasses are one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever seen in my life.  No, I can’t put eyedrops into my eyes.  No, those wouldn’t help.  If anybody ever made a concerted effort to get me wear them, despite the fact that they’re obviously designed to guide foreign objects *into* the eyeball, I’d probably end up curled into a fetal position with my head down, eyes tightly closed and both arms over my face, rocking back and forth and whimpering, “Leave me alone, just leave me alone, go away” over and over again.  Because, yikes.

  • Dr. Kwyatt

    That full body umbrella is actually a damn good idea.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1112199119 Jake Hansen

    see i’m so weird that i would actually use almost all of these i find them so useful. too bad they’re not supposed to be for sale if i could have a tie like that i’d use it everyday :)

  • Zaywex

    Hmm, I remember there was this Chindogu were you took bits of soap and compressed it and then made it into a more sturdy bar. But then its status as a Chindogu was rescinded because someone else thought of the same thing and decided to make it a real product.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nat-Wel/1477579975 Nat Wel

    They’re not bad inventions, they just not as slick as their refined products of european inventions. For example, digital cameras do have panoramic features. With the environmental movement collecting clean water is a good idea, we take water for granted but the government have to spend billions on sewage plants. 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/Q7OK3LU4GWO62WGVKAL5EK7B4M Masterius

    Sorry, but I’d buy –and use– the butter stick and eye-dropper glasses!

  • Three Tigers

    I have personally created a few chindougu items together with a friend for another friend’s birthday. First, we created the portable herb garden; basically a window’s plant box with a carrier strap, and our second invention; a pair of socks with the bottoms cut out so the wearer can feel the “earth move” under their feet.

  • Squgger

    I actually came up with the butterstick idea in primary school… lol

  • John

    lol, looks like someone stole your idea!

  • d

    Rashmi me too

  • Natalya Kovacevic

    I think the subway sleeper can also be used on a bus……..and I’ve invented but actually made the butter stick better!!!! My friends,family and neighbors often by them from me :)

  • Chindogist

    Umm.. Unuseless? So as in useful?

  • jerry

    I have a brand new book now available on Amazon called “Horrible Things,” which is a collection of weird entertaining cartoons about bizarre inventions. Please check it out. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1463521308