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.
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.
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
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!
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!