The Japanese Art of Creating Unusually Useless Inventions


Back in the 1990s, we remember flicking through the pages of the Unuseless Japanese Inventions series at bookstores. Each one features about a hundred ostensibly real Japanese devices, photographed and described with a disarming straightforwardness, that mash up other consumer products in outwardly bizarre ways: chopsticks whose attached miniature electric fan cools ramen noodles en route to the mouth; a plastic zebra crossing to unroll and lay across a street at the walker’s convenience; an inverted umbrella attached to a portable tank for rainwater collection on the go. Such things, at once plausible and implausible, turn out to have their own word in the Japanese language: chindōgu (珍道具), or “curious tool.”

They also adhere to a set of principles laid down by Kenji Kawakami, former editor of the country housewife-targeted magazine Mail Order Life, who first revealed chindōgu to Japan by showing off his prototypes in the back pages. These ten commandments of chindōgu are as follows:

  1. A Chindōgu Cannot be for Real Use — They must be, from a practical point of view, useless.
  2. A Chindōgu Must Exist — A Chindōgu must be something that you can actually hold, even if you aren’t going to use it.
  3. There must be the Spirit of Anarchy in Every Chindōgu — Chindōgu inventions represent the freedom to be (almost) useless and challenge the historical need for usefulness.
  4. Chindōgu Tools are for Everyday Life — Chindōgu must be useful (or useless) to everyone around the world for everyday life.
  5. Chindōgu are Not for Sale — Chindōgu cannot be sold, as this would go against the spirit of the art form.
  6. Humor is Not the Sole Reason for Creating a Chindōgu — Even if Chindōgu are inherently quirky and hilarious, the main reason they are created is for problem solving.
  7. Chindōgu are Not Propaganda — Chindōgu are, however, innocent and made with good intentions. They should only be created to be used (or not used).
  8. Chindōgu are Never Taboo — Chindōgu must adhere to society’s basic standards.
  9.  Chindōgu Cannot be Patented — Chindōgu cannot be copyrighted or patented, and are made to be shared with the rest of the world.
  10. Chindōgu Are Without Prejudice — Everyone should have an equal chance to enjoy every Chindōgu.

So without further delay, we present to you some of our favorite Chindōgu. Comment and upvote your favorites!

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