THE NOT SO ANCIENT ART OF CHINDOGU
Chindogu? Okay. You may think I'm weird, but I am intrigued with weird and wacky gadgets. And a most intriguing realm of gadgets is this art form from Japan - the art of inventing gadgets that are ingenious, yet can be used in everyday life - a solution to one of life’s problems.
There is one catch. Anyone using one of these inventions will find it causes other problems - not the least of which is extreme social embarrassment - making the gadget have no utility whatsoever.
Chindogu is called by it’s initial innovator as ‘unuseless.’ It is not useless totally, since it works to solve a problem - but in practical terms it cannot be called ‘useful.’
Literally translated from Japanese, it means ‘weird tool;’ ‘Chin,’ for weird or unusual; and ‘dugo’ for tool.
It may be tabbed under "weird" and "funny" right now but western markets are currently working on having chindogu reflect on their products. Mobile phone provider O2 for example, is allegedly fusing wacky add-ons (such as foghorn ringtones and built-in mirrors) to their Japan-bound phones to appeal to the Japanese market. This stands as a testament to chindogu's hold on the Japanese culture.
Kenji Kawakami, a Japanese writer and inventor, coined the phrase in the mid-nineties when he wrote a book about 101 Unuseless Japanese Inventions: The Art of Chindogu. Unexpected success birthed a followup volume - 99 More Unuseless Japanese Inventions - a few years later.
Examples of this art form include:
• a combined household duster and cocktail-shaker, for the housewife who wants to reward herself as she's going along;
• the all-day tissue dispenser, which is basically a toilet-paper roll fixed on top of a hat, which rolls down to the nose for hay fever sufferers;
• duster slippers for cats, so they can help out with the housework;
• the all-over plastic bathing costume, to enable people who suffer from hydrophobia to bathe without coming into contact with water.
• the scratching t-shirt to satisfy the itch you can’t reach in the middle of your back - (the t-shirt has a grid similar to the game Battleship. You have a friend scratch your back and say what point on the grid he is scratching. On a hand-held version of the shirt you can maneuver him to the correct point on the grid - instead of saying, “... a little to the left ... down ... etc.”).
Pictures of these and other examples can be seen here:
Kawakami has laid down ten tenets that you must follow in the design of your gadgets:
THE TEN TENETS OF CHINDOGU
Every Chindogu is an almost useless object, but not every almost useless object is a Chindogu. In order to transcend the realms of the merely almost useless, and join the ranks of the really almost useless, certain vital criteria must be met. It is these criteria, a set of ten vital tenets, that define the gentle art and philosophy. Here they are:
1. It 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. Try the Patent Office.
2. It must exist
You're 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
They 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. They are tools for everyday life
They 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. They are not for sale
They 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 Them
Their creation 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. It 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. They 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. They cannot be patented
They are offerings to the rest of the world - they are not therefore ideas to be copyrighted, patented, collected and owned. As they say in Spain, mi Chindogu es tu Chindogu.
10. They 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.
As you can see, this is a highly-principled, tongue-in-cheek form of inventive gadgetry art - one that can bring, if nothing else, some enjoyable moments.
Kawakami describes his art form as "invention dropouts," anarchically brilliant ideas that have broken free from "the suffocating historical dominance of conservative utility." In other words, he thinks of it as anti-consumerism, and a jab at the Western world’s need to live on “Easy Street,” with all the comforts of life at your fingertips.
For more information and examples of this Japanese art form, these books are available;
Reasons for doing this art form? How about honing your mental and creative sharpness? Or, just a creative exercise without thinking about utility or money? Or, just the pleasure of using logic to solve a problem and allowing the result to be useless - oops, that’s Unuseless.
As you saw from the ‘tenets’ above, there is an International Chindogu Society. If you are interested in joining, the membership is $10.00 - which I believe is waived with the presentation of your own Chindogu project (preferably with pictures). You can reach them at:
INTERNATIONAL CHINDOGU SOCIETY With help from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
[Western world practitioners of this art form - although it wasn’t even named when they were in their prime - are the likes of Rube Goldberg, Heath Robinson, Storm Peterson, Kjell Aukrust, David Weiss & Peter Fuschli. We have some of them represented on other pages on this site. Rube Goldberg is trademarked and copyrighted so I tried to get permission without a response. The best I could do is talk about him generically and refer you to his website]