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Crazy inventions: Chindogu


Illustration by Sam Griffin

It’s time to reach beyond the wayward solitary invention of a wayward solitary inventor to embrace an entire conceptual school of wayward invention: the artful Japanese science of Chindogu.

You’ve probably heard of these “unuseless” inventions (certainly not useful, but not entirely useless either). No? The Telephone Dumbbell? The Noodle Eater’s Hair Guard? The Hydrophobe’s Bath Body Suit? No? Shame on you.

It’s tempting to pass Chindogu off as OIJ (Only In Japan), but the truth is that the International Chindogu Society (ICS) has 10,000 members globally.

For a description of what Chindogu actually is, it’s best to refer to the ICS website.

“Do you know what a chindogu is? Well, ‘dogu’ is Japanese for ‘tool’, and ‘chin’ is Japanese for ‘weird’ (not to be confused with the Japanese for ‘penis’, which is also ‘chin’). Thus, a Chindogu is a weird tool.”

Now don’t let that weird penis stuff throw you. They’re just trying to psych you out. It’s an apt introduction to the iceberg that is Chindogu. Unlike our usual well-intentioned Bi-goodness inventors (whose middle names should all be ‘Ernest’), Chindogu practitioners consider themselves accomplished ironists whose inventions serve a sardonic rebuke to Japan’s hyper-capitalistic, post-war productivity machine.

All this is the brainchild of Japanese writer-turned-inventor Kenji Kawakami, whose book, ‘101 Unuseless Japanese Inventions: The Art of Chindogu‘, attained cult status in Japan when it was released in the mid-nineties. The concept soon spread around the globe like a virus, as fellow travellers from the international tribe of quirky creatives adopted Chindogu as a unifying theory of everything and nothing.

How else should a society receive the introduction of Duster Slippers for Cats (who needs a cleaner)? Or the Portable Zebra Crossing (why break the rules when you can move them)? Or an earring safety net (in case your earring falls off)? There are Sole-less Shoes (for nature lovers). Or perhaps you’d get more value out of backward soles for your shoes (so people can’t follow your footprints).

But my personal favourite is the Back Scratcher’s T-Shirt. Got an itch you can’t scratch? Just give someone else the co-ordinates. It’s the kind of thing that belongs in a museum, not on someone’s back. But then, that’s the point.

The 10 immutable rules of Chindogu

  1. A Chindogu cannot be for real use.
  2. A Chindogu must exist.
  3. Inherent in every Chindogu is the spirit of anarchy.
  4. Chindogu are tools for everyday life.
  5. Chindogu are not for sale.
  6. Humour must not be the sole reason for creating Chindogu.
  7. Chindogu are not propaganda.
  8. Chindogu are never taboo.
  9. Chindogu cannot be patented.
  10. Chindogu are without prejudice.