Chindōgu: The Japanese Art of “Unuseless” Inventions

If you live on this planet and have the internet, you’ve surely at some point seen chindōgu (珍道具). Chindōgu are Japanese inventions that are almost completely useless, save for one very specific function that they perform.

You may have thought that Japanese people really like these inventions and they all walk around with ties that double as umbrellas, or shoes with tiny umbrellas attached, or upside-down umbrellas, and man the Japanese really love umbrellas! But the reality is that chindōgu is actually a kind of Japanese statement created by Kenji Kawakami. He believes that chindōgu are an answer to the Western culture of “As Seen on TV” consumerism and the obsession with making life more effortless. As such, there are rules for something to even qualify as chindōgu.

chindogu japanese inventions

The 10 Tenets of Chindōgu

1) It must be, from a practical point of view, (almost) completely useless.

The usefulness of the invention must be precluded by its absurdity. So even if it was useful, it would be too ridiculous or embarrassing to use anyway. If you use an item, it is already not chindōgu.

2) You can’t actually use a chindōgu, but it must be made.

You chindōgu cannot be an idea! It has to really exist and then you have to continue to never use it.

3) Chindōgu must represent freedom from thought and action.

This one sounds confusing, but it’s all about the freedom to challenge conceptions about conventional utility. Why must this product be efficient and useful? It mustn’t!

4) Chindōgu must be understood by everyone, everywhere

Chindōgu is egalitarian of course! If only a rocket scientist would recognize your invention as chindōgu, then it doesn’t count! Everyone is invited to the absurdity!

5) Chindōgu can never be sold, even as a joke

This one may surprise you as you may have thought Japanese people were actually buying these wacky inventions! But no. Chindōgu are only an exercise in the freedom of uselessness. They are not a commercial enterprise.

6) The creation of chindōgu is fundamentally a problem-solving activity.

Solving a simple problem with a complicated solution allows us to see how silly our problems are in the first place!

7) Chindōgu are not made to be funny

Yes, chindōgu are hilarious and that’s why everyone loves them. But the humor is only a byproduct of the true spirit of chindōgu.

8) Chindōgu are not made to be vulgar

No perversions or sex toys or statements on the depravity of human civilization. Chindōgu are honest and simple, don’t try to pervert the chindōgu!

9) Chindōgu are never to be patented

Your chindōgu must be a free offering to the rest of the world so that anyone can make it! If you aren’t selling it anyway, then it doesn’t really matter.

10) You must make an equal opportunity chindōgu

chindōgu does not discriminate against one race or religion over another. Chindōgu is for everyone!

OK, now that we know the rules, let’s get to the chindōgu!

Don’t you hate when hard butter tears up your soft bread? Well here is the butter grater so you never have to worry about that again!
butter-grater-chindogu

When you have a cold, sometimes it can be hard to find a tissue. But not with this handy toilet paper roll hat! A tissue is always just inches from your runny nose!
chindogu-toilet-paper-roll-hat

Sometimes walking can be tiring, but with this handy invention, every step you take puts you one step closer to sitting down!
inflatable-pump-seat-dress-chindogu

Wet nails, what a mess! But with this hand operated nail drying pump your nails can be dry in slightly less time than if you did nothing at all!
nail-dryer-chindogu

Hot soup is the WORST! But with this handy chopsticks fan you never have to go through the tiring motion of blowing on your soup again!
noodle-cooler-chindogu

Don’t you just want to run in a meadow and be at one with nature? Me too, but the corporate world insists that we wear shoes! With these soleless shoes, no one will know that you’re communing with nature all day long!
soleless-shoes-chindogu

Every wonder how many bites you take every day? Me neither! But for no reason at all, you can know the answer to that pointless question!
useless japanese inventions

For the busy salaryman on the go, there is just never enough time in the day! With this handy briefcase toilet you can save those precious minutes spent in the bathroom and then I guess carry around human waste the rest of the day! Bonzai!
gotta-go-briefcase-rodd-miller-2007-v2-img_assist_custom

Another great time saver is the ankle washing machine! Quickly wash several tiny items while you walk around and then carry around the wet clothes all day…it’s perfect!
leg-washing-machine-chindogu

What is the Future of Chindogu?

Sadly, it seems as though chindōgu has been largely abandoned. Kenji Kawakami is getting older and with the digital revolution, chindōgu hasn’t really moved away from its analog roots. Of course there is actually a digital chindogu on the official website called “the rulerless ruler.” This ruler will change sizes depending on the size of your screen, so you should probably have a regular ruler nearby to measure it!
digital chindogu
Kawakami will probably never stop creating chindōgu, but it is unclear whether or not anyone will truly follow in his footsteps. Chindōgu still enjoys a cult following at certain fringe festivals around the world, and is still celebrated as surreal art in French culture, so it isn’t completely gone yet. But it appears the international Chindōgu craze of the late 90s and early 2000s has, for the most part, become almost as irrelevant as chindōgu themselves.

So what is your favorite Chindōgu??

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