Chindogu is the gentle Japanese rebellion against a world that is too practical. Chindogu inventions must be something you make, but not something useful. I invented a Chindogu earthquake suit and used it to join the international Chindogu society. You can, too.
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As published in Northern Express Weekly
MS 1336JAP.doc/900 words
July 8, 2002/Disk #66
ďAre you Chindogu?Ē
Copyright 2002 by
Harley L. Sachs
When my high school pal Bob Reinhold moved to California I sent him an earthquake suit. With all those tremors and shocks, heíd better be prepared. The earthquake gear consisted of recycled coil bed springs, one to be tied to the bottom of each shoe, one for his behind, and one for his head to protect against falling objects. If an earthquake hit he should be able to just bounce around harmlessly.
It turns out I was following a Japanese tradition and art form called Chindogu. You can check out their official web site (just search for Chindogu on the World Wide Web). Several books have been published with pictures of these wacky inventions.
Not everything can be Chindogu. The guidelines are specific. The basic concept is that every Chindogu is almost useless. They have to be workable, but not salable, and if you invent one yourself, they canít be patented. Iíll summarize the ten tenets of Chindogu as stated on the web site of the International Chindogu society:
Every Chindogu is an almost useless object, but not every almost useless object, such as those failed appliances you find in the Goodwill store, 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 of Chindogu. Here they are:
1. A Chindogu cannot be for real use. If you make one and actually use one all the time, youíve violated the spirit of this art and philosophy.
2. A Chindogu must exist. You have to make it, but not use it.
3. Inherent in every Chindogu is the spirit of anarchy Conservative utilitarianism is anathema to true Chindogu. Itís not enough to be a free thinker; you have to break the mold of usefulness to qualify.
4. Chindogu are tools for everyday life. Specialized tools for a specific trade donít count.
5. Chindogu are not for sale. To sell one deprives one of inner purity. Even selling them as a joke disqualifies, so that mosquito trap you saw in the U.P. souvenir shop cannot be Chindogu.
6. Humor must not be the sole reason for creating a Chindogu. The idea is that, though wacky, Chindogu solves a problem.
7. Chindogu is not propaganda, not commentary on mankind. To use Chindogu for a message would defeat the innocent purpose.
8. Chindogu are never taboo, so thereís no sexual connotation, like the Wampus my aunt knit as a gag. (A wampus is a silly winter garment for a manís private parts, so because of the sexual context cannot be Chindogu.)
9. Chindogu cannot be patented
10. Chindogu are without racial or ethnic prejudice. Though quite a few of them originated in the Japanese culture, they are not limited to Japanese.
After all those tenets, you must be wondering what in the world they might be, besides my earthquake suit. Consider some of these actual Chindogu. Several devices for people who sleep on subways: One is a tripod with a chin rest so you can sleep standing up between stations. Another is a helmet that attaches with a suction cup to the subway window so if you sleep your head doesnít droop onto your neighborís shoulder or lap. Attached to the front of this one is a note asking someone to wake you up in time for your station. Another subway item is a handle with a suction cup on the end. If all the straps are already taken, you can stick your Chindogu subway handle against the ceiling of the car, and hang on. If people on the subway sit too closely together so you canít sit, thereís a Chindogu seat on a single pipe support that can wedge between two passengers. With it the seat is raised up so youĎre not actually sitting on someoneís lap. Yet another Chindogu for subway use is a mask/scarf that covers your face and hangs down between you legs so if you sleep with your mouth open you donít be embarrassed. Your destination is written on this one, too, so someone will wake you up.
Not all Chindogu are for subway use. One is a roll of toilet paper mounted on a head band so if you have hay fever you can just pull down a few squares and blow your nose.
There are fuzzy cat booties for your cat to wear while rushing around the house. These will let your pussycat do the dusting.
The moment a Chindogu actually has a useful purpose, it is disqualified. A candidate for that one is a featured cutting board with a hole in it. Vegetables chopped on it can be pushed to the hole and drop into a waiting salad bowl. We have such a board with a hole for a handle and have used it for just that purpose. It is NOT Chindogu.
The possibilities for Chindogu are legion and if you have an idea, why not send it to their society? You might be included among the free spirits of purity and anarchy. Considering the seriousness of the world news, we could use more Chindogu. (Oops! That would violate the spirit of Chindogu: it must not be useful. I think we have an oxymoron here. The moment Chindogu serves a purpose, it is disqualified as Chindogu. Now we have a Chindogu dilemma.)