An invention is defined as a useful process, machine or improvement. Inventions are intended to make our lives better, to empower us or at the very least simplify aspects of our lives. More times than not however the inventions that we embrace merely create new problems. Problems that require new processes or machines in order to solve. This perpetual cycle leads us further away from the simplicity that the invention was meant for in the first place.
The inventions of Kenji Kawakami do none of these things.
Kawakami is an inventor and artist who created the art of Chindogu. Literally translated, Chindogu means weird tool. Chindogu are everyday items that are intended to be used, but are not very useful. From a roll of toilet paper worn on top of the head for sudden allergies, to funnels attached to eye glasses for more accurate eye drop application, these inventions solve problems with a child like innocence and create a sense of joy through their absurdity.
Kawakami states, “I think my things show us our stupid obsession in Japan and America with making life as easy as we can with a new thing."
In the 1970's Kawakami left his studies as an aeronautical engineer when he began to be involved in activism and student protests. He has a strong views against materialism, capitalism and has spoken out against products of the digital age.
"If you look at digital products, they all isolate people and leave them in their own small world, depriving them of the joy of communicating with others,[...] they also make human relationships more shallow and superficial."
Chindogu was first introduced to the public in the 90's by Kawakami while he was an editor and contributor of "Mail Order Life", a magazine geared toward housewives who preferred to not shop in the cities. Kawakami had had a few pages in the back of the magazine to fill, so he added some photos of his new inventions. Since then, Kawakami has founded the Chindogu society, published two books on Chidogu ( 101 Unuseless Japanese Inventions: The Art of Chindogu and 99 More Unuseless Japanese Inventions, both published by WW Norton & Co.), and has had exhibitions of his creations all around the world.
Kawakami thinks of Chindogu as “an intellectual game to stimulate anarchic minds
,” or a physical manifestation of my way of thinking….”
In order for an invention to be considered a Chindogu it must abide by a strict set of rules as seen below. Everyone is encouraged to create a Chindogu just so long as they follow the 10 tenets of Chindogu.
10 tenets of Chindogu
1. A Chindogu 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. A Chindogu 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
”Chindogu 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. Chindogu are tools for everyday life
”Chindogu are a form of nonverbal communication understandable to everyone, everywhere. Specialised or technical inventions, like a three handled sprocket loosener for drainpipes centred between two under-the-sink cabinet doors (the uselessness of which will only be appreciated by plumbers), do not count.
5. Chindogu are not for sale
”Chindogu are not tradable commodities. If you accept money for one you surrender your purity. They must not even be sold as a joke.
6. Humour must not be the sole reason for creating a Chindogu
“ The creation of Chindogu is fundamentally a problem-solving activity. Humour 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. Chindogu 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. Chindogu are never taboo
“The International Chindogu Society has established certain standards of social decency. Cheap sexual innuendo, humour of a vulgar nature, and sick or cruel jokes that debase the sanctity of living things are not allowed.
9. Chindogu cannot be patented
”Chindogu 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. Chindogu are without prejudice
“Chindogu must never favour 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.”