Book review –Kenji Kawakami – 101 Un-Useless Japanese inventions

Book review –Kenji Kawakami – 101 Un-Useless Japanese inventions

1995 – Harper Collins. Translated by Dan Papia.

A very funny look at the obscure Japanese art of Chindogu, which involves deliberately inventing useless machines and labour saving devises.

There are plenty of genuinely sincerely created bits of tat on the market, but Chindogu are made with the intention of failing to market and often exist as one-offs. A few have been withdrawn from the lists if the have been found to have some commercial release or success.

Kawakami’s short guide introduces some of the best, or should that be the worst Chindogu devises, which are often hilarious. My favourite has to be the gardening shoes with a hoe and a small scythe sticking out the sides enabling a lazy gardener to cut the garden lawn just by shuffling round over it. The danger of slicing someone’s feet off is obvious.

Another invention offers a cure for fear of heights (Vertigo) by letting the sufferer wear goggles filled with ground level soil to help the phobic feel closer to the ground. A devise to count how many times you have chewed each morsel of food (it works like a pedometer you strap under your chin) is particularly bizarre. Then there is the telephone receiver that is the size and weight of a weight-lifting dumb-bell to ensure you get exercise even when talking on the phone all day.

There are umbrellas you wear on your head or just for your feet, plastic bags to let you take a bath without getting wet (or clean), and toilet roll dispensers you can wear like a hat. Compiling the book must have been fun, but the real heroes are the inventors who actually proudly came up with these items when their skills could have been so easily used to create genuinely practical machines that we could all be using. Somehow the Chindogu seems a better use of time.

Arthur Chappell

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