As regular Ladyland readers would know, we love a good life hack – there’s nothing better than a shortcut, tip or trick that helps you, say, make a pompom without having to cut out little cardboard rings, or remove strawberry stems using a drinking straw.
Back in the ‘80s, Japanese amateur inventor Kenji Kawakami took the concept of solving life’s little problems in a tangent so brilliantly absurd that he created a whole new art form: the Chindogu.
Best translated into English as ‘weird tool’, the gentle art of Chindogu is all about the “unuseless idea”: Kawakami’s inventions appear to help you triumph over problems that plague your life – some of which you never realised existed. But in fact, to use one of these gadgets would actually create new problems – and therein lies the poetic beauty of the Chindogu.
The Chindogu craze peaked in the ‘90s, with the publication of 101 Unuseless Japanese Inventions and 99 More Unuseless Japanese Inventions – hence the fabulous fashion and white court shoes you’ll see in the images below.
Kawakami remains champion of the Chindogu, has had his prototypes displayed in galleries around the world, and is said to have clocked up some 700 or so inventions. Although it’s hard to imagine he could beat these classic examples: may I present the personal favourites I can almost imagine making life easier…
THE BUTTER STICK
You can just imagine the scene at Kawakami’s house the morning this gem came into being: block of Lurpak sits on the kitchen bench… next to the Pritt Stick the kids have left out from yesterday’s 5 Minutes in the Art Cupboard session. Bing! This ingenious breakfast tool allows for precision buttering and convenience: pop it in your purse for breakfast on the go.
I do question whether this adheres to the Chindogu law ‘thou shalt not invent an item of practical use’, because I think this one has legs (see what I did there?). Naturally, this concept would work a treat on small children too; in fact, I’d go one step further and make a microfibre babygro so my son can polish the floors while he scrambles around the house.
THE ‘SCRATCH MY BACK’ TEE
I find few things more pleasurable in life than a good back scratch – purrrrr. But get the grid instructions wrong and there’ll be hell to pay…
THE SUBWAY SLEEPERS
There’s a certain video that did the rounds in which a man falls asleep on fellow commuters on the subway, ensuing in warm and fuzzies all round. Except for moi – ewwww, gross. You’ll find me on the tube maintaining my dignity with one of these clever gadgets, not drooling on a stranger.
THE SHOE UMBRELLA
Now this is what I needed while living in London!
Photography: Courtesy of 101 Unuseless Japanese Inventions (Kenji Kawakami and Dan Papia, Harper Collins, 1995), 99 More Unuseless Japanese Inventions (Kenji Kawakami and Dan Papia, Harper Collins, 1997) and chindogu.com