The book I’m reviewing today is one I actually was recommended on a design course. I’m sure about 90% of books from degree courses that are more specific to the topic get sold in or donated to charity shops after the course, I know that’s what I’ve intended for mine, but I found myself picking this one up when I was thinking about getting rid of it and reading through it all again. It’s the Bumper Book of Unuseless Japanese Inventions by Kenji Kawakami with a foreword by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
I think it’s the kind of book that’s actually interesting and entertaining for a variety of reasons, probably one of the ones that will draw people in is that wtf Japan? side of it that the internet seems to love. This book is full of 200 unuseless inventions, it combines two books that were originally published separately, and has photos alongside a bit of an explanation on what everyday problem they are trying to fix. These are all inventions designed to fix something, however they do end up causing more problems or embarrassment through using them, that is what makes them unuseless. It’s what makes them Chindogu, which is essentially a unuseless product and a word I had never heard of before this book.
I think the best explanation I’ve found of Chindogu is probably from Wikipedia, though I wouldn’t normally quote them I’ll do it this time as it covers it pretty much and, as this book is essentially a collection of photos on this, understanding what it actually is would help.
Chindōgu (珍道具?) is the Japanese art of inventing ingenious everyday gadgets that, on the surface, seem like an ideal solution to a particular problem. However, chindōgu has a distinctive feature: anyone attempting to use one of these inventions would find that it causes so many new problems, or such significant social embarrassment, that effectively it has no utility whatsoever. Thus, chindōgu are sometimes described as “unuseless” – that is, they cannot be regarded as “useless” in an absolute sense, since they solve a problem; however, in practical terms, they cannot be called “useful”.
The book is 304 pages long and, apart from a short foreword and introduction to what Chindogu is and how something qualifies to be one the rest is full of colour photographs and explanations on the items themselves. The paper is slightly glossy, it’s all colour so it needs to be really, and good quality. It’s the kind of quality book that would be good in any room to pick up and thumb through or open on a random page to enjoy and it would survive it. The cover is definitely eye catching, I think it’s the only fluorescent pink book I own, but it just adds to the charm for me, for some reason but I can’t put my finger on why.
Some of my favourite inventions in this one include the lipstick cup, the mop shoes for cats and the high heel training wheels though there are so many I found myself smiling at and thinking ‘that could actually work… maybe’ that if I were to list them all I’d probably cover half the inventions in the book. They all have multiple photos of the invention being used, including one of the cat in the mop slippers, and the explanation is in the helvetica font which means it’s plain and easy to read, though it is a bit small.
I think this is the kind of book you could give a friend who’s into design in general, though especially unusual or funny designs, and they’d enjoy flicking through and reading the things. It’s full of the kind of inventions you’d think up to solve a problem but most people would dismiss before taking them a step further because of the impracticality so it’s actually nice to see that someone made things like an umbrella on your shoes to protect the unprotected part on stilettos when it rains or a seat for the underground that has one pole down the middle to balance on so you can get an extra seat between two others. They’re never something that will be mass produced but seeing some of these ideas actually become real is a bit of fun to me.
It would probably also be a good book if you know someone, or you yourself, like the wtf Japan type articles that pop up, the ones that make you think they’d only be made in Japan. Though these have been made they’re not the everyday things, that’s actually part of what makes them Chindogu, but the fact that they come from Japan seems to fit in with that whole idea that these things could only come from that country.
Overall I do really like this book. Although I first dismissed it as a design book that would get donated away I am definitely keeping it and it’ll be one I have out on a table or on the side, a bit like the QI books I own, as something different to flick through. As each invention has a single or double page about it you really don’t have to get involved in it so it’s also the kind of book that might be a good waiting room book. I tend to have some that can be picked up and put down for hospital and doctors appointments so this could work for that.
If you like unusual inventions, seeing ideas that you would never expect to be made, come to life then this could be worth picking up. I would definitely recommend eBay or amazon, I’m not sure if this is even in print any more, as I found it cheap on amazon. If this exact one isn’t available but yo like the idea then the two shorter books combined in this are ‘101 Unuseless Japanese Inventions’ by Kenji Kawakami (1995) and ’99 More Unuseless Japanese Inventions’ by Kenji Kawakami and Dan Papua (1997).
I think I’ll finish this review with a quote from the Chindogu website, it feels like it’s appropriate and also pretty much sums up the mood of the book as well as the spirit of Chindogu itself:
“The planets formed. The Earth cooled. Creatures emerged and one of them started playing with rocks and sticks.
That creature made spears, he crafted shovels, he turned pelts into cloth. Then, he got fancy. He built the solar-powered flashlight and the combination table napkin/necktie. Not exactly useful, but somehow not altogether useless. He created inventions that didn’t quite work…but were nonetheless fun.
Chindogu was born.”
chindogu.com (no date)
Title: Bumper Book of Unuseless Japanese Inventions
Author: Kenji Kawakami
Year written: 1995 and 1997 (the two individual books combined in this one)
Publisher and year: HarperCollins, 2004
ISBN Number: 0-00-719288-6
Chindogu (Wikipedia, 2017) online: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chind%C5%8Dgu (Accessed March 16 2017)
Official Home of The International Chindogu Society (International Chindogu Society, N.d.) online: http://www.chindogu.com/ (Accessed March 16 2017)