Chindogu: The Art of the Un-Useless

There are some things that are useful but also useless at the same time. They sort of serve a purpose but don’t. They are un-useless and quite absurd.  Created in the spirit of anarchy, they are useful but only just.

In Japan, this is an art with a vast array of strangely practical and utterly eccentric inventions that are designed to help our daily lives. It also has a name – Chindogu.

Chindogu is the Japanese art of inventing silly and useless gadgets to solve everyday problems.

Chindogu (珍道具 ) which is comprised of the word Chin (珍 ) meaning “curious” or “strange” and Dougu (道具 )  meaning “tool” or “device.”

Chindogu surfaced in the English-speaking world after the publication of 101 Unuseless Inventions: The Art of Chindoguin 1995 by Kenji Kawakami (Translated by Dan Papia).

They are “designed to solve the niggling problems of modern life, these bizarre and logic-defying gadgets and gizmos have a tendency to fail completely – but also heroically, magnificently and hilariously.”

There are ten tenets that have been set up which define what is a true Chindogu:

  1. It must be something that could potentially help with a problem, but that nobody would ever buy. A Chindogu must be (almost) completely useless.
  2. It must actually exist, as in you (or the inventor) has built it. A Chindogu must exist in the real world. You must be able to hold it in your hand.
  3. Everyone, across all industries, must recognize it as being useless. Chindogu amaze, confuse and entertain.
  4. It’s not designed with state-of-the-art efficiency in mind. Chindogu must be tools for everyday life that everyone can understand and appreciate.
  5. It can’t be sold – Chindogu are not for sale.
  6. It must seriously be aimed at solving a real everyday problem. The creation of Chindogu is primarily a problem-solving activity – humour is just a by-product.
  7. It must be made to serve a purpose, not just make a statement. Chindogu are innocent. They should be made with the best intentions.
  8. It must be “pure” (no vulgarity or disrespect can be derived from it). Chindogu must adhere to certain standards of social decency, agreed upon by the International Chindogu Society. No cheap, base, or cruel humour is allowed.
  9. It remains in the public domain. Chindogu are offerings to the world, not to be copyrighted or patented.
  10. It must be for everyone – it can’t be aimed at any particular demographic in particular. Chindogu must never favor one group, race, religion, gender, etc. over another. They are without prejudice.

Examples of Chindogu:

A butter grater

Butter Grater

An umbrella tie

Umbrella Tie

Rainproof umbrella

Drape Umbrella

Bubble wrap key chain for instant stress relief

Bubble Wrap Keychain

‘Battlescratch’ T-shirt – to coordinate that perfect scratch

Battle Scratch

NB – the selfie stick started off as a Chindogu but then fell out of the category as it became widely used.


What strange tools and unuseless inventions can your class invent? Share some examples with your pupils and let their imaginations run riot – but remember to follow the ten tenets of Chindogu.

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