Chindogu are Japanese inventions intended to assist with life's everyday little problems. But that's not the extent of the genre. The idea is that the implementation of the solution is so cumbersome, that the invention itself becomes the problem. It's a real conundrum. A recently published book by Kenji Kawakami entitled 101 Useless Japanese Inventions: The Art of Chindogu provides color photos. At Fork in the Road, we're primarily interested in the ones involving food. Following are a few more hilarious food-related chindogu.
If the use of tools is what first set mankind on the road to civilization, what does the new "art and philosophy" of Chindogu -- Japanese for "odd or distorted tool" -- reveal about our prospects at the dawn of the 21st century? We "have the luxury to build that which we can't really use," explains Kenji Kawakami, a former cartoon scriptwriter, bicycle museum designer and home shopping magazine editor who now devotes himself to subverting the Japanese obsession with gadgets and technology. His latest book, 101 UNUSELESS JAPANESE INVENTIONS: The Art of Chindogu (Norton, paper, $10.95), may also subvert the American notion that he and his countrymen are conformist robots, lacking the genes for whimsy and anarchy. A Chindogu, as Mr. Kawakami puts it (with the help of his translator, Dan Papia), is an almost useless invention, something that looks as if it's going to make your life easier -- and only succeeds in making it more ridiculous. Like the hay fever hat, a roll of paper tissues that sits snugly on the sufferer's head, fresh sheet dangling handily just above eye level. Or the golfer's practice umbrella, equipped with a club head at the tip, perfect for chip shots on a subway platform. Admittedly, some Chindogu may speak to distinctly Japanese social needs: consider, for example, the sweetheart's training arm, an extra appendage that attaches to a coat or jacket, recommended for "the early stages of courting" to avoid "the worry of sweaty palms, inappropriate pressure or when to disengage." Then again, what married woman of any nationality hasn't yearned for the back scratcher's T-shirt stamped with a handy "itch-locater grid," the perfect garment for a demanding mate? Or, better still, the dust and shake, a combination duster and martini shaker that rewards vigorous cleaning, providing a truly fine incentive for tackling room after room after room. Mr. Kawakami may have strayed from his absurdist mandate on that one. It seems to me the height of civilized invention. ALIDA BECKER
Earlier this year, Twitter user uploaded photos of the Japanese selfie stick from a 1995 book 101 Useless Japanese Inventions. Website recently posted these images, pointing out that the invention is hardly new.