Games: The sublime unuselessness of chindogu

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The Independent Online
Have you ever wondered how to utilise the energy of crawling babies? Or how to improve a companion's accuracy in scratching your back? Or how to deal with the problem of noodles that are too hot?

If you have ever worried about such things, and particularly if you have worried about them enough to come up with a solution, but above all if that solution is inherently totally impractical, then you could easily have all the qualifications to master the oriental art of Chindogu.

The term - it means "strange tools" - was coined by the Japanese inventor and humourist Kenji Kawakami, whose book 101 Unuseless Inventions was published in 1995 and followed, two years later, by 99 More Unuseless Japanese Inventions. The concept of Unusefulness is central to the spirit of Chindogu. To qualify, an invention must be seen as a solution to a real problem, yet must, at some level, be so deeply flawed that it is as near useless as makes no difference.

Like the cleaning pads that may be attached to a baby's limbs so that it polishes the floor as it learns to crawl; or the back-scratcher's t- shirt, which has a grid marked on the back so that instead of saying up- a-bit, left-a-bit, the scratchee can, on being told the coordinates of the scratcher's fingertip, direct him or her to the precise location of the itch; or the small fan that may be attached to a chopstick in order to cool noodles on their way from plate to mouth.

While Chindogu have been slow to gain great popularity in Japan, they have attained cult status in America and become widely admired in Germany. There are now some 10,000 members of the International Chindogu Society, which may be found on the Internet at this address: http:// www.pitt.edu/ctnst3/chindogu.html where there are also 10 examples of the art, complete with photographs. "If you join now," the page tells us, "the $10 membership fee is waved (sic), but you must provide a chindogu idea. (Don't worry about anyone `steeling' your idea. If it is worth steeling, then it's not chindogu!)" Unbad spelling is also evidently not part of Chindogu.

The Society spells out the Ten Tenets of Chindogu, which together define the art:

1) A Chindogu cannot be for real use: it is fundamental to the spirit of Chindogu that inventions must, from a practical point of view, be almost completely useless.

2) A Chindogu must exist: a concept is not enough; you must have made it. "In order to be useless, it must first be."

3) Inherent in every Chindogu is the spirit of anarchy: they represent freedom of thought and action, broken free from the chains of usefulness.

4) Chindogu are tools for everyday life: not specialised or technical inventions.

5) Chindogu are not for sale: even for a joke - if you accept money for one, you surrender your purity.

6) Humour must not be the sole reason for producing a Chindogu: humour is the by-product of a problem-solving activity.

7) Chindogu is not propaganda: they are made to be used, even though they cannot be used. They are not a comment on society.

8) Chindogu are never taboo. No cheap sexual innuendo.

9) Chindogu cannot be patented: they are offerings to the world.

10) Chindogu are without prejudice: for young and old, male and female, of all races and religions.

Ideas for Chindogu will be welcome at: Chindogu, Saturday Games, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL. No prizes, but we'll publish those we like best.

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