Chindogu: anarchic, whimsical, open source design

The Japanese term chindogu means "a tool that exists on the edge of reason (…) literally, it means 'unusual implement' or 'unusual tool." Snip from an essay by John Lienhard about the guiding principles behind this tradition of kook-makery:

[Chindogu] can't be intended for real use, but it must be meant for everyday life. It must actually exist. Its purpose cannot be humor, propaganda, or vulgarity, nor can it serve any religious or ethnic prejudice. One device allows a cat to step on an actuator for a fan that cools its food. Funny? Not really. Propagandistic or vulgar? Certainly not. And cats do live with people of any religion or race.

The remaining three guiding principles are the most interesting. One is that Chindogu must reveal the spirit of anarchy. It must challenge, and I quote, the suffocating historical dominance of conservative utility. Chindogu must represent freedom from true purpose. The fun of it is that, while it has apparent utility, it is, in the end, useless. The tee-shirt with the grid printed on the back is such a contrivance. The point is to be able to tell a friend, Scratch my back at the coordinates H-3. Doesn't that make perfect sense?

A Chindogu can never be sold. That, I suppose, is what sets these gadgets apart from those at Sharper Image. The items at Sharper Image are necessarily tainted with all kinds of plausible usefulness. You could never say that about the Chindogu butter-stick. It's something like a Chapstick but filled with butter for easy spreading on bread.

The last principle is that Chindogu cannot be patented. True Chindogu is a gift to the world. In the spirit of internationalism, the book adds the phrase, Mi Chindogu es tu Chindogu.

jmorrison at the nonist has published 12 examples of Chindogu from the pages of the book 101 Unuseless Inventions (W. W. Norton, 1995).

Shown here, the most fetching "Noodle Eater's Hair Guard," above. Link. (Thanks, John Parres!)