[-empyre-] "Chindogu" and re-design

Kevin Hamilton kham at uiuc.edu
Wed Nov 25 08:56:32 EST 2009

Hi Machiko

(With all happening in California there is of course much to talk  
about on this list, but also here is Machiko as a guest and I would  
like to extend some hospitality.)

It's a very revealing mistake that people make  - this understanding  
of the Chindogu as "Japanese."

I also use these books from time to time in design/art classes as a  
catalyst to conversation, as I might use Meret Oppenheim's Fur-lined  
Teacup - but I'm careful to highlight that these are likely the  
creation of one person, not of  "all Japanese."

The clue to this is that the book photographs are created in a unified  
style and manner - how else would this happen unless one agent had  
created them all? Only if one assumes that people from Japan "all see/ 
look the same."

The mistake you point out portrays "Japanese" as compelled to create,  
as if they can't help but do weird, nonsensible things that make the  
West laugh. The Western creative worker then is encouraged to aspire  
to such weirdness as a choice, not as a compulsion - thus retaining  
the stable rationality of a modern, Western economic agent while also  
choosing to occasionally surrender rationality in the service of the  
common good. As in so many creative industries, here we have labor  
divided asymmetrically across oceans and continents. This is not so  
different from the "slum aesthetics" of some architects and designers  
who drool over improvised housing as containing an inner, innate  
irrational order to which they should bend.

We need to develop counter-arguments for objects that delight through  
their absurdity, their carnivalesque pose, their unexpected leaps of  
thought. I think some of the objects you curate and study could help  
us with this Machiko. How might we define a counter-creativity of play  
that doesn't reinforce a division between irrational-by-choice and  

Thank you

Kevin Hamilton

On Nov 23, 2009, at 6:03 PM, Machiko Kusahara wrote:

> Hi all,
> As Renate introduced me in her email, I am currently in LA.
> During the weekend as we cycled around in our neighborhood, my partner
> found a book "99 More  un-useless Japanese Inventions", a sequel of
> "Chindogu" at a yard sale and bought it for 50 cents. What a bargain
> price!
> It is funny, because we have been recently talking about the strange
> "Japanese" inventions by this author, in relation to questions I
> almost always get when I give a presentation on Device Art, the
> project I have been working with my colleague artists and engineers.
> The strange thing is that although the term "chindogu" is not part of
> our language (while we understand what it means by seeing the Chinese
> characters) it seems to be now widely accepted as a Japanese concept.
> These inventions were originally introduced in English. So, until
> recently (until the author started showing up on variety shows on
> Japanese TV) almost no one in Japan knew about it.
> A typical reaction of Japanese when asked about the concept from
> "foreigners" is: "What is that? I hope you don't think we are really
> using such crazy things! This is a joke!)
> Recently I heard that in UK this book is widely used in design
> education, as a key concept to "re-design" things, i.e. to design
> "impossible-to-use" things.
> Playfulness is a very important part of Japanese culture, but I still
> feel rather uncomfortable when I hear people praise "chindogu" as a
> representation of Japanese creativity.
> Each time when asked I need to explain what are the differences
> between "chindogu" and our Device Art.
> Yes, we design things that are not "practical" from coorporate point
> of view, but we are not joking.
> Machiko Kusahara
> _______________________________________________
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> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
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