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The Big Bento Box of Unuseless Japanese Inventions Paperback – April 17, 2005

4.8 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Kenji Kawakami is the inventor of the concept of Chindogu and the founder of the 10,000-member International Chindogu Society.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is a celebrity chef, television personality, journalist, food writer, and "real food" campaigner. He promotes a back-to-basics philosophy with regards to cooking.

Dan Papia is a translator. He also heads the chapter of the International Chindogu Society based in Los Angeles.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (April 17, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393326764
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393326765
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #88,570 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I wrote and published this review in The Journal of Irreproducible Results, vol. 49, no. 6, November 2005:

Rube Goldberg founded the modern era of humorous inventions in the US, and Heath Robinson did the same in the UK, in the first half of the 1900s. Even now, "Rube Goldberg contraptions" call to mind not only his cartooning style but his inventive wit.

The genre simplified and expanded with Jacques Carelman's The Catalogue of Fantastic Inventions (St. Martins, 1984), and Steven M. Johnson's What the World Needs Now (Ten Speed, 2001). David E. H. Jones takes a decidedly more scientific, less cartooned approach in The Inventions of Dædalus (Freeman, 1982) and The Further Inventions of Dædalus (Oxford University Press, 1999).

When the genre twisted and turned to Japan, it developed into Chindogu. If a humorous invention serves a real, everyday purpose ... but not well; if it is actually made and photographed; if its humor is a byproduct of solving a problem ... then it may be "chindogu". See [...] A bento box is a multi-purpose lunchbox, but that concept is the merest appetizer for these.

200 inventions fill 300 pages in this charming full-color compendium. Many are in classes by themselves, such as the nail-polish dryer for 5 fingers at once. But certain issues recur:

* Attach mops to crawling babies, pets, and shoes.

* Portable signage allows you to unroll a zebra-crosswalk at a convenient place in the road; to put a women's-restroom sign over a men's; and to mark parking space lines around your car, wherever you leave it.

* An extra hand can cover your mouth politely; hold veggies perilously close to a cutting knife; and even help count fingers.
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Format: Paperback
I took one look at this amusing book and immediately understood why only the Japanese would revel in these wacky inventions which they call "chindogu". As a Japanese-American myself, I understand the high value placed on self-sufficiency and time-efficiency in their daily existences. After all, these are the people who came up with sleeping tubes and subway passenger pushers. Designer and author Kenji Kawakami and translator Dan Papia promote 200 of these funky devices that range from the conceivably helpful to the hysterically absurd. The humor comes from not only the devices but also the straight-faced photos of the devices in action and the accompanying text that captures the pure huckster cheese of an airline mail-order magazine. Kawakami provides the top ten tenets of chindogu to set the stage for what follows. He considers a chindogu a failure if it is slightly useful, a success if it captures the spirit of anarchy. They cannot be invented simply for humor. They must exist as a prototype but never be patented or sold. Kawakami understands that there is no gadget so unuseless that somebody out there would not buy it if offered, and in this regard, the Japanese have shown more discretion than Americans who would submit their patent applications on a dime.

Expect to giggle quite a bit perusing this book, and here are a few of my particular favorites:
* Diet dishes - rice bowls cut in half with a mirror inserted to make them seem like full bowls, marketed with the tagline "Satisfy your hunger with a culinary optical illusion".
* Portable subway straps - straps hung on a suction cup that you would place on the ceiling of a particularly crowded subway car. I could easily see using this on BART during rush hour.
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Format: Paperback
This book of chindogu features some of the most humorous and ingenious inventions ever, inventions so impractical yet addressing real world problems, that they are referred to as "unuseless." The inventions remind me of Monty Python animator Terry Gilliam's cartoons gone horribly awry. Editor Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall explains the concept nicely in the foreword: all these inventions are real and have been manufactured, but to qualify as a real chindogu, the device must be completely impracticable in the real world. Readers are even invited to join and submit chindogu of their own to the International Chindogu Academy. (I am thinking of submitting a Marmoset Crauncher.)

The word "chindogu" was appropriated for these inventions as it is Japanese for "odd or distorted tool." That is a perfect description of these items. There are too many for me to list, but all are beautifully explained and illustrated. Some of my favorites include: "Duster Slippers For Cats," in which housecats don dustmops on their paws to assist with household chores (the illustration is priceless); "The Noodle Eater's Hair Guard," which is the silly pink contraption on the cover; "The Back Scratcher's T-Shirt" (which is not only funny, it borders on a good idea); the "Portable Subway Strap" (for those who enjoy holding onto a plunger affixed to the roof of a train); and the "Ear Extender," which gets my vote for best decorative headgear made from colanders.

This is a funny book, and is beautifully rendered in color throughout. The only warning I have is that if you read this in long sittings, eventually you may find yourself saying "Hey, that's a pretty good idea!" (I had this thought when looking at the "Butterstick.") I recommend this book to lovers of the odd and obscure everywhere.
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