The Big Bento Box of Unuseless Japanese Inventions: The Art of Chindogu. By Kenji Kawakami. Translated and additional text by Dan Papia: WW Norton, 2005. 0-393-32676-4.
reviewed by Norman Sperling, JIR v49 #6, November 2005, p29.
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 Daedalus (Freeman, 1982) and The Further Inventions of Daedalus (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 www.chindogu.com.
200 inventions fill 300 pages in this charming 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.
Umbrellas could be supported from a hat or headbelt, or little ones attached to shoes or camera, or given full-length transparent sides to keep you dry all the way down.
Just as a Swiss Army knife combines many hand tools, a giant handle could combine gardening tools; pockets in a necktie or hooks on a belt could hold office necessities; hooks on an apron could hold kitchen utensils; and each finger of a glove could be tipped with its own tool.
While "humorous inventions" seems like a category, libraries haven't invented a single number to find them under. I found some in art (NC1429, NC1499, NK1125); in science at Q167, and in technology at T20 and this one at T27. In Dewey, check 741.5.