Dan Papia

In the 1990s, Dan Papia also worked at a magazine.  It was called the Tokyo Journal, and at that time it was the go-to English-language source for all that was trending in Japan.  Dan decided to feature chindogu within the pages of his magazine.  And this had the effect of exposing the concept to the outside world.

The outside world, it proved, was ready to embrace this ancient Japanese art.  (Ancient in the sense that chindogu had been conceived a full eighteen months before Dan began to promote it.)  The initial response from Tokyo Journal followers echoed that of the Mail Order Life reader reception, but on a somewhat larger scale.  The culture of mass-produced consumerism, of course, was a global phenomenon, and chindogu seemed to strike out at the constant inflow of new must-have plastic nicknacks in an innocent and effective way.  The chindogu section became a fixture in the front pages of Tokyo Journal as well.

But Dan felt compelled to push the concept one step further.  One day, while looking over a stack of chindogu fan mail and a particularly uncomplicated artifact that he was about to photograph, Dan rubbed his chin.  And then he rubbed his dogu.  And then he asked himself, “Why should chindogu remain solely a spectator sport?”  People from around the world were sending in their own chindogu ideas on an almost daily basis.  Couldn’t they be trusted to take that next step?  Shouldn’t they be encouraged to build their own chindogu…take their own pictures…organize contests, conferences, and chindog-a-thons…participate in the fun?

Chindogu wanted to be more than just a collection of art pieces, Dan decided.  It should be an art form.  He set about compiling a list of rules that new chindoguists could follow to ensure that their creations would retain the right balance of anarchy and innocence.  No crude humor of the “fake dog poop” variety.  No language dependent gags.  Nothing that might prove commercial or be mass-produced for sell at the joke shop.  A chindogu should come from the same place that a truly useful invention does.  It should seem at first glance like it’s actually going to fill a need, but only on closer observation reveal itself to be not quite right.

It’s that twist that brings the smile.  And it’s that smile that makes the art worth practicing.  Chindogu are not useful, but neither are they useless, Dan argued.  They are “unuseless.”

Dan started the International Chindogu Society in 1995.  Within ten years, the word “chindogu” had begun to appear in a number of English-lanaguge dictionaries, there were chindogu parties and gatherings happening around the world, and chindogu was all over the internet.  By the 15th year, Dan took a look at the Society’s bank account, remembered his strong assertion that (for the sake of purity) chindogu should never make money, and again began to scratch his chin…