FREAK Shots: Only in Japan?


Blog reader Mayur Misra forwarded us a chain email featuring ads for various Japanese products with the subject line “Only in Japan.”


Are such products too weird to take hold in the U.S.? Remember that the Walkman, the great cassette-tape ancestor of portable CD players and iPods, also started out as one of those wacky Japanese inventions.



During this economic downturn, might the success of a strange — some say embarrassing — U.S. invention, the Snuggie, be an indication that people are more open to a quirky product if it saves them money (heating bills, in the case of the Snuggie)? At a time when fewer people can afford housekeepers, maybe this is the next recession must-have:


This whole genre has been around for ever. It even has a name, Chindogu

C. Larity

Here's my question about this: Do lonely gay men buy the Boyfriend Pillow?


the fact that such a thing as a 'must-have' exists is, in itself, embarrassing. but, those huggy pillows do look awfully cuddly. i place complete blame for this recession on the axis of evil - sharper image, brookstone and the silly catalog you peek at while flying. i could have paid for my mortgage if i didn't throw down 5k for a massage chair. oh well, you live and you sort of learn. i wonder what the equivalent japanese catalog is ... nonsensical fun, surely.


Thanks kap, you posted what I came here to post and provided a good information link.

To recap, most or all of these things are most likely jokes. The Walkman was in no way meant to be a joke, it was developed as a serious product.

Hena Tayeb

O MY GOD! how weird are these products, i still can't stop laughing.


A perusal of the US Patent Office applications would yield an equally bizarre array of "solutions" to someone's most vexing problems. Japan has no "patent" on absurdity.


"Thus, Chindōgu are sometimes described as 'unuseless' - that is, they cannot be regarded as 'useless' in an absolute sense, since they do actually solve a problem; however, in practical terms, they cannot positively be called 'useful.'"

An important distinction. "Only in Japan" assumes that they actually are popular in Japan. But if you've ever been to Japan, you know that it's not a country of people running around with crazy contraptions on their heads. Most Japanese people would be even more embarrassed to use any of these products than the typical Westerner would be. So if these inventions take off in any way anywhere, it will only be as jokes in blogs, magazines and books.

What I would like to see more of (though of course I enjoy hearing about entertaining unuseless inventions) are simple contraptions that make life surprisingly easier. Devices to go along with "The Power of Small" way of thinking.



I do see these types of products shown a lot, but as a Japaense american, i'd like to point out these are seen as weird and bizarre products in Japan as well--and are hardly common place. Do more strange producs see the light of day in Japan than in other places? perhaps, but I hate when people misinterpret these types of thinegs as if they were common.


these are crazy creations, but just think about everything we see on infomercials. How many times did you say I wish I thought of that as you were getting ready to go to work? Everything is a result of a need-as crazy as that need may be.


As consumers, Japanese people have a very different relationship to capitalism and products than we do in the U.S. Sometimes I think that the sense that the money you make is yours is stronger in the U.S. There are numerous high fees that Japanese people pay that would cause a lot of protest here. The reaction to consumer products is also opposite, something that is appealing to aesthetics will win over practicality. An item that is cute, makes you laugh, or is simply a hot trend will bring more personal value than an item that is simply practical. Practicality is not seen as something to be purchased since you can always find ways to be practical with what you have. Take a look at a basic table set up. The plates on a Japanese table will be a variety of shapes and sizes and won't match. Portions may be tiny. Even with food the aesthetics are considered just as filling as the portion size.



You got taken in on this one. These are all joke items. Only in Japan would you find such irony.


With that baby crawler rug patches who needs a Roomba?

I guess it works well in those tiny Japanese apartments.


As I lived in Japan for 7 years, I can assure you, as a previous reader said, these are Chindogu, with the exception of the pillow that was available in the stores since 2006 it I remember correctly.



Mention one , get one free, I guess.


These are all jokes. I've seen those exact photos in a book of "useless inventions" years and years ago. The idea is that they should be useful in that they solve a problem, but useless in that no one would ever use them. These are definitely not popular in japan or anywhere else. As I recall one of the requirements for being in the book was that you couldn't actually be selling the product or making any money from it, they were supposed to be useless prototypes. There are probably sequels to that book now; people buy them for laughs.


Need that Baby Mop! (Do they also make one that your dog can wear...?)

Bobby G

Yeah but your Rhoomba (sp) doesn't grow out of it's mop attire.


Chindogu are not products because they are not for sale nor were they created to be sold. Comparing them to a walkman is irresponsible.

Lauren B.

The baby mop? I'd buy it.

The toilet-paper head accessory? Definitely not.

A man-shaped pillow? Sign me up for two.

People will buy anything you can convince them they need.

"Only in" jokes are used for every country and have no serious degrading undertones. There is a slew of "Only in America" jokes, all of which are hilarious because we know them to be true. (Ex: "Only in America do people order a Big Mac with large fries and a Diet Coke.")

As far as Chindogu goes . . . that's just disappointing. I really wanted that pillow.


As some people have already commented above, I have never seen such products in Japan for more than 20 years. Plus, "chindogu" is not at all popular in Japan. I understand you would like to show things that you found funny or strange to the blog readers and that's fine with me as well. At the same time, I believe you don't want to see incorrect cultural biases are being created in a way that some people don't find pleasant to see.