A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Did the Japanese rip off Slug Signorino?

March 1, 1996

Dear Cecil:

Let no one deny that the Straight Dope exerts a mighty influence on society — even Japanese society. Years ago, to illustrate a column on male lactation, the incandescently gifted Slug Signorino drew a shirtless, macho man mountain wearing a kind of harness/brassiere with baby bottles in place of the bra cups. In accordance with Calvin Trillin's observation that nowadays it's difficult to invent a comic premise so outlandish that it won't sooner or later be overtaken by reality — Trillin called this "being blindsided by the truth" — I submit to you the enclosed book, 101 Unuseless Japanese Inventions, by Kenji Kawakami. Turn to page 137 and you'll find a photograph of a dignified Japanese gentleman in a business suit, slaking the thirst of the infant in his arms by means of a "Daddy Nurser," a device consisting of a pair of breast-shaped milk containers complete with nipples on a pink-ribbon harness. It enables "father to experience the joy of nourishing his baby from his own body — almost." An appropriate caption might be "reality suckles," but I defer to you for trenchant exegesis and astringent commentary.

Cecil replies:

Sweet Jesus. How's that for astringent? This is something you have to see to fully appreciate, but Kawakami's invention is as described. Let's not be too quick to talk about being overtaken by reality, though. For one thing, as far as Slug is concerned, you can't be overtaken by something you don't live in the same dimension as.

For another, the Daddy Nurser and the other 100 inventions in Kawakami's book were meant tongue-in-cheek. So what we're seeing isn't a case of being blindsided by the truth, but rather of Japanese satirists trying to do to the Straight Dope what Toyota did to GM. Not that I'm worried. This column is so far ahead of the pack sometimes even I don't get my jokes.

All that having been said, I'll admit this Kawakami, a specialist in the art of chindogu ("odd tools"), is a funny guy. Half the joke is the deadpan expressions on the people modeling his inventions. A sampling:

  • Hydrophobe's Bath Body Suit. (Full-length Saran Wrap wet suit.) "Take a bath without getting wet … Experience all the warmth, comfort and therapeutic relaxation of the conventional bath without … the unpleasant chill factor that so often spoils the end of bath experience."
  • Training High Heels. (Pairs of tiny wheels bolted to either side of your spike heels.) Lets novice high-heel wearers "walk without fear of tipping over."
  • Flotation Bag for Water Reading. (Inner tube with waders.) Solves "the problem of reading while wading across large bodies of water." A Japanese thing, I guess.
  • Ten-in-One Gardening Tool. (Giant Swiss army knife with shovel, hoe, pruning shears, other life-size garden implements.) "No more endless trips to and from the shed, and when the day's work is done, you won't have to remember all the tools you've scattered around the garden."
  • Fish Face Cover. "Slip it over the fish's head just prior to decapitation and avoid that reproachful stare."
  • Drink De-carbonator. "Curbs troublesome bubbles. When daily after-work drinking is an offer you can't refuse, the strain on the stomach of the congenial salaryman can be too much to bear … The switch activates high-powered vibrations which awaken the gas molecules and hasten their natural upward departure."
  • PDA (Public Display of Affection) Confidence Developer. (A spare arm to be attached next to the real arm of your beloved.) "You can hold onto this simulated appendage in the early stages of courting, without the worry of sweaty palms, inappropriate pressure, or when to disengage."

Words don't do it justice. See the book, available for $10.95 U.S. ($13.99 Canadian) from W.W. Norton.

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