Chindogu (Excesses) and Post elections in Malaysia


Charles Handy, one of the world’s most respected business and social philosopher popularised the term chindōgu to denote excesses and clutter. On Wikipedia, the term said to be coined by Kenji Kawakami defined the word as when literally translated, to mean unusual (珍 chin) tool (道具 dōgu). He even went so far to suggest that ‘weird tool” is a more appropriate translation. I loved the Japanese concept of “Chindogu”, one that denoted clutter and overabundance.

The post-election scene in Malaysia has highlighted the raids by the police on the residences of a former leader and media has displayed pictures of hundreds of luxury bags and money being carted out. There have been similar situations post President Marcos era in the Philippines and in India, post Chief Minister of Tamilnadu Ms Jayalalithaa era. There have been numerous such situations in political history. It will be unfair to comment on the Malaysian situation as yet, as the authentic and completeness of the haul of luxury goods is yet to be verified by the authorities.  Suffice to say, for now, I can understand the influence of chindōgu on our personal lives.

In a world where enough is never enough, people want more and more. It is a consumption driven world, driven by capitalism. We want something not because we need it but because of human desire, envy and greed. As they say we have a washing machine with 16 programmes, of which we only use four. We have televisions and mobile phones that offer all kinds of apps that we hardly use. We keep changing mobile phones and cars not because we need them but because that’s the trend. We keep wanting more and more. That’s Chindogu as they explain, where “buoyant consumer demand means a world full of junk“. In such a world, “waste collection and recycling become boom industries, [and] thrift shops thrive”.

Charles Handy explains that money and efficiency aren’t the bottom line. He disapproves of the notion that you can run your life as a business. He champions the notion of “enough”, to put a brake on rampant capitalism and materialism. For instance, he says that when the central heating reaches a comfortable level, no one in their right sense of mind would keep on turning it up, would they?

Charles Handy calls on individuals and organizations to find purpose in the journey we take rather than focusing on money and profits, which are simply the means to keep us going, Handy has consistently articulated how we can all better ourselves and our companies while also contributing to a decent society.  He relates to a Chinese poem translated by Arthur Waley: you can’t live in more than one room at once.

Strangely, very few of us get it. And, chindōgu continues unabated.