Ningen Works: are we humans, or are we baka?
If new Ningen Works inventions are anything to go by, we’ve all got the potential to be geniuses.
Brainstorming upgraded to hurricane level
All ‘Ningen Works’ are made by the Ningen Company here in Osaka, which started in 2010. ‘Ningen’ (人間) is the Japanese word for ‘human’… so Ningen Works is ‘stuff created by humans’.
The Ningen Company motto is:
“To think about funny, interesting, weird things.”
Yeah, in other words they have crazy ideas and put them on the internet.
The Ningen Company creates websites and ad campaigns, plans and runs events, designs things and helps companies with their branding, and writes web articles. Those are the Client Works – still not normal, but more like the ‘business’ side of what they do.
- a website for anonymously telling someone their breath stinks
- an eye tracker that rewards you for not looking at boobs on screen
- escape room and puzzle games in Osaka buildings
- a groove track about pubic hair, with a YouTube music video
Remember, that’s the client-facing stuff. Work that other companies and brands really used.
The company’s got some other rules to live and work by, too. You are more than your job title. Work is all about expressing yourself. Humans can come up with their ideas from anywhere. If it’s a good plan, doesn’t matter who thought of it first.
And if you want to make something, make it. Client Works are the paid gigs, and Ningen Works projects are things they did because they wanted to. It sounds like a badass way to live and work, don’t you think?
A different take on ‘think before you speak’
The humans behind Ningen are as weird and interesting as the concepts they come up with. Would you see many – any – other companies list a ‘weird producer’ and a ‘destroyer’ on their employee list?
They love puns and Japanese wordplay – our kind of people by default. And they live to break the rules, to go down a path nobody’s tried before. They look at everything like ‘how can we mess with this?’
Take a look at this TED talk in Kobe from 2016. It’s more like a standup comedy routine than a business presentation. (Don’t worry, it’s got English subs – including for the audience reactions.)
You’ll sometimes hear about the concept of ‘not standing out’ in Japan. “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” Keep your head down, keep your mouth shut, keep your opinions to yourself.
Japanese companies that do stand out, and on purpose like the Ningen team, stand out more for having the guts to try. They’re doing brave new things nobody else thought of yet – duh, it’s gonna look weird.
You’re telling us a human made this?
“That’s genius. And also… kinda insane at the same time.”
One of our fave Ningen Works is the Web Enjou Machine, an April Fool’s Joke from 2014. The ‘enjou’ bit means ‘flames’ – and in modern Japanese slang, it also means ‘becoming a hot topic’.
Are you sensing the wordplay here yet? We did warn you…
Ningen Works took the idea of ‘enjou’ back to those hot, flammable roots. They boasted that they could light the flames of fame, notoriety and success for any website in the world!
Put the URL for a web page into the machine… and they’d print it out and burn it.
In the 1 day (April Fool’s Day only) that the Web Enjou Machine was running, it burned 337 sites. Including Twitter, Facebook, Google, Yahoo! Japan, the Wikipedia page for Joan of Arc (that’s just mean) the Ningen Company homepage, and itself (over 3 times).
How can we move on from something like that?
Let’s tell you about Facekick, from 2012 – the portable, app-based way to keep yourself awake at your desk.
It knows when you’re sleeping. After 30 seconds, it posts your nap on Facebook for everyone to see. It’ll try to wake you up with a phone call 60 seconds in. And if you don’t open your eyes in time (after another minute goes by), it’ll drop a metal tub on your head.
Drastic, we know. Kinda loud, if you’re in an open-plan office like us. And heavy – the tub weighs 900 grams, before you count the stuff holding it up.
Every new year brings crazy new ideas
Not everything Ningen Company comes up with is meant for the general public to see and experience. But they show it all off on their website afterwards, to make us jealous.
Like the new year greeting ‘cards’ they send to people…
Mailing out postcards for the new year’s as traditional in Japan as bowing when you finish a phone call. They’re called ‘nengajo’, sent to family and friends – or, if you’re a business, to your clients and contacts.
It’s fair to say none of these Ningen Works designs are traditional. Or cards.
One of them’s a screen-printed and hand-finished brick. One is a scary good copy of a ‘missed delivery’ note. And another one’s a sweet potato wrapped in fake newspaper. The paper’s the real ‘greeting’, they added the potato ’cause it felt right at the time.
Hey, the creativity and effort that goes into it shows the Ningen Company cares. This stuff’s way more thoughtful than a 5-pack of postcards from the 100-yen store. It took longer to make, and cost more to send. Wouldn’t you feel special if you got a hand-painted house brick in the mail?
More stuff to think about, here on our blog
We hope we’ve given you another good look at some of the weirdest, most interesting stuff you can find in Japan. Hey, if it’s not weird and interesting then the Ningen team aren’t doing their jobs right.
More weirdness to read about: