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The art of nonsense | The World Weekly

An invention? A work of art? For comedy? Or perhaps business? With a name sounding like a small-time electric appliance maker, Maywa Denki is a mysterious entity that transcends these boundaries. Under the leadership of its 47-year-old “President” Nobumichi Tosa, its “factory workers” have developed and presented various “Nonsense Machines” at home and abroad at concerts and exhibitions.

“Nonsense” is often interpreted as “something ridiculous.” Tosa holds a different belief: “I think it’s something that transcends common sense. In other words, ‘cho-joshiki’ (super-common sense).”

For example, “Otamatone,” one of Maywa Denki’s products, is an electronic musical instrument inspired by the shape of tadpoles, which also look similar to musical eighth notes. Performers can slide their fingers along its tail to adjust the pitches, as well as open and close its mouth to adjust the tone colors. It’s like the note is singing along to the music.

Another nonsensical delight is “Taratter,” a pair of remote-controlled shoes intended to make tap dancing easier. Just as imaginative is “Bow Gun,” which betrays its weapon-like appearance by barking a dog’s “bow wow” sound.

These “Nonsense Machines” and their existence itself is art and humor, according to Tosa.

“When people see something that puzzles them or leaves them speechless, all they can do is laugh,” Tosa said. “A toilet seat with a washing function was at first a nonsense machine. But it’s common sense now. That’s what we’re aiming to do.”

The company name takes after one that Tosa’s father operated in Hyogo Prefecture, set up in 1969 as a subcontractor for major electric appliance companies. More than 100 employees worked there at one time, but the combination of an oil shock and a number of other reasons forced the company into bankruptcy in 1979.

Tosa was a techno pop musician in his high school days. At university, he picked up art and design.

“When I was a university student, I wanted to be a painter,” he recalled. “But paintings expose my inner self too directly. Through machines, I can externalize a more obfuscated version of my emotions. So I’m kind of aiming to draw out my inner feelings using reason.”

Along with his elder brother, he revived Maywa Denki in 1993 as a factory to create artistic works.

Although Maywa Denki is known and appreciated as an artist, its promotion strategies are full of variety: exhibition, live stages, performances, producing music, videos, writing, merchandising toys, stationery, and electric devices.

A man with the air of an artist talks softly holding a strange machine in his hands. The scene is plainly funny, so much so that it’s hard not to laugh.

The off-kilter inventor will give his first concert for children during the coming summer vacation. Titled “Hige Hakase to Nonsense Machines” (Dr. Mustache and Nonsense Machines), the event will take place in Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo, on July 19 and in Okinawa on July 26 and 27 to present a “mechanical musical” making full use of various machines.

“Children today are so familiar with the fictional world of anime and games, but they are not used to real moving things,” Tosa explained. “I’ve had some electric shocks on the stage before. Unexpected incidents might happen, but I hope the audience will enjoy seeing them.”

Yes. Maywa Denki is enchantingly shocking.

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