Japanese Wisdom to Enrich Your Life

Do you believe money can’t buy you love? I may be too old to believe in such a naïve world as the Beatles sang. According to Daniel Kahneman, a genius winning a Nobel Prize in 2002, money can buy you happiness. No rush. I didn’t mean like “Hey look! There’s nothing more to life than money!” His point is nothing like that, because his words continued, “as long as your annual income is less than 75,000 dollars.” He raised a serious problem for us. The more we get paid, the more likely we are to lose an ability to enjoy life. Money is not omnipotent. Let’s learn from the wisdom of our ancestors to make life happy without relation to money.

Before the COVID pandemic, I flew around the world, which taught me many unique points of Japan. One of which impressed me a lot is difference in tableware. It’s not about design, by the way. In Japan, it’s rare to serve various food in one plate/bowl all together. Different types of food are not mixed but served in different plates/bowls selected depending on the color of food, the seasons, etc. I imagine this habit was formed by wisdom to enjoy life independently of money. During Edo period (1603 – 1868), the daily meal of common people, for almost 365 days a year, was so frugal—only rice, vegetable pickles, and miso soup. Imagine if pickles were just put on rice. I’m sure many people would have lost all their hopes and died.

Canyon Dining Solid Wood Table

I don’t know exactly why we have the habit, but my imagination would not be largely wrong. One thing for sure is it is essential to make such small efforts to get our lives free from the spell of money. Now, we finally got to the punch line of this article. Why don’t you get our dining furniture to enrich your daily meal?

Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.

Timeless Design in Physics and Philosophy

People in this industry like the words “Timeless design,” right? Yes, our company also uses them for our products, but they sound a bit confusing to me because the definition of “time” is not completely settled in physics and philosophy. Today, I’m writing about timeless design from the view point of physics and philosophy. No worries but be careful. I’m not an expert in the fields, but just like to show myself smarter than what I actually am 🙂

Time flows at a constant rate — this concept (developed by Newton) was denied by Einstein a long time ago, and now in physics, the flow of time is expressed by the change in entropy. Please don’t have a rejection to “entropy.” It’s the magic word that makes you look smart. Let me explain with a famous example. There’s a set of playing cards ordered ace to king. If you shuffle, the entropy of the card set will increase. I personally understand it as un-uniformity.

Some physicists even claim the change in entropy is reversible: time doesn’t flow (timeless, in a sense). Philosophical explanation on this issue makes more impression on me, which says even entropy doesn’t exist. The reason why shuffled cards look un-uniform is only because our consciousness can’t perceive order (though there actually exists one). Based on this logic, timeless-design furniture could be summarized as one with low entropy where customers can easily find a specific pattern or rule. Unfortunately, this conclusion doesn’t make much sense even to me, but it’s interesting to consider timeless design from the view point of physics and philosophy, isn’t it? I just hope you can feel low-entropy vibe in the above image of our product somehow.

Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.

Even If the Shoe Fits, Take It Off inside the House in Japan

We do that (taking off shoes) almost unconsciously. It’s very natural for us, like breathing. I’ve never even thought why that is, but it seems there are many curious people (unlike me) trying to find out the reason. 

According to them: 
1. It’s because the climate of Japan is high temperature and humidity; 
2. It’s because of the Japanese unique culture to divide the world into in- and out-group; 
3. It’s because of the Japanese unique culture to sleep on the floor. 

The first one doesn’t answer why that is peculiar to Japan; the second one sounds reasonable but remotely related; the third one has aroused my interest most. According to the third reason, we take off shoes inside the house to keep the floor clean because we sleep on the floor. My intellectual curiosity being stimulated, I started to make another research on why we sleep on the floor, but it turned out the answer is very simple, as is common with everlasting truth.

We sleep on the floor because houses are made of wood, warmer and softer than those of stone. As I wrote in my last article (I strongly recommend you to visit our website and read it three times if you have not yet), about 70% of the land is covered by forest in Japan. We have used abundant wood to make houses, and not been motivated to invent beds. In addition, spreading and folding bedding is more space-efficient than placing beds, which is more prioritized in small houses in such land that is occupied by forest.

I believe we are fastest in putting on and taking off shoes in the world, but bragging about our secret skill is not the point of this column, of course. The no-shoe culture affects our standard heights of chairs and tables — slightly lower than the global standard, and so, we propose our customers to take off their shoes and try our chairs and tables at our shops in Japan. Now, this is the point: You don’t have to worry even if you don’t adopt a no-shoe policy in your house. We offer higher types in all of our collections.

Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.


Japanese Culture Developed in School Lunch

As having burst out to reveal an inconvenient truth of Japan in last article, I’m going to write something good today. It’s about Japanese school lunch. I happened to find a YouTube video about Japanese school lunch is buzzing for people outside Japan (more than 28 million views! Please do check out the video by visiting the full article on our blog). It’s just a part of normal daily life, nothing special for us, but I learned some good points about Japan from feedback comments for the video.

In the first place, I need to explain a little about Japanese school lunch. In most elementary and junior high schools in Japan, lunch is served fresh off each school kitchen, and a homeroom teacher and students eat together in a class room. By the way, I belonged to the faculty of education where practical training at an elementary or junior high school is a compulsory subject. The five-week training course at a junior high school was very tough for any lazy college students, but it was worth because I was able to have yummy school lunch again, at least.

In summary, many of the viewers’ feedback comments said, “Japanese school lunch teaches kids more valuable lessons than what they can learn in school subjects.” As you can see that in the Youtube video, it seems like we’ve learned courtesy, (how to manage and cooperate in) group collective actions, public sanitation, environmental protection, etc. Sometimes, I saw visitors coming from overseas to our factory admire the discipline of our production, of which foundation, I guess, may be built in school lunch.

Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.


Into the Woods

As you can see it in the above left image, Japan is a country of backward parking. Even speeding drivers follow the rule. Do you know why that is? Some people (outside Japan) may think there’s no difference; it’s like putting off trouble later or not. If it’s a matter of personal preference, the ratio should be nearly fifty-fifty. The fact is very simple: it’s easier in a small country like Japan. I don’t explain here why backward parking is easier in a small area, but it is clear from the fact that forklift trucks required to turn in a small radius are rear-wheel steering.

I may have been misleading in the above paragraph. Japan’s land area is not that small (ranked as #61 among more than 190 countries in the world), but about 70% of the land is covered by forest. Compared by population density in inhabitable area, Japan is ranked as #10. Japan’s abundant forest resources make our inhabitable area smaller and develop our unique culture, like backward-parking and so much more.

Due to a small inhabitable area, we have improved a lot of techniques to use limited spaces effectively. The good example is two-in-one inventions, like one of our products “ALP sofa” that can be used as both a living seat and a dining bench. The long-selling wooden sofa was developed as a direct and indirect result of Japan’s abundant forest resources, and such a spirit of rationality is always seen somewhere in our products.

Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.




Furniture Selected for Self-Satisfaction

Martin Luther said “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” When I first heard this saying, it reminded me of wall paintings in Lascaux Cave where Cro-Magnon people tried to express themselves without expecting someone else to see. Martin Luther and Cro-Magnon people taught me that we can free ourselves from other people’s values. Having said that, I still wear neat clothes outside; so ragged ones at home that even Cro-Magnon people would be surprised to see me at home. They don’t seem to be enough for my independence in clothes choice, but the IT revolution might finally free me.

The CEOs of the big IT companies, such as Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, etc. might be one of the reasons for neckties to die out, but that’s not my point, of course. I believe clothes are tools to express ourselves. In a narrow sense, we rank people by what they wear. As the IT revolution goes on, personal information floods out, according to which people come to be ranked more easily. In exchange for loss of privacy, no longer do we need to buy and wear luxury clothes to try to show ourselves better.

The point would be whether or not furniture plays the same role as clothes. I think the answer is “NO” in Japan, at least. We don’t invite people to home much, and so, all the interior items are basically selected without much care what others think. In Japan, furniture doesn’t work as a tool for self-exhibition, different from clothes. Aren’t you interested in our furniture selected by the Japanese for self-satisfaction for half a century?

Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.


The Dystopia of 1984 Can Appear in Japan

On a ship with people from various countries, you’re the first to notice the ship is sinking. What to say to make the people escape and jump in the water?

To American people: “Jump, and you’ll be a hero!”

To English people: “A true gentleman/lady would jump.”

To French people: “Do not jump!”

To German people: “The regulations say we must jump.”

To Japanese people: “Everybody else has already jumped.”

This is a very famous joke in Japan, and I think it expresses one of the Japanese characteristics very well. In most junior-high and high schools, we, in a uniform, are taught to behave the same as everybody else. At home, parents scold their kids, saying “No one would do something like that!” The only exception where kids are required to be autonomous (be different from others) is when they beg for the same things (toys, bicycles, etc) as their friends have. Anyway, we are grown under such a strong peer pressure in Japan.

In order to control the infection of the new Corona virus, the governments of many countries have issued stay-at-home orders. In Japan, we’ve never had such legal restrictions, but the number of the infections has been kept very small. I heard people outside Japan were curious, but the answer is very simple: a mutual monitoring system by the strong peer pressure. Even though there were no legal restrictions, shops and restaurants opening in the peak period of infection got harassed to close. According to the Google stats, there was no big difference in the amount of movement distance change (or movement distance reduction compared with the last month) between NY and Tokyo in March. In the frenzy of the pandemic, some people bravely said “This is a war,” which reminds me of the words: the first to be killed in a war is always freedom.

Personally, I really dislike this too-much peer pressure embedded in the Japanese society, but it has one big advantage in business: Good quality control by the mutual monitoring system. You can count on the quality of our products. On the other hand, it’s highly likely to impede creativity. You can see the good result of it in the regime change from Japanese electronics and car manufacturers to GAFA.

For any companies in Japan, people like me (dissidents) are difficult to manage, but CondeHouse still keeps me around, allows me to do what I want, and even promoted me (though the directors may regret). In that sense, you can expect a lot from us, even in terms of creativity!

Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.


Market Principles Are Not Always Right

Last month, the Ministry of the Environment announced that a butterfly species (shown in the above image) endemic to Japan might have been extinct. The butterflies inhabited only in the southern islands of Japan, and a massive decrease in their population has been seen for these 30 years due to predation by alien species of lizards brought in as a pet. This news is so depressing because I always feel like seeing ourselves in extinction creatures. It could happen to any of Japanese furniture manufacturers in the near future. Extinction businesses, different from creatures, may have to be ignored, being regarded just as the results of free market principles, but let me have my say with an example of insects.

In Japan in Heian period (794 – 1185), it was a hobby or art among aristocracy to listen to insect voices. Good grasshoppers, crickets, etc. were selected and gifted to the then Emperors, and there were people who made a living by catching insects to meet such a demand. Even now, we Japanese enjoy insect voices changing according to the four seasons, but currently it’s not that popular, and there’s no such industry (insect-catching) any more.

According to the domestic industrial stats, the production amount of the furniture industry dropped and has never returned to the previous level after the financial crisis in 2008, and now the same situation is happening due to the COVID.

Insect voices were replaced with many other hobbies after that time; furniture with craftsmanship is being replaced with mass-produced furniture. According to the free market principles, these are right things to happen, but can you be sure our lives get better? I can’t help but feel like we may just be losing a sense of appreciation for good things.

By Shungo Ijima 2020/09/09


Invisible Hand


Adam Smith, a philosopher and economist of the 18th century, said that the market may appear chaotic but is actually guided by an invisible hand. The aggregation of individual self-interest activities (or choices) was believed to result in the economic growth of the whole society. Thanks to the IT revolution, we become able to compare commodities more quickly and widely. In other words, our self-interest purchasing choices must be more accurate, and accordingly our society must get more rational economically at least.

As the last sentence of the first paragraph implies, I don’t wholeheartedly celebrate the invisible hand gaining more power due to the IT revolution. Indeed, we consumers become able to make more rational choices because products, producers, sellers, etc. surviving at this moment are the ones that have passed market valuation more and more severe by the IT revolution. I have to admit the value of marketability, but even among things that have disappeared from the market, there are some that I really miss.

I know we should live with the consequences led by an invisible hand because it’s just like majority decision. At the same time, we should recognize our huge responsibility because such consequences (changes) are basically irreversible. Many people might think “If need be, we can get back things that disappeared, more easily with the latest technology,” which should be technology-wise correct but not market-wise. For example, I really like the thick coconut-fiber seats of old Mercedes-Benz, but I’m sure such a complex (costly) structure will never be adopted again (I know it’s not majority but enthusiasts like me who want it, though). Once something disappears from the market, we will lose it forever. 

Our industry (premium wooden furniture manufacture) is shrinking under pressure from mass-produced cheap furniture manufacture. We don’t intend to give up, saying like “it’s a consequence led by an invisible hand,” because we believe our products are worth handing over to the next generations.

By Shungo Ijima 2020/09/07


High-Context Communication Grows Craftsmanship

Japan is basically a monolingual country. People can communicate only in Japanese anywhere in Japan, with one exception: Kyoto. As most of you may know, it’s the ancient capital of Japan. This could be a stereotypical idea (of many Japanese originated outside of Kyoto, I believe), but Kyoto people are snobbish, and their language is too difficult. It’s not about their accent or dialect. In Kyoto, we’re always required to understand the implication of their words. Let me give you some examples.

If your kids are running around in a restaurant, the restaurant staff might smile at you and say “They are so cheerful.” Don’t you ever reply like “Yeah, they’re so excited about coming here in Kyoto.” The staff means “Shut them up!” Even if you wear a cheesy shirt, Kyoto people would smile gently and say “You look good no matter what you wear.” I’m not blaming Kyoto people but on the contrary respect their culture created by the long history of Kyoto, though I don’t think I can survive there. According to a theory of historical science, concealing true intentions is ancient wisdom to survive through many struggles that had repeated over time in the power center.

Inspector Jonishi doing a final check on WING Side Chair, which will be shipped out to overseas.

Kyoto language is an extreme example, but it’s true we are required to read between the lines in communication, which, I could say, is difficult in other countries but possible in Japan, an almost mono-cultural country. The good point of this high-context communication here is we can convey detailed nuances more easily, which would also contribute to a technique transmission in the furniture making industry, I’m guessing.

2020/09/02 By Shungo Ijima

Source: https://www.neverendingvoyage.com/things-to-do-in-kyoto-japan/