Poor Bureaucracy Seen in Taglines


Do your cities (towns or villages) have taglines? This is not a question as an attention getter (as I often do), but I’m really curious. In Japan, with decrease in population, the number of municipalities is also decreasing. In order to survive, local governments desperately promote their municipalities. Unfortunately, contrary to their desperate efforts, some of the taglines don’t seem to work very well (or sometimes sound funny, even worse). Let me share the taglines of some municipalities to introduce the results of the officials’ hard work.

Town of Picture Books

As I researched, the town was named as this because someone said the area looked like the countryside in the south of France. I know the explanation doesn’t answer to our question at all. Due to its nonsensical naming (and explanation), it successfully leaves us a big impression on the contrary.

Bell-Ringing Town

This tagline stems from a bell used as a clock when the town was developed, but the problem is the fact that such an hour bell was common anywhere in the old days. When first seeing it, I was about to cry, considering the difficulty the local government officials faced in making a tagline (for a featureless town).

Town of Flowers

Hokkaido area doesn’t have desert or tundra fields, and flowers are in bloom all over the place. No one would get a sense of enthusiasm from this tagline. I want to urge the officials to reflect seriously.

I didn’t mean to tease the above municipalities but just brag about our hometown. Asahikawa (I know it’s difficult to pronounce) is named as “a city of furniture,” and it’s very true. We have hardwood forest and the industries of logging and wood-milling – everything required for furniture making. There’re some other famous furniture production areas outside Hokkaido, but furniture manufacturers in those areas come here and buy wood. To tell the truth, Asahikawa is also called “a city of rivers” because there are more than 100 rivers running inside the city, but who is attracted to rivers? As viewed in the most favorable light, “a city of furniture” is better, isn’t it?


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 Unbearable Lightness of Being


Today, I’m feeling a little nervous about writing this article because I try to make a stir (very tiny one, though) in the philosophy of productivity improvement. When I decided to resign from Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDAF), the title of this article came up and stayed in my mind. After 10-month hell-like training, what awaited me was real hell: my job was sorting and packing aircraft parts carried on a belt conveyor in a huge automated warehouse. I was trained to keep on walking even in boots with blood inside for many hours without sleep, but the job easily took away my will to fight. It’s not only because the job was monotonous but more because I couldn’t see the whole picture and felt like I was just a small replaceable part of a machine.

In terms of productivity especially in the manufacturing industry, line production would be an optimum solution where it’s fundamentally difficult for workers to see the whole picture of their work. I understand the importance of productivity improvement, and didn’t mean to criticize JASDAF. Thanks to the mass production method (including line production) by Ford, we ordinary people became able to buy cars now, but should we keep improving productivity and producing in larger quantities, even after seeing many people lose job satisfaction?

Indeed, line production is adopted in our factory, but it’s partially, considering the motivation of workers. As evidence of that commitment, we don’t accept OEM orders for furniture parts where workers can’t see the whole picture. It’s not a for-profit action, but I think it’s socially correct and even profitable in the long run. Productivity improvement brings some happiness to consumers and some dissatisfaction to workers. I think we shouldn’t forget consumers and workers, both are ourselves.


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.


Wise Frogs in the Well


In Japan for these 10 years or more, “the journey of self-discovery” has got very popular especially among young people. A typical pattern (as an example) is: suddenly quitting a job, going to Machu Picchu (world famous spiritual sites, in most cases), and showing off such experiences after coming back. As you can see from the ironical tone, I’m not a big fan of such people because it’s too pitiful if experience is all that s/he has found as an identity factor even after going all the way to Peru. It’s about time we could break the spell of just seeking for wide experience for identity development.

I think the reason why the journey of self-discovery gets popular like this is because people can easily feel like developing their identities through such experiences, but careful consideration (even not very careful one) calls a reasonable question “Is it such a big deal?” In addition to the issue of the quality of experience, I don’t think such way of thinking (I personally call it “experience supremacy”) would help. It’s not experience itself but what we learn from experience that counts, though experience is sometimes said to be the best teacher for a fool. When getting cancer, would you care if your doctor has an experience of getting cancer him/herself?

I’m not just critical of a self-discovery journey. I agree that people could learn a lot through new experiences. My point is having wide experience is not enough and not only solution for identity development. For example, most of our craftsmen start their careers as woodworking specialists soon after graduation. They don’t travel around the world for self-discovery, but don’t look lost in identity. A proverb says “the frog in the well knows nothing of the great ocean.” This is very famous one, but few people know it continues “but knows the blue of the sky.” Narrow but deep view may also help us develop identity.


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 Made by Homo Sapiens


I assume many of you have already read the book, “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari. It has been sold more than 12 million copies in the world. It’s a must read for people full of intellectual curiosity like you.

Homo sapiens were physically inferior to Neanderthals but won the battle for existence due to the superior ability of communication and cooperation. Before reading the book, I already knew the historical fact but didn’t know much about how our ancestors were superior in those fields. The book clearly answers the question. In short, it is an ability to talk about fiction that makes us superior. Neanderthals were also able to communicate and share information, but it was only about existing things.

We tend to forget it, but it’s very difficult to share information of non-existent things like fiction, mental images, etc. When we develop new products, for example, it’s challenging but a great opportunity to show off our inherited ability. Of course, the basic information of new proposals is provided numerically such as in CAD data, but that’s not enough. Perfect pictures are only in designers’ minds. In order to give form to them, we talk, talk, and talk for thorough mutual understanding. Replicas can be made even by Neanderthals, but our furniture is something only for us.


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-Ness in Packaging


Many Christmas movies have a scene where kids are eagerly tearing off the wrapping paper of their presents. I clearly remember how surprising it was when I saw such a scene for the first time. I learned afterward that it was regarded as a gesture to express a feeling of joy: a good manner in Western culture. On the contrary, it is sometimes thought to be impolite in Japan to open up a gift in front of the gift giver, to say nothing of tearing off wrapping paper. For your information, it’s not a religious taboo, and won’t be impolite if you ask for permission beforehand.

Why is there such a big difference? How was the Japanese rule developed? As I have not yet found any convincing theory, let me share my personal thoughts. I’m guessing there are two reasons for the rule.

1. Kindness for present receivers:

We, human beings, are social animals who can’t always speak our mind. When giving a present, I feel like wanting to see reaction, of course, but I also feel sorry for possibly making him/her pretend to like the present.

2. Kindness for present givers:

Sometimes it’s joked that Japanese gift packaging is more expensive than the content — that could be true, though. Packaging is taken care of so much; present givers select wrapping paper (cloth), ribbons, etc. over time. In order to express appreciation, present receivers keep presents as they are beautifully packaged.

Packaging is sometimes thought to be a part of the content in Japan. I remember this Japanese way of thinking every time seeing the packaging of our products. It’s not fancy like gift wrapping but carefully tuned so that products can be fixed inside and firmly secured. Our products can reach you safe and sound wherever you are. You can check out the movie of our packaging from the button below.

Conde House Packaging Procedure


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.


What Do You Work For?


No matter how hard we work, we will never be rich, and the gap between rich and poor is widening. This is not my personal feeling but a truth proved by a French genius, Thomas Piketty in his best-selling book, “Capital in the 21st century.” His research revealed a harsh reality—Investing is more profitable than working. Don’t jump the gun. I didn’t mean to incite a worker’s revolution. While highly expecting government to keep income gaps within acceptable limits, we instead need to re-define the purpose of working because it’s too hard to keep working only for salary, looking sideways at millionaires building up fortunes without working.

What about a friendship? Don’t you think it could be a good purpose? As it’s rare for Japanese workers, I have changed jobs a couple of times. In addition, when I worked for the government, it was common to get a transfer order every year or two. Such circumstances gave me many opportunities to work with various people in various places, and with some of them, I still keep a friendship, which, I believe, is something more beneficial than salary. After retirement, you will lose many things at a time, such as your title, pride, fame, almost everything gained through work. Although people outside Japan get used to such events, good friends are all that truly matters in the end and what you can’t expect in investment returns.

Passing the torch in a good relationship, from old generation to new generation

As this may be a rare case, it will be best if you can turn a hobby into work. Once, I asked a craftsman close to retirement what he would do next, and to my surprise, he answered he would keep woodworking and make something for himself. I’m sure he wouldn’t suffer a loss even when confronting retirement. Fortunately, there seem to be many such people working in our factory. In fact, retired craftsmen joyfully gather for company events to teach woodworking. Turning a hobby into work may sound too naïve, but we have to pay more attention to post-retirement life, anyway. Average life expectancy is increased, and we shall not live by bread alone.


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.


Come Over and See Our Factory!


How many times did you reach for a cup/glass to drink something today? Can you believe it was done not of your free will but by a biological reaction? It is a well-known fact that 95% of our daily actions are unconscious biological reactions. According to John-Dylan Haynes, a neuroscientist, our daily actions are decided seven seconds before we make up our minds. The good part of this theory is we’re justified in making the same mistake over again.

When reading about his experiment for the first time, I was so convinced but now am getting confused, because other decision making factors still look powerful to me. Peer pressure, for example, seems to be stronger especially in Japan. Let me tell you the “last-piece-of-food rule.”

The situation shown in the above image is not gonna happen in Japan because we are never allowed to reach for the last piece of food. Who made such a fatal mistake would live a life labeled as greedy and uncooperative. I’m a little exaggerating, but it’s true that most Japanese people don’t do that because it’s too embarrassing. Peer pressure always overcomes starvation.

Many people visiting our factory are surprised at its neat and tidy condition. That may be also a result of peer pressure, partially. Some people may ask “what if peer pressure works in an opposite (negative) way?” My answer is that’s not gonna happen in this issue due to another powerful decision making factor: tradition. It’s still a majority of people who consider work place as a sacred place especially in the manufacturing industry in Japan. Now, do you feel like coming here and checking how vulnerable we are to peer pressure and tradition?


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 Created by Cultural Adaptation


If asked to say the best word to express the Japanese culture, I would say it should be “adaptation.” We may be very good at cream skimming in culture. Let me give you an interesting example. Do you know the percentage of the Christian population in Japan? It’s only 1 percent, but even in such Japan, Christmas is a huge event of which economic effect amounts to about 6.5 billion USD! That of Halloween is also hiking up to more than 1 billion USD these days, as some of you may have seen news videos of Japanese young people dressing up in disguise and going crazy in Tokyo.

Sometimes foreign cultures absorbed into ours evolve independently. A good example is “Wagyu,” Japanese marbled beef. In Japan, eating meat had been officially prohibited for about 1200 years since 675. People started eating meat since the opening of Japan in 1854, and Japanese people’s tastes seemed to evolve differently. We seem to like fatty meat. The average fat percentage of beef sold in Japan was about 23% in 1988; about 69% in 2009 – tripled only for 20 years!

Believe it or not, it was later than starting eating meat that we started using chairs. A long, long time ago (about 2000 years ago), chairs were already introduced from China, together with Kanji letters, but they didn’t seem to be embedded into the Japanese culture for some reason. Even Shogun (top samurai commanders) sat on the floor as in the above image.

It’s only about these 150 years, a much shorter history, but Japan has a long history of woodworking, and the high skills can be seen in many old wooden temples more than 1000 years old. The Japanese chairs have evolved independently with the high-skill woodworking developed over many years, and I’m sure you will like them, the same as Wagyu meat.


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.


Red Pill or Blue Pill?


The new Prime Minister took office in Japan last month. He was the most unpopular candidate early this year but now boasts a high approval rate of more than 70%. I think this is a good example to explain the power of an advertisement and how easily people’s impression is manipulated by it. One of the secrets behind his popularity is a fiction made up by advertising agents: he was born to a poor farm family and attended university while working. This is a story which lies and truths are mixed in.

The truth is, his family is a farmer wealthy enough to send three children to private universities (it’s judged to be quite wealthy according to Japanese standards). And also, he could be said to be a hereditary politician, because his father served as a town councilor. Don’t worry. I’m not revealing his scandal. All the above information can be obtained on the Internet.

This is my conjecture. The previous Prime Minister and other candidates, all of them are hereditary politicians. People have a deep antipathy for such politicians these days, believing they can’t understand the needs of common people. In order to differentiate him significantly, his advertising agents may have made up this fiction: he is a man of the people. Unfortunately, the public seemed to be successfully manipulated.

The actual shelf looks way better than this photo, also no it doesn’t come with the tree stick on the right.

Today’s topic may sound like about politics, but it’s not. This is about illusions made by many advertisements: smart ad-copies, gorgeous images, well-produced videos, etc. that we can’t afford (I’m too embarrassed to write, though). Like Morpheus said to Neo, this is your last chance. Let’s take the red pill and go see how deep the rabbit-hole goes!


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.



Sustainability Inherent in Japanese Culture


Washoku (Japanese traditional cuisine) was listed as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in 2013. I’m embarrassed to tell you, but even many Japanese people seem to misunderstand the gist of the event, bragging like “Sushi gets popular throughout the world!” UNESCO is not the Michelin Guide. Washoku was registered because “it is associated with an essential spirit of respect for nature that is closely related to the sustainable use of natural resources.” I think this comment of UNESCO well expresses the Japanese culture.

We Japanese say “Itadakimasu” before meal with our hands clasped. The word is often translated as “Let’s eat,” but the true meaning is completely different — That means “I’m sorry for taking your life and appreciate your sacrifice.” When kids leave even one grain of rice in the bowl, mothers scold them, saying “You’ll lose your sight!” My mother, of course, always did but never explained why…

Fortunately, the land of Japan is rich in nature, so rich in food resources that it took as much as 500 years for rice growing to expand (because people didn’t feel the need to). Nature is always regarded as an object of worship and respect, and so are natural resources like wood. In our factory, we use wood up to the last small piece as shown in the above image. To tell the truth, it’s more efficient cost-wise just to throw away such pieces, but we don’t intend to change this because we believe even such small wood pieces are still a part of our precious nature.


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.