The Characteristics of Hokkaido People


The most popular sport in Japan is still baseball. A good example is the national high school baseball championship joined by high school teams going through the elimination tournaments held in 47 prefectures. Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan, is covered with snow for almost half a year, and so, our prefectural representative teams were always weak and lost in the first round in most cases. When I was a kid, I never believed I would live to see the championship flag in Hokkaido. One summer day in 2004, I was just transferred back to Hokkaido. When I was buying daily necessities for a new home at some shopping mall, the background music suddenly stopped, and the news of winning the championship by a Hokkaido high school team broke in. I will never forget the scene where shoppers there were roaring with joy and shaking hands with people who don’t know each other.

I was born and raised in Hokkaido, and so, can say in confidence that so many of us have more or less an inferiority complex to people outside Hokkaido, probably because here is the least-developed area in Japan. We sometimes call the outside of Hokkaido “the main land,” which can be said to be evidence to show our sense of inferiority. I believe such a complex in our hearts has gradually changed, and now it may become something we can call humility. The change in our consciousness seems to have a great impact, by the way. High school baseball teams in Hokkaido had never won first place in the long history of the championship since 1915 until 2003 (second place only one time in 1963), but after the historic win in 2004, took first place one more time; second place three times.

Photo Credit: mizuaki wakahara official

Many of our craft people have long experience in woodworking. Of course, they are proud of their experience and skills but always flexible and open-minded to new and different ideas, different from the general image of a craftsman: just being stubborn about its preference, policy, etc. I’d say this may be because of humility unique to Hokkaido people, and does definitely work to improve the quality of 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.


Photo Credit: https://en.japantravel.com/hyogo/koshien-stadium-field-of-dreams/1913


The Innovation of Lying


How many lies did you tell yesterday? It is said that we lie more than 200 times a day, no worries. “The innovation of lying” is the title of a comedy movie, not new but more than 10 years ago. The movie really wowed me at that time. Mind you: I can’t recommend it. The plot was boring, and there was nothing new in film editing, etc., but I personally think the story setting was impressive. It depicts a world where human beings don’t lie like other animals. Store clerks and restaurant servers are cursing at customers instead of greeting friendly; lovers exchange not compliments but blunt remarks about their appearance each other. The movie clearly shows the tragedies that will happen if we don’t lie.

Most of us have grown up being taught “lying is bad.” The boy who cried wolf lost all of his sheep by his repetitive lies; Pinocchio’s nose grew every time he lied, but I’m sure a world without lies is too cruel for us to live in. Although it’s difficult to clearly define it, some lies to protect others are necessary, I believe. Some reports have said chimpanzees can also lie, but it’s for deceiving others for self-interest. In that sense, it seems that human beings are the only animal to tell a white lie. Our brains have evolved enough to imagine others’ feelings and to empathize with others. The ability of lying can be said to be our karma and also a gift. Another lesson we learn from here is the importance of feelings for our lives. They are so important that we can’t live without lying. In other words, we are controlled by emotions rather than rationality.

In Japan, the wooden furniture industry is sometimes called a “sunset industry.” The industry has few new entries, and its size is shrinking. If anyone thinks about it, it’s not rational at all to continue business in this industry in Japan. I believe what drives us to still go forward is only passion for manufacturing. It’s not a lie.


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.


Photo Credit: https://www.sciencefocus.com/the-human-body/why-do-humans-lie/


Uncanny Valley


Believing I’m not the only one, I feel scared of zombie movies but not of Aliens, Predators, etc., though all those movies are same in terms that many people are eaten or just killed. I had always wondered why that was, and one day, understood the reason when reading an online article about a robot development. The article said Osaka university research team had developed humanoid robots that look exactly like a human being. The robots are well designed and look like us at first glance, but when I saw them move, it soon turned out that they were not human beings, and I felt the same fear as the one I have for zombies.

I learned later that it was a psychological phenomenon called “Uncanny Valley.” The more objects resemble human beings, the more people feel an affinity for the objects, but right before perfect resemblance in the rising curve of affinity, there’s a certain range where uncanny feelings are provoked. According to my further research, this is thought to stem from one of natural human reactions in neuroscience, called “lateral inhabitation.” We are designed to recognize differences more clearly on the boundary of different things. You can experience this very easily. Line up some color plates (put them together side by side); let’s say some grey color plates different in brightness. On the boundary of the lighter and darker grey plates, you will find the lighter grey look further lighter; the darker further darker.

The CRUST Collection by Raw-Edges

This time, what I’m most interested in is the fact (our nature) that we basically feel an affinity to people, though being too sensitive to small differences sometimes. That gives us some hope anyway, doesn’t it? And also, I think that answers to another question: why people like organic-shape products like our furniture, though it requires advanced techniques and additional costs. No worries, by the way. Indeed, the arms of our chairs, for example, are organic-shaped but not so much smooth and resilient as human arms. You will never feel uncanny to them.


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.


Photo Credit: https://www.nbcnews.com/id/wbna46933495


Beauty Found By Zen Spirit


Have you ever experienced a Japanese tea ceremony? The most notable feature is its beauty of style. In a nutshell, it’s just a ceremony where a host makes matcha green tea and guests drink it, but every single move of making and drinking tea is prescribed in Japanese tea ceremony. As far as I know, it already started in the 15th century, and the basic style was developed by a major merchant in the 16th century. I’ve not yet experienced it but am so amazed by the creativity of the merchant. It’s just making and drinking tea. He must be a genius to raise such a daily routine up to a stylized ceremony. For example, I have munchies very often but have never thought to stylize snacking.

Japanese tea ceremony is always associated with Zen Spirit that seems to get popular as the origin of “mindfulness” especially in Silicon Valley. It’s very difficult to explain what Zen Spirit is, and so, let me exemplify its essence. Suppose there’s one big rock in a garden, appearing old, dark, and rugged. People may think it’s dirty and hope it would be removed from the garden. On the other hand, Zen Spirit sees things as they are, and doesn’t make a judgement. From the view point of Zen Spirit, the rock is just covered in moss and black mold by being exposed to the weather for the long period of time. It’s like a quiet, objective view and inquiring mind for the nature of things.

Hakama Round Table and Challenge Side Chair By MHK

Although it may sound contradictory to the above mentioned objective stance, imagination to see something in nothing is another feature, I guess. Let me tell you a very famous story expressing Zen Spirit. One day, the then Shogun, hearing morning glories in the above merchant’s garden are reaching peak bloom, visited the garden to see all the flowers were mown off. He, with his anger, went into the tea ceremony cabin in the garden, and found a morning glory put in a vase for him. The Shogun was impressed because he noticed the field of morning glories in his imagination stirred up by the single flower was much more beautiful. I think Zen Spirit will make you see more beauty in our simple furniture.


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.


Photo Credit: https://www.tokyoweekender.com/2020/01/zen-and-the-art-of-the-japanese-tea-ceremony/


Stick to the High Road



I grew up with the songs of the Beatles because my mother is a big fan of them (Now, I just remember her face like a demon crawling out of hell when I shot some of her LPs with my airsoft gun). When most of my elementary school classmates were obsessed with Japanese pop idols, I listened to British heavy metal, LA metal, etc. Especially if you’re from the same generation and have the same taste in music as me, I believe you would understand how big impact the band left, not only on the world music scene but also on the whole society. It’s Nirvana. Their advent is exactly destructive creation, though I personally think it was too powerful and destructive.

In the previous era of Nirvana, rock musicians were supposed to wear gorgeous stage costume, and my guitar-heros competed in speed and technique. They looked like something in a totally different world, dissident to the existing order. As entirely different from them, the members of Nirvana were dressed in rags even on stage, and didn’t seem to care about errors and off-pitches in play. Once, rock ’n’ roll was condemned as devil’s music, but gradually became the high road of music. As time goes by, the anti-establishment attitude of rock music became an establishment, ironically. Nirvana gave a final blow to it by taking an anti-establishment stance to the anti-establishment icon. Rock was dead.

Conde House Tokyo Shop

To tell the truth, I was excited by the advent of Nirvana at that time, but now feel nostalgic for the days when rock stars performed glamorously, the way they were expected to. Sometimes, it’s easy to create new things. All it takes is just to refuse the existing order. Contrary to common understanding, it may be more difficult to stick to the conservative and authentic way, though bad tradition should be abolished, of course. In order to survive harsh market conditions, we’ve been changing and introducing all kinds of new management methods in accounting, marketing, QC, HR, etc. Such changes are necessary, but still I believe our authenticity is shaped by craftsmanship and product quality that are essential for us to meet market expectations.


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.


Photo Credit: https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-43319021

Free from the Desire To Be Free


A house surrounded by a white picket fence, a SUV, two kids, a dog, and a stable job. They were thought to be essential components of a dream life. Now, people say the times have changed, and the era of possession is over. “Kids-Millennials saw their parents’ lives crumble as a result of the financial meltdown, and watched as their parents lost their life savings to the banks and Madoff’s Ponzi scheme,” said Blake Morgan, a customer-experience analyst. If she is right, Millennials don’t break free from desire for possessions but seem to resign themselves to minimalism out of fear of loss.

I believe I’m a sort of minimalist, not interested in owning things so much, and that there would be quite a few people who think the same way as me. Such minimalists, including me, may proudly say “I’m glad I don’t have a Ferrari. It will be high-maintenance, and there’s no luxury place to go by such a car.” What if someone mercifully offers it? I’m 100% sure I’ll take it with full tears of gratitude. I may be just a would-be minimalist, and my faith of minimalism was widely shaken after careful consideration with this example of a Ferrari. Nietzsche also wrote “Our ego desires everything—it would seem as if men in general were only inspired by desire for possessions.”

KYOBASHI Dining Chair Series, Designed By Yoneya Hiroshi

Hopefully, we are managing to progress little by little and getting smart enough to see we can’t be happy only by owning things, but it seems difficult even for Generation Z, Millennials, and also the tail end of Generation X like me to completely deny the desire. The Master Yoda, too, said “The fear of loss is the path to the dark side.” Probably, we have no other choice but to effectively manage our karma somehow. If you can’t help buying and possessing something anyway, recommended is our furniture—minimal design and environmental burden. Although it may not appear minimal price-wise, I ensure you the cost will be minimal as well because of its long service life 😊


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.


Photo Credit: https://www.businessinsider.com/what-does-american-dream-look-like-for-millennials-2021-1

Japanese Aesthetics


The most beautiful abandoned hotel in Japan (Hachijo Royal Hotel)

Rusted steel frames, faded curtains fluttering out of broken windows, tableware scattered on the floor. Ruined factories, hotels, restaurants, etc. in deserted towns are just shown, sometimes even without any narration or subtitles. Such YouTube videos are popular in Japan, and actually, I often enjoy them. “Horror is a genre in which disgust is central as an emotion,” Malcom Turvey, a British professor of film studies, said. “A lot of monsters are designed to be explicitly or implicitly disgusting.” In that sense, our interest in ruins is completely different. Japanese people see the beauty in things decaying away, which, I believe, is the origin of Japanese aesthetics.

Sakura, cherry blossom is one of the Japanese national flowers (another one is chrysanthemum, for your information). We are a kind of addicted to it. As most of you may know, cherry-blossom viewing would be the most important seasonal tradition in Japan (in spring), so important that the elderly often say “How many more times can I see cherry blossoms before I die?” Indeed, cherry blossoms are really beautiful, but it’s not flowers in full bloom but the scene where flower petals are falling that touches our heartstrings. Sometimes, we are more attracted by a single piece of cherry blossom petal floated in a puddle, rather than ones blooming on trees.

Ippongi Solid Wood Table (Walnut) 3600 x 1200 x 740

Why are Japanese aesthetics like this? I personally think it’s closely related to the natural environment of our country. As I wrote in last article, Japan is the island country prone to a lot of natural disasters such as tsunamis, earthquakes, etc. In such a harsh environment, with a feeling of powerlessness before nature, we have no other choice but to accept reality: we’re a part of nature, and death is a part of life. This is the reason why we find beauty in transient and imperfect things. Our furniture is made of wood. Each wood piece has its unique characteristics, and is liable to change by aging. In the sense of Japanese aesthetics, it’s so beautiful.


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.


Photo Credit: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/3114057/haunting-pictures-show-faded-beauty-of-abandoned-hotel-on-island-once-billed-as-japans-hawaii-which-is-being-slowly-overtaken-by-nature/


Japanese Ambiguity


S/he once sharply criticized the government, but after becoming a politician, s/he comes to repeat ambiguous remarks and looks like losing her/his former self. I’m sure you’ve seen this kind of change of mind. You may feel betrayed and think “I could always achieve social justice.” I didn’t mean to defend all the politicians, but believe most of them are not faithless. First of all, there’s no such thing as absolute justice or evil. Indeed, it is right to pursue the greatest happiness for the greatest number in utilitarianism, but the tyranny of the majority sometimes hurts the minority so deep that people can’t coexist after confrontation. In a sense, decent politicians are meant to be ambiguous.

In terms of ambiguity, I believe Japanese people are second to none in the world. Majority vote is rarely adopted in a company meeting, and even company representatives don’t like to be seen as imposing their opinions. A consensus, decision, etc. are made ambiguously. This national character may be related to the uniqueness of the Japanese language that can complete sentences without a subject. I was so irritated by this ambiguity when younger, condemning such people as irresponsible, but now come to think Japanese ambiguity seen especially at work place may be ancient wisdom to keep working in harmony as an organization.

You may wonder how the quality of work is maintained under such conditions as people don’t know clearly where responsibility lies. We don’t need other people’s eyes to pursue responsibility because of a genetic factor. Japanese people have more S-alleles of the serotonin transporter, and we are genetically more anxious (self-tortured). It is said to be the result of natural selection unique to the island country prone to a lot of natural disasters such as tsunamis, earthquakes, etc. In other words, we can’t work without ambiguity because we’re too anxious and scared. I think it’s similar to backlash for furniture. The joint parts of some furniture must have backlash to absorb the expansion and contraction of wood. The modern age of digitalization allows less and less room for ambiguity, but I think physical things like us, furniture, etc. still need 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.


Photo Credit: https://blog.gaijinpot.com/7-things-know-japanese-politics/