Something in Common with Swordsmith


Just before entering the furniture business, I worked in the fishery industry and often took overseas clients to the biggest fish market in Tokyo (now-closed Tsukiji market). Wonderful days when I could have good sushi together with the clients at the company’s expense. Besides a sushi restaurant, there was one more place many of the clients were looking forward to visiting. It’s a Japanese knife shop. In the market, there were many such shops packed with foreign tourists. My clients innocently asked me to interpret their questions to the sales staff, which always made me sweat with fear because the staff’s explanation didn’t make sense to me at first even in Japanese. Over time, I learned a lot about Japanese knife crafting, and now feel like it has something in common with our furniture making.

The feature of Japanese knives is they can be categorized into two types by material: made of a single kind or multiple kinds of steel. In case of the former, the steel is high-carbon like more than 1.0% of carbon is included, and this type of knives is super-sharp but brittle and high-maintenance, mainly for professional users like sushi chefs. On the other hand, the latter combines multiple kinds of steel in order to improve ductility and toughness, which is a manufacturing method unique to Japan. Due to the mixture of different types of steel, the blanks of knives have to be kept for a while before forging. They are likely to be distorted because the different kinds of steel are different in the amount of residual stress. The same can be said for wood planks. The crafting of Japanese knives and wooden furniture needs time even in their preparation phases.

The heating process is another big challenge in the Japanese knife crafting. The different kinds of steel have different suitable temperatures for forging. That requires fine adjustment, and knife craftspeople have to do that only by eyes. Similarly, every piece of wood is different in strength, flexibility, etc. even if wood pieces come from the same log. Our furniture craftspeople also decide by eyes a right part where each piece should be used. The crafting of Japanese knives and wooden furniture is similar because both still have an area where experience matters.


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.japantimes.co.jp/community/2018/05/16/our-lives/sword-expression-absolute/


Something More Important Than Survival


Do you know the TV program “What would you do?” (WWYD for short) from the US? It’s a situational hidden-camera program starting from 2008. I really like it. Such programs are common even in Japan, but their contents are much lower in quality. Japanese poor ones just make fun of people by setting some embarrassing situations. They’re similar to “Just for laughs.” I found them fun at first but was soon tired. On the other hand, WWYD cuts to the core of social problems such as discrimination, poverty, etc. to show both dark and bright sides of human nature. People’s goodness stands out more by bringing to light the darkness in our hearts at the same time. Today, I’m writing about our conscience as a manufacturer. Please watch WWYD before going on reading, so that this article can sound more convincing.

The market in every sector has been polarized into high- and low-end products lately. For example, in the fashion industry, LVMH (Louis Vuitton) and UNIQLO lead the market. The situation is the same in the furniture industry. Super-luxury Italian brands and IKEA predominate, while we, a brand in the middle-high range, are facing an uphill battle in the shrinking market. Should we raise our price range and try to enter the super-luxury market in order to survive?

Splinter Armchair by CondeHouse

Once, I suggested to then-chairman to develop something super-luxury, innocently saying “Why don’t we try to make something without budget constraint? I want to see how it’ll turn out.” He wryly answered “I know the polarization of the market but don’t think that’s what we should do: making furniture only for rich people, furniture so expensive that even our employees can’t afford. Our mission is providing good furniture to many ordinary people at a price that they can afford (by overreaching a little bit in some cases).” The words might just sound like a platitude, but goodness is surely one of our true colors as WWYD shows. I believe we wouldn’t deserve to survive in the market if we couldn’t ever have such a conscience.


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://ethics.org.au/ethics-explainer-conscience/


Therapy Cheaper Than Camping


Soon after graduating from college, I joined the Japan Air Self-Defense Force. Even though it’s an air force, new recruits are trained in a field exercise. I still clearly remember the strong smell of grass and trees that clung to me when ambushing in a thick forest, excitement when making a fire (mainly because of hunger pains), the sound of rain on the tent, beautiful sunrise in morning mist (after not sleeping a wink all night, though), etc. They are probably what many people expect for a camp that becomes more and more popular in Japan. Me? No way. I was already camped out but am interested in why people do camping, going so far as spending a lot of money for camping gear.

We, human beings, have been keeping on making new inventions for convenience, in order to make our lives easy. Even if you’ve never camped, you can imagine how troublesome camping is, can’t you? We are basically lazy, so lazy that marketers (including me) have to struggle all the time to provide an incentive for people to make actions, even small ones like making a click. Why camping? People who like camping will say “It’s for extraordinary experiences,” but what people actually do in camping are boiled down to super-ordinary things: preparing meal, eating, clearing up after meal, and sleeping. I know it’s important to do such everyday routines in nature, and so, the next question is why and how nature works on our mind.

Today, in order to promote our furniture, let me focus on two reasons: the 1/F fluctuation and phytoncide. The 1/F fluctuation is information or rhythm we perceive through the five physical senses. It is thought to work for relaxation and mental stability and to exist a lot in nature, like in the murmuring of streams, the rustle of grass and leaves, the sunlight filtering through trees, etc. In addition, you can see it in the grain of wood. The phytoncide is a volatile chemical diffused from plants (mainly from trees), which has the effect of killing bacteria and relaxing people. In a sense, you may be able to get the same benefit without going to the trouble of camping if you get our wooden 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/2018/09/what-is-forest-bathing-and-can-it-really-help-heal-us/ , @niceviewtokoro

What Good Would It Do Us?


Are you always confident of your free-will decisions? MISTRA (Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart, 1990) has proved our ways of thinking and behaving are NOT genetically affected. We are much more likely to be affected by the surrounding environment. I even doubt the existence of free will. Let me ask one more question. Do you believe market principles are always correct? We, ordinary people, don’t always make rational decisions based on detailed and correct knowledge, just as the principles expect, and so, I also doubt them. Free-will decisions and market principles are two main grounds that neo-liberalism is based on. I don’t like neo-liberalism, not only because of such weak grounds but because it steals my favorite things, such as Morgan 4/4.

The legendary car debuted in 1936 and continued to be produced without changing the basic design for more than 80 years. Can you believe it? In 2019, an Italian investment firm announced to acquire Morgan. It was not a hostile takeover. The press release by Morgan said the investment firm would work closely with the current management to make sure that future development of the business will be respectful of and remain true to the company’s unique heritage. Coincidentally, soon after the acquisition, it was decided to discontinue Morgan 4/4. To me, one of their heritages seems to be lost.

As many of you may know, the frame of Morgan 4/4 was partially made of ash wood to make car weight light. It’s easy to imagine how difficult it is to use wood for a car frame where a heavy load can be applied (heavier than furniture, at least). Wood strength changes depending on the part, grain direction, density, knotted-or-not, etc. of wood. Their website also says about woodworking “Traditional techniques passed down through many generations ensure the precision of each tenon joint and laminated curve.” The wood frame is still used in other models, but I’m afraid the new Morgan may give up in the near future, concluding the wood frame is just an outdated structure. I know I may be just stuck in the past but can’t stop myself, feeling like it’s “today Morgan, tomorrow us, wooden furniture manufacturers.” As Morgan says, traditional techniques are not gained in a day. I think we should be careful about things we can never recover, at least.


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.autoweek.com/car-life/classic-cars/a31118918/are-morgan-cars-still-made-from-wood/


Art of Ninja


I have a 12 year younger sister. When she was very small, I asked “What is your brother like?” She lisped “You like to eat tofu.” I know she was not wrong. Indeed, I like tofu even now, but her answer was far from what I expected at that time. Feeling disappointed, I thought by myself who I was, and realized it was very difficult to define myself. For the same reason, most people can’t see their own countries and cultures, but multi-lingual speakers are better at it because language creates culture, and vice versa. Today, let me share cultural differences and Japanese uniqueness found especially by a Japanese-English speaker.

When working as a translator, onomatopée was always headache. Japanese language is said to have the largest number of onomatopée in the world. Making matters worse, there’s onomatopée to express even silence, though I know the sentence is logically inconsistent. It seems we Japanese can hear the sound of silence. There’s another example to show our uniqueness in a sense of sound. A Japanese professor visited Cuba for a medical conference. When someone threw a presentation, he couldn’t focus because the sound of insects was too loud. He got interested and asked a man sitting next to him about the insects, but the man answered he didn’t hear anything.

The professor became more curious, started studying his experience once coming back from Cuba, and found only Japanese and Polynesian people perceived the sound of insects as language in the left hemisphere. On the other than hand, the sound of insects is perceived as a sound in the right hemisphere by the other people, and they subconsciously cut off such a continuous sound as noise. This is the reason why the man sitting next to the professor didn’t even notice the sound of insects. His further study reveals that the difference is caused not by race but by language, and that this unique ability inheres in anyone grown up in Japanese-speaking environments as a mother tongue. The article didn’t explain how Japanese language worked, but I hit upon the idea that we, Japanese furniture manufacturers, may be able to hear better the voice of trees as well.


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://kokoro-jp.com/culture/1293/