Wooden Ball Pit


This is not our wooden ball pit, though.

Once upon a time (like 30 years ago) when I was a kid, department stores seemed to be particularly attractive, like an amusement park. They had all sorts of toys, candies, food, everything children get engrossed in. Although it’s funny if I think back about it now, almost all the Japanese department stores had a playground on the rooftop. A ball pit was one of the most popular playground equipment back then. Even after such a playground was gone from the department stores, a ball pit looks still popular for kids. Nowadays even personal type is sold on amazon. Today, let me introduce our wooden ball pit.

A wooden ball pit is quite common in Japan, but our product is unique and different from others. The wooden balls are made of high-quality hardwood (wood waste produced in making our furniture), and their shape is round but deformed. The balls are more beautiful (shiny) and durable than those made of ordinary softwood. Although we can make the balls in perfect round shape technically, they are deformed because of cutting costs. This causes an unexpected secondary effect: The pit of deformed balls has a higher fluidity than that of perfect round balls. The problem is the above advantages don’t really appeal to kids, I’m afraid.

We always try to use up wood. If end materials are longer than 150 mm, we join them together to make laminated boards. At present, however, what we can do by ourselves is limited. Most of the end materials are much smaller than 150 mm in most cases because we mill wood based on pre-calculation. We have no other choice but to use most of them for fuel. As I was writing above, our wooden balls are made of high-quality wood, and so, they’re beautiful and durable. Consumers may use them some other time after their kids leave the nest. It’s useful for environmental education as well. We are looking forward to your orders.


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.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g14133659-d4006071-Reviews-Tokyo_Toy_Museum-Yotsuya_Shinjuku_Tokyo_Tokyo_Prefecture_Kanto.html


Furniture Full of Originality


A student in the art class challenged his teacher, saying “it’s meaningless to learn art. Art is something to feel, and our originality may be stunted by learning. ” The teacher answered quietly, “Can you draw like Picasso? Of course not, because he is a genius, and we are not. Originality is a characteristic only of a genius. We need to learn to understand geniuses and approach their level, even just a little.”

This story was told from my boss when I was in my early twenties. Although I’m embarrassed to share, I expressed my cheeky feeling to the great story: “To want to be unique” is a cliché, not unique. He answered quietly (the same as the teacher in the story) it would be human nature to want to be different from others. Since then, I’ve been interested in originality, our karma.

In the movie “Amadeus” Mozart was described as a genius — I had no doubt about that — but even he said, “I’ve never created an original melody.” It’s surprising, isn’t it? The interpretation of originality I like is that of Nietzsche. The German intellectual giant said, “Originality is to see something that is as yet without a name; that is as yet impossible to designate, even though it stares us in the face.” From the words of wisdom left by the two geniuses, we can see originality is not creating something completely new from scratch but a new value by mixing up existing ideas.

Sometimes our products are said to be similar to Scandinavian furniture, but you would have already understood it’s meaningless to discuss it even further. What is more important is whether or not products have the originality stated here. I’m sure there’s nothing but “the originality” in the combination of western furniture culture and Japanese woodworking skills with a history of more than 1,500 years.


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://cultbizztech.com/5-things-you-can-learn-from-the-genius-of-mozart/


Design to Tell a Story


The world’s top three makers of sports footwear are Nike, Adidas, and do you know what comes next? It’s Puma, though I thought it was New Balance. I like sneakers and buy at least one pair every season, but I’m getting tired of the above four makers, to be honest. “To want to be unique is a cliché, and that way of thinking itself is not unique.” This is what I knowingly wrote in the past article, but I have to admit I might like to have something different from others, subconsciously. This tendency seems to be especially true in Generation Z (people born after the late 90’s or early 2000’s). Sneakers now popular among them are “Dad sneakers.”

You can see how they look like by googling by the above words. They look very comfortable and more like walking shoes preferred by people who don’t pay attention to the appearance of shoes. OK, let me say straight out. They look ugly from my perspective, as their names suggest. Generation Z may just show their resistance to traditional values or emphasize function (comfortability in this case) above all. In case of the former, it can be interpreted they try to turn the existing definition of good design upside down. In case for the latter, they appear to ignore the value of design.

This tendency can’t be dismissed just as the rashness of youth because it is said that even Millennials (people in one generation older than Generation Z) give the most importance to sustainability or eco-friendliness in their purchasing decisions. Now that there’s no big difference in the price, quality, and design of various products in the market, this may be a natural consequence. We’ve tried hard to develop furniture with good design, but we should stop and think about what good design is. I believe the raison d’etre of our company expressed by the words “Making furniture by forest” meets the needs of the times like sustainability and eco-friendliness. We should focus more on how we can express our mission in design, rather than merely whether the design of our products looks good or not.


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/balenciaga-releases-new-shoe-zen-collection-inspired-by-athletes-2020-1


The Essence of a Chair


The deadly battles of rebellions against authorities have just begun. The famous ones of the rebellions are Google, Apple, and Sony; those of the authorities are Toyota, Volkswagen, and Renault. It’s about the battles over EV market share. I’m excited just as an audience to watch the battles because I believe the basic design or structure of cars is highly possible to change drastically. The great change in the power source of cars finally freed engineers and designers from the problems of heat, noise, and vibration from engines, which I expect will create electric cars with exciting design completely different from that of gas-powered cars.

I’m positive about this change in the car industry for the above reason, but not always positive about any changes. For example, I miss salmon crates. Hokkaido (our hometown) has a lot of salmon, and salmon was shipped in a wooden crate before. The wooden crates with the colorful logo marks of fishing companies were a good reminder of the end of the year, but they were replaced with Styrofoam containers. The point is, regardless of whether it’s fine by me or not, both won’t be back to the market again. It can be interpreted that engines don’t form the basis of cars (some of the car enthusiasts wouldn’t agree, though), and that wood is not a required element for the salmon crates.

As viewed in this way, furniture, especially chairs are different from them. I know there are some popular chairs made of plastic, but wooden chairs are still mainstream in the market. That means wood is thought to be the key decision factor to choose chairs. Our hometown in Hokkaido is surrounded by the mountains with abundant forests, and we use oak and ash from the forests to make furniture. In that sense, our chairs made of local beautiful wood deserve a little bit better evaluation in the market, hopefully.


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://appleinsider.com/articles/21/02/08/apple-predicted-to-announce-apple-car-partnership-in-the-first-half-of-2021


Get Up from the Floor


It’s only 150 years since chairs were introduced in Japan, as I wrote before. When I was a kid, there was a sofa set in the living room. Most of my family members, however, often sat on the floor, leaning against the sofa. Funnily enough, dogs slept on the sofa, instead. I’m sure it’s not a style particular only to my family. When hanging out at my friends’ houses, like playing video games together, I found they did it in the same manner. The lifestyle of living on the floor is printed in the DNA of Japanese people?

Of course, I don’t think so. It’s not such a biological issue. Simply, the space of sofas is too small for us. We, at home on the floor, return to nature: lying face-up or -down, sitting with the knees held or the legs crossed or straight-out, etc. One thing that is for sure is no one never sits up straight at home, though I’m hoping I’m not the only one who thinks like this. This back-to-nature movement may happen due to one of the advantages of our culture: the floor is clean because we take off shoes inside the home. Even on the sofa, we subconsciously try to adjust sitting position in the same manner as that of our pre-chair era, feel cramped, and go back to the floor, which I believe would be the cause of our giving up relaxing on the sofa.

This is our time to work as a leading furniture maker in Japan, and we launched a sofa some years ago to salvage Japanese people from the floor. It’s MOLA. The designer explained it was not a sofa but a place where people can relax. The seat cushions are made to be bigger especially in the depth direction and softer by using a lot of feathers, compared with other our sofas. The irregular shape of each modular unit will provide a relaxing space. I think it’s something more than a sofa set, it’s more like a personal hideout where you can return to 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.


Photo Credit: https://japanobjects.com/features/zabuton-cushion


Still Waters Run Deep


Most of you would have visited UNIQLO shops, I believe. At the moment, they have more than 800 shops only in Japan; about 1500 shops in more than 20 countries. I’m not UNIQLO-native. It is around after graduation from college that I visited a UNIQLO shop for the first time. I still remember it was really a surprising experience. Until then, buying clothes was a bigger event where we were required to chat with shop staff following like a shadow. I think I’m not the only one who thought it mental burden sometimes. In the post-UNIQLO era, all we have to do is to try on by ourselves and throw the stuff we like into a shopping basket.

I don’t mean to say it’s good or bad, but they broke the mold. Reducing price and kinds of clothes, increasing color and size options. Their business scheme is very simple, but competitors can’t copy that because mass production in a wide variety of sizes and colors is very difficult. Of course, the elaborate decorations of high fashion brand clothes such as CHANEL, DIOR, etc. are simply amazing, and everyone can easily understand it’s difficult. The business scheme of UNIQLO has a different kind of difficulty. Procurement, manufacturing, transportation, storage, display, advertisement, everything is large in scale and influences each other. It’s difficult to optimize the whole system.

Our furniture manufacturing is neither handicraft nor mass production. It’s in between them, which makes things complicated already. Despite all the complexity, we’ve decided to increase color options this year. Oil finish and seven poly-urethane colors for each of oak and ash; oil finish and two poly-urethane colors for walnut. Customers can apply the wide variety of finishes to almost all the items, which makes it easier for them to coordinate their interiors with our furniture. As our workload increases, the market reaction has not been very expressive so far, unfortunately. I know it’s not that spectacular change that can attract many people. Still waters run deep, though I’m bragging here like this.


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://logistician.org/supply-chain/uniqlo-supply-chain-management.html


The World Is Calling Our Craftsmanship


In 1543, rifles were introduced to Japan by Portuguese merchants. They expected firearms to be one of their hot exports to Japan in the future, but soon found their plan had failed. In Japan, there were many swordsmiths highly skilled in metal working. The swordsmiths in the area that Portuguese merchants visited mastered the production of rifles within only a year or so, and the manufacturing techniques soon spread to swordsmiths in other areas across Japan. The quality of Japanese rifles was superior to that of European ones, and the total number of rifles in Japan in around 1600 (the age of Japanese civil wars) was more than 60,000. It exceeded the total number of rifles in all the European countries at that time. Samurais may have used rifles more than you can imagine.

Firearms could be a Japanese major export item, but the regimes at that time decided to close the country. I personally think it was a wise judgement to keep a distance from the dog-eat-dog world in the Age of Discovery, though. Anyway, the similar thing happened in the wooden furniture industry. As I wrote before, the chair culture was introduced to Japan only 150 years ago. The wooden furniture industry grew rapidly but soon gave way to heavy industries such as car manufacturing. Once, there were many good woodworking machine manufacturers in Japan, but they stopped their businesses or changed their businesses to metal working machine manufacturing, not having tried to export. As a result, the woodworking machine market is now monopolized by Italian manufacturers. Ironically, the heart of such Italian woodworking CNC machines consists most of Japanese precision equipment, though.

The wooden furniture industry is not and has not been major in Japan. Making matters worse, as society becomes polarized, the Japanese furniture market share is grabbed more by global players: Italian brands for the high-end furniture; other Asian manufacturers for the low-end one. We are likely to lose the game, but won’t give up till the end and will find our way into the global market, learning from past experiences.


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/2019/07/how-the-samurai-took-up-the-gun-and-never-let-go/


Design Speaks Louder


Perspective prepared by Sou Fujimoto and provided to the project members (including us).

Hokkaido is a name-brand area even for Japanese people, proudly enough. If saying “I’m from Hokkaido.” outside Hokkaido, we will have a blast in chat. People will come to us and throw words like “I want to go there someday,” “I’ve been there many times,” “I really like beautiful nature and delicious food made of fresh ingredients there,” etc. In fact, Hokkaido is fully surrounded by the sea, and you can enjoy a fresh seafood. In addition, there are many dairy farms, and dairy products are good as well. People are glad to receive those marine or dairy products, but we can’t help but hesitate to bring them as a gift in business settings because the package design of those products is often not very good.

In Japan, it’s common to bring something as a gift even in case of a business visit to other companies. It is said a corporate power is sometimes evaluated by the choice of such gifts. Some companies even have a database to record the taste of business partners. In such a harsh battlefield, would you bring Hokkaido gifts with cute animals or mascot characters printed on their packages? I’m sure they are better in taste but are no match for Tokyo gifts in an urbane package design. Gifts are judged by their package design especially in business settings.

Apparently, Hokkaido people have finally noticed the importance of design these days. A local confectionary company launched a new shop last month. The interior was designed by a world-renowned architect born in this small town, Sou Fujimoto, and was furnished with our products. The feature of the new shop is drinks. They name the new drink “POTEA—Cake Drinks.” The shop is located close to the central station of our hometown. Please drop by and enjoy the drinks and local-but-international interior design when coming to Asahikawa.


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.condehouse.co.jp/?lng=ja_en


Sustainable Hotel in Sapporo


I went all over the world (for business, though) together with my boss (current chairman) before the COVID. It was common for us to visit multiple countries at a time. This may sound gorgeous, but it was tough. Making matters worse, I always chose cheap hotels to contain costs. In some hotels, we felt like we might as well sleep in a tent outside. He often complained “Please sell more furniture, make more money, and let me stay at better hotels.” This year, he resigned from the president position, and we will never go on overseas business trips together. I feel sorry I couldn’t fulfill his wish in the end, though I always enjoyed the penniless trips with him.

Last week, the chairman came to my desk and talked to me delightedly. This is the reason why I remembered his complaint about hotels, by the way. He said he had been invited for a private viewing of a new hotel in Sapporo (the capital city of Hokkaido). It’s Royal Park Canvas. What features the hotel is its concept: “Make it happen,” with a wish for guests to create a new value through experiencing Hokkaido. Local wood is used in many parts of the building. It’s an 11-story building: RC up to the 8th floor, wooden structure above it (1380 tons less in carbon dioxide emissions). Wood waste from the construction is used for interior finishing. I’m sure the hotel restaurant will provide food made with local ingredients, in addition.

It’s not a super luxury hotel, though I think it may be still over our travel budget by my strict standards. The good news is our furniture is installed in the lounge space, which, I hope, would ease his frustration about hotels during our business trips, even a little bit. If you have a chance to come to Sapporo, please stay at the hotel and experience Hokkaido with our furniture locally made of local wood.


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.the-royalpark.jp/canvas/sapporoodoripark/


We Design Sitting


Uber Eats, Wolt, Foodpanda, etc. Food delivery businesses appear to be prosperous everywhere in the world. In addition, many restaurants have started to-go service, and accordingly, many people can enjoy professional meals at home. Have you ever tried such food delivery services or took out food? Me? Never. The repeated activity restrictions during the COVID have reduced the opportunity of eating out, but I don’t feel I need such services. Just the other day, I encountered an article about a restaurant that stopped delivery and to-go service. The article made me realize why I don’t use the food delivery services.

“Our mission is providing a fun and satisfying experience, not just food.” The restaurant directors explained their decision like this. I think the reason is similar to the concept of “b8ta.” As I wrote before, b8ta is the business born in the Silicon Valley in 2015, called as RaaS (Retail as a Service). The b8ta shop is a place for people to experience products, not a place for selling things. The restaurant directors said they had re-defined the value of eating out and derived the logical consequence to stop delivery service. It’s convincing. If deeply thinking and re-defining the value of eating out for me, I’m sure it’s for something more than just filling my stomach, like communicating with people, observing professional cooking and serving work, etc.

Japanese furniture at its finest. (CondeHouse Nagoya Shop)

In like manner, we re-defined our business. The project team came up with as many words as possible to express ourselves: wooden furniture manufacturer, design-conscious, high-quality, good at chair making, etc. Finally, thinking through again and again, we arrived at the definition: we are a furniture manufacture that designs sitting. I believe it contains a wish that we want to be something more than a chair maker, like making a living space where people can sit back and relax. Apparently, this writing corresponds to the newly defined our mission. I hope you will enjoy this article while sitting back and relaxing in our chair.


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.scmp.com/week-asia/lifestyle-culture/article/3137913/coronavirus-leaves-bangkoks-restaurants-need-stiff