Repair Is a Radical Act


The king of beasts is a lion. The king of fruits is a durian. What do you think the king of shoes is? I believe it would be John Lobb. It may have not yet become common sense like the rankings of animals and fruits, but I expect I’m not the only one who thinks that way. They are the symbol of strength, stylishness, and smartness, though it may be influenced a lot by James Bond. These days, I’m into YouTube videos of shoe repair, where I saw John Lobb shoes were repaired to be so beautiful as if they were new. I feel like I understand why they are called the king of shoes.

As I wrote sometimes ago, I’m not so interested in things and owning things. It would be inevitable for anyone in the age of plenty, and sharing economy is the necessary result. This is what I believed, but I recently found the article that made me stop and think. I remembered the words in the article while watching John Lobb shoes be reborn in the video. It’s the article by Rose Marcario, ex-CEO of Patagonia, titled “Repair Is a Radical Act.” She argues customers (product-consumers not owners, to be more precise) are forced to seek out the best price buy by most companies making cheap stuff that breaks right away and must be replaced quickly.

Rose concludes her article with the following words “And as businesses, we have a responsibility to make higher quality products to help reclaim the act of ownership: make parts accessible and repair easy.” We feel tense as one of manufacturers, taking pride in having been fulfilling the responsibility, though. Our furniture is designed to last for decades, and we provide repair service as well. As transportation costs (and carbon footprint from the transportation) are considered, our own repair service is not feasible outside Japan, but I think your local furniture repair shops will help you use our furniture over some generations.


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.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/esmagazine/james-bond-s-my-london-8215436.html


Powder Snow Kingdom


Ginza is the area in Tokyo well known as a luxury area. The above image is Ginza 4th block’s intersection, which is the area with the highest land price in Japan: about 500,000 USD/sqm, while it’s less than 200 USD/sqm around here in Asahikawa, Hokkaido. However, if it’s about the appreciation rate of land price, the No.1 area is in Hokkaido. It’s Niseko of which land price increased at about 50% last year, staying on top in the appreciation rate of land price for these six years. Even during the COVID crisis, foreign companies have continued to buy land, and the boom of construction of luxury resort hotels has never stopped.

More than 20 years ago, Niseko was just a small town, where local poor college students like me sometimes went for skiing. I still remember there were few people outside on the street and it was hard to find a place to eat, but now things have drastically changed. There are a lot of luxury hotels and stylish restaurants and bars, and the streets are full of foreign tourists, much more than local people. I attribute this great commercial success to targeting. The boom is said to start from one Australian guy coming to live in Niseko. It spread to rich people in Australia and NZ who want to ski even in their summer time (winter here in the Northern Hemisphere), and huge amounts of money have been invested to develop the area according to the demand in a short period of time. The targeting is consistent.

Many visitors to Niseko praise on the quality of snow, but if it’s about powder snow, we believe our hometown (Asahikawa) is better because it’s much colder. We have many ski slopes in powder snow, but there are few ski tourists from overseas. It’s exactly an unused treasure. Our saving grace is our furniture is used in some of the hotels in Niseko. Come and enjoy our furniture as well as skiing after the COVID restrictions are lifted!


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/news/2017/06/07/business/ginza-land-prices-bubble-era-highs-real-estate-analysts-expect-correction/


Cosmic Latte


About 20 years ago, when my sister was still about 10 years old, she asked me “Why do clothes look dark when wet? Water is colorless though.” I’m sure she asked idly without thinking so much, but the question flustered me a lot. Now I know it was exactly the arrogance and ignorance of youth (or only me younger days). I was arrogantly surprised at that time to find that there are still things that I don’t know, even among daily little events. By the way, are you interested in the answer to the question? It’s because water is low in optical reflectance. It’s about half as much as that of glass, which may contrast with the impression you get from the sparkling surface of the seas and rivers, though.

Speaking of colors, what color do you think the universe is? Black? Colorless and transparent? As many of you may have already known because the discovery made the news about 20 years ago, it is said to be beige. To be more precise, it’s the average color of the universe. New and hot stars look blue; old and cold stars red. If the colors of those stars are mixed and equalized, the color of the universe will look beige. The color was later named “Cosmic latte.” You can see how it looks by googling with the color name.

The other day, I talked with the interior coordinator of our shop. I asked if there’s any rule to decide the wall and ceiling color of our shop. She answered “it’s basically a color between gray and beige. It’s a color called “greige” that seems to be popular in the interior design field. She added it wouldn’t interfere with the colors of wood used for our furniture. On hearing her explanation, I remembered the above trivial stories and idly thought to myself “Let’s call the interior color of our shop grayish cosmic latte, rather than greige.”


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.deathwishcoffee.com/blogs/lifestyle/cosmic-latte-the-color-of-the-universe


Strength Test of Chairs


Photo by naosuke ii

All the Japanese classrooms look similar at any time and place. My major in college is education. I had visited many schools and found classrooms looked surprisingly uniform. As some of you may say “Likewise in my country,” but I think the uniformity of Japanese classrooms is by far more than yours. The main cause would be the classroom desks and chairs, I guess. You can see the same sets in no matter which school you visit in Japan. There’s almost no difference other than scribbles on them. Funnily enough, what students do with the chairs is also the same: tilting their chairs back. I bet you’ve done this before. Tilting your chair back and sometimes falling (getting beyond the point of no return).

Students of inquiring mind try to figure out the point of no return and sometimes succeed in keeping balance and standing still only with the rear legs of a chair; other students seated behind jerk the backrest. The time of trial for chairs continues even after school. As students are supposed to clean their classrooms, desks and chairs are stacked up and dragged around every day. It may be natural for classroom desks and chairs to be designed the same for structural reasons to meet the specifications required for the tough conditions of use.

In fact, the movement of tilting back chairs just like students do in a classroom is most severe structurally for chairs and highly likely to give heavy damage to chairs. This is the reason why the movement is adopted in the standard strength test of chairs as shown in the above movie. Chairs are jerked in the backrest with the weight of 60 kg on the seat. I remembered the days of my teacher training the moment I saw the test. In the Japanese standard (unwritten rule), it is generally said chairs should have a strength to withstand more than 4000 trials of the test, while our standard is 12000. Our chairs look slender but are strong and tough enough for long time use. Having said that, I don’t endorse rough treatment of our chairs, of course.


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:


Humanity and Productivity


The spaceship was about to penetrate the atmosphere in the shortage of electric power. The crews and the ground staff of NASA knew enough about it. While running out of time, they made many trials and errors, no matter how trivial they are, like changing a sequence of activation processes, skipping some of them, etc., and finally succeeded in securing the minimum required supply of electric power for atmospheric re-entry. This is the highlight of the movie “Apollo 13.” Craft people in our factory are engaged in improvement (Kaizen) activities. Most of them are small and trivial. Every time seeing those activities, I remember the movie.

Japan is often said to be lowest in labor productivity in the OECD countries. Many Japanese people believe the low labor productivity hampers economic growth, and blame themselves for that. I don’t agree at all with such an idea. The truth is completely opposite. Our labor productivity just looks low because of the slow growth economy of Japan. Simply, this is the failure of the government policy. The Japanese government has not done anything effective to stop deflation for about 30 years. It is just manipulated by the Ministry of Finance (my old work place, though) that ignorantly keeps on warning the possibility of inflation by increasing the balance of government bonds. I believe we private companies basically have been doing our very best. Anyway, whether Japan is low in labor productivity is not my point today. As I was writing before, we don’t need to get heated any more with productivity improvement because we don’t know if it will bring happiness to our lives in the end.

I didn’t mean to deny the value of productivity improvement completely. In fact, I like to see the Kaizen activities made by the craft people in our factory. They often have sessions to present their ideas, and sometimes seem to enjoy finding the unknown side of themselves, such as performance or aptitude as a presenter, facilitator, etc. that they would never have noticed in their daily work (furniture making). As productivity improvement ends up confronting us with the harsh fact that humans are useless (compared with robots), I think it’s healthy to try to find enjoyment in the process of productivity improvement, like our craft people do.


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.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2020/04/apollo-13-anniversary-pandemic/609874/


Waiting Is Also Fun


What surprises foreigners who come to Japan is huge lineups of people waiting to enter shops, restaurants, etc. In the early phase of the COVID, there were many lineups in front of drug stores even in the early morning, I remember. Those huge lineups are thought to be a symbol to show the patience and politeness of Japanese people. Have you ever looked at them closely? A line of people moving little by little, only looking at their phones with no expression. To be honest, they just look uncanny even to me.

With a few exceptions like some Japanese people, humans basically dislike being kept waiting, but even such primitive human nature may be changing among the new generation people somehow. Do you know a camera app called Dispo? It was launched in the US and has become so popular among young people even in Japan since the beginning of this year. It differs from other camera apps only at one point, I believe. We can’t check taken images on the spot but have to wait until 9 am next day. Some media reports said young people even enjoyed the inconvenience of waiting. Convenience may go too far especially for young people growing up surrounded by all modern conveniences.

Some years ago, we implemented a drastic reform in production system. Our factory was shifted from line production to cell production, and at the same time, succeeded in shortening and unifying the production lead times of the main products to two weeks. It was dreamy days. We finally got free from the troubles of delivery date confirmation. Unfortunately, it appeared to be too rough-and-ready, we had to make it back to the previous multiple lead times: three, four, and six weeks, though we’ve been hard struggling to be back to the dreamy days again. This is why today I’m writing this, hoping customers will enjoy the inconvenience of waiting for a while, like Dispo. The longer you wait, the larger the element of joy becomes.


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.annexphoto.ca/fujifilm-disposable-cameras-canada


More than Words


About 15% of Junior high school students can read sentences but not understand their meaning. The news created a sensation in Japan some years ago. That may or may not be true, but I think that would be a natural course of events. Due to the progress of science, we come to have many communication tools other than writing. For example, one of the top selling books in the end of the 20th century, “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” has sold about five million copies in Japan, while the audience of the movie is said to be three times more, though their prices are almost the same. Indeed, the movie is much better in time efficiency.

It is said to be about 66000 years ago that human beings acquired verbal communication skills, but writing was invented in Mesopotamian civilization, just 5000 years ago. Our ancestors have passed the baton of life to future generations for more than 60000 years without writing. In other words, textual communication is not our inherently essential skill. I didn’t mean to disrespect it. Japan’s rapid development in the mid 1800’s had a lot to do with its high literacy rate (Edo or Tokyo: 70%, London: 20%, Paris:10% at that time), and the Indus civilization collapsed because it didn’t develop writing. My point is we don’t need to lament the decreased ability of writing but should be prepared for new communication tools. I know it’s not my place to say something like this, while “writing” this article.

In our manufacturing industry, it’s very important to hand down expertise and skills to the next generation. Usually seniors prepare a manual and instruct young people on the job, but as described above, it’s getting more and more difficult. In order to fix the situation, we’ve been proactively introducing video material. Now, it’s expanding to our factory tour. Visitors are supposed to watch a short instruction movie in each production phase. I’m sure it’s more informative than ones only with a verbal explanation provided by a guide in the mechanical noise. Please come over to our factory next year’s Asahikawa Design Week when we hold an official factory tour to the public!


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:


Japanese Hot Spring


Which country do you think has the most hot springs in the world? You thought I would answer it was Japan? No, it’s the US, and Japan comes second. There are so many hot springs in Yellowstone National Park (YNP) in the US. As I’ll describe later how lazily we stay in hot-spring inns, hot springs spoil people. The problem of hot springs in YNP is they will literally spoil human bodies because most of them are strong acid. If it’s limited to hot springs we can enjoy, Japan is No.1. Today, let me explain how to spoil yourself correctly in Japanese hot-spring inns for your future reference after the COVID restrictions are lifted.

Averagely, we bathe three times for a stay of one night: soon after check-in, before going to bed, and soon after getting up, so that we can enjoy a sunset, night sky, and sunrise in an open-air bath. The following is a typical pattern: check-in, taking a bath, lying down on the tatami-mat floor of a room until dinner, having dinner, taking a walk outside, taking a bath, sleeping, getting up, taking a bath, having breakfast, and check-out. How lazy and nonproductive! The only exception is a walk outside. In case of hot-spring towns, there are many souvenir shops, and visitors are expected to shop something there (just a little bit contribution to GDP growth). The dress code of hot-spring inns is Yukata, Japanese traditional casual clothes. You can go anywhere in Yukata, even outside your inn when it’s located in a hot-spring town (see the above image). People walking in Yukata in the traditional streetscape of a hot-spring town will make you feel like traveling back in time to the past.

Our furniture is modern in design, but maybe because some Japanese aesthetics lie beneath, it also goes well with the traditional atmosphere of such hot-spring inns. In addition, we customize products for more convenience in the Japanese traditional way of life. For example, the chairs in the above image are designed to be lower and have rails between chair legs (in the front-back direction) so that people can pull and put back a chair on a tatami-mat floor more easily. Next time you come to Japan, treat yourself with our furniture in hot-spring inns.


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.japan-guide.com/e/e6029.html


Japanese Traditional Woodworking


The biggest school event for Japanese students is a school trip, I’m sure. We go on a trip with all the classmates three times in our lifetime: in the sixth grade of elementary school, the third grade of junior high school, and the second grade of high school. It’s a kind of Japanese spring tradition. You can see many students in school uniform in popular sightseeing spots like Kyoto. It’s a tragedy if you stay in the same hotel as a school-trip group, though we (who used to be students having enjoyed school trips) don’t have any right to complain thinking back our own youth days. During the COVID, most of the school trips have been canceled, and I really feel sorry for them.

The most popular destination of high schools in Hokkaido is Kyoto, but I felt so bored at that time, to be honest. It required time for me to appreciate the true value of old temples and shrines. I’ve been studying property leasing business for few years, learning one of the keys to success is the management of loan condition and tax saving (depreciation period). The factors are influenced mainly by the legal durable years of properties. Can you believe this? The legal durable year of wooden buildings is stated to be only 22 years in Japan, though Horyuji temple in Kyoto was built about 1400 years ago and still exists without housing rehabilitation.

Japan, with frequent earthquakes and in a climate of high temperature and humidity, is a harsh environment for any type of buildings. The secret of Horyuji temple is to make use of the flexibility of wood in its structure. The main frame was put together without nails to absorb the shakes of earthquakes, and the expansion and contraction of wood by the change in temperature and humidity. Such wisdom of our ancestors in woodworking is passed onto our products. IPPONGI table is a good example. The tabletop is made from two pieces of wood planks. They are set slightly apart to absorb their expansion and contraction. The anti-warping beam in the back of the tabletop is not fixed but movable in the tapered groove, so that users can adjust it according to the condition of the tabletop. Why don’t you get the table to feel the history of Japanese traditional woodworking?


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: http://www.jeffmoeller.com/kiyomizudera-temple/