Challenges Help Us Grow


“The Matrix Ressurections” was just released in Japan on 17th December, first in the world. Dodge this? No way! I will go to a theater this Sunday, the very first day of my year-end vacation. Due to its complex storyline, it has many different interpretations. Spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen any of the series! Since I knew that Neo (or a savior story) was also a part of the Matrix for AI to learn human thought processes and update its system, almost all the events in the movies came to easily make sense to me with one exception. Was Trinity’s kiss required to revive Neo, though he himself is the almighty Matrix?

It seems many people have the same doubt as me. You can find many different interpretations on this matter if you make a search on Google. Anyway, though beaten up to death by the Agent Smith, Neo was revived by her kiss and got much stronger. I think this kind of thing very often happens especially in super hero movies, and that always reminds me of “super-compensation.” Muscle fibers arguably become stronger after being damaged by weight training. Mind you: what is important here is to “mildly” damage muscle fibers and to take a rest. Super-compensation is generally said to need more than 24 hours rest at least. Don’t overdo it.

Luckily enough, we have had a flood of orders for the last few months. Apparently, it exceeds the capacity of our production ability. Our factories are running at full capacity, overtime every day, sometimes opening even on the weekends, in order to ship out the orders within the year. The current situation is tough for us, staff in the internal divisions as well, because we can see both: customer demands and the tired look on the faces of craft people in the factories. I’m sincerely hoping they will get over this tough time, take a good rest during the year-end vacation, and come back stronger by super-compensation.


Photo Credit: https://www.cbr.com/matrix-wachowskis-original-script-switch-trans-woman/


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 Year-end Tradition


Almost all the cities are filled with Christmas decorations in this season, though the percentage of the Christian population is only 1% in Japan. As I wrote before, we are good at cream-skimming other cultures but may be wrong a little about Christmas. Guess what the Japanese Christmas specialty food. It’s KFC! You can’t get it without a reservation in Christmas time in Japan. This is said to have started from a lie by a shop manager of KFC in 1970. He spread it around “Everyone eats fried chicken in Western countries in Christmas time!” He must have been a genius marketer, and KFC Holdings Japan, Ltd. owes a fortune to him.

You can see the distinctive feature of our cream-skimming skills right after Christmas day: all the decorations are removed; people don’t even look at KFC; unsold cakes and sweets are sold cheap. The whole country is soon filled with Japanese traditional atmosphere. I know it may look embarrassingly inconsistent, but in the Japanese traditional year-end events, there’s one thing I can be proud of. It’s year-end cleaning. The year end in Japan is the middle of winter and not a suitable season for cleaning, but we are supposed to clean every corner of our houses with a prayer for happiness in the coming year.

The tradition is applied to business occasions as well. Usually, the last working day before the year-end holiday is spent on deep cleaning workplaces, like offices, factories warehouses, etc. Do you think we are bothered? No, not really. It’s not as bad as you imagine. While sorting out papers scattered on my desk and data piled up in my PC, I can look back on the work I’ve done for the year, which provides a good opportunity to reflect. In addition, I can feel like turning over a new leaf on the first working day of the following year. Next week is our last working week for the year. Just before the time of reflection, what I feel now is gratitude. Thank you very much for reading my articles. Have a happy new year!


Photo Credit: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/multimedia/2019/12/20/news/cleaning-time/


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.


Rebound to the Era of Magic


Once upon a time, fortune-tellers, exorcists, or shaman offered prayers to forecast the weather, cure diseases, etc. That would look primitive, idyllic, and non-scientific to people today including me. Do you think we are progressing? I don’t know how Amazon knows my tastes, though I very often bought books as it recommends. I spend much time in using a PC and smartphone every day, but if they go weird even a little, the least I can do is just to curse and ask for help from a tech. What is the difference between the past and the present? As some sociologists have claimed for the couple of years, it seems the world is back to the era of magic.

Most of the major restaurant chains employ a system called a “central kitchen.” It’s like a cooking factory. Main foods have been cooked, frozen, and delivered from their central kitchens. In their restaurants, staff just heats, dishes up, and serves them. Considering the wide variety of their food menus served at reasonable prices, I think it’s natural, but a new trend seems to be emerging. One noodle restaurant chain makes it a rule to make everything from scratch in open kitchens centered in each of the restaurants. As the restaurant chain declares, wheat flour bags are piled up at the entrance, and we can see all the processes: how the noodle-making machine works; soup blending; tempura frying. The restaurant chain is gaining popularity, and the number of outlets has exceeded 1000 in and outside Japan.

I just think it may be a fundamental human desire to know the context of things. The popularity of the above restaurant chain may be an expression of our human desires, or a rebound to the era of magic where many things are black-boxed. As is the case with the noodle restaurant, you can see the whole process of our furniture production through our factory tour. If you’re interested, please contact us to make a reservation in advance!


Photo Credit: https://www.theguardian.com/food/2021/sep/10/marugame-udon-london-e1-restaurant-review-grace-dent


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.


Values Unable to Be Quantified


Once, it was said that 11 years were required to become a full-fledged sushi chef. Young people had to bear up long working hours, which was taken for granted in the Japanese artisan industries. The pros and cons have been discussed for several years, and many people now come to think it’s just useless. They claim even high school kids can reach the level of a full-fledged sushi chef if they have good and fresh ingredients and a perfect recipe quantified in detail. As the metaphor of high school kids may be exaggerating, I think their claim would be logically correct.

Kiyomi Mikuni is the most famous Japanese chef born in Hokkaido. He grew up in extreme poverty. Soon after graduating from junior high school, he started to work for a rice dealer for free meals and the opportunity for attending a night cooking school. When visiting Sapporo Grand Hotel by the field trip of the cooking school, he appealed directly to the chief of the kitchen, saying “I’ll do anything!” As he said, he washed all the dishes of the hotel after work, though it was outside the scope of his job responsibilities. Only in three years, when he was 18 years old, he was promoted to the sous-chef of the hotel. His story doesn’t end here. He left the hotel for greater heights and started to work at Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. He decided to polish all the pots in the 18 restaurants of the hotel. In the end of his second year, the master chef of the hotel recommended Mikuni for the chef of the Japanese embassy in Geneva. It was when he was only 20 years old.

He has regularly posted cooking videos on YouTube. I don’t really cook but often enjoy the videos. What attracts me is his casual personality and elegant behavior that, I imagine, would be created through his eventful life. In Hokkaido, there are some restaurants supervised by him. Fratello Di Mikuni is one of them. Now that you have known his story, you will taste the food in the restaurant even better. I think it may be some emotional reasons rather than logics that decide our preference especially in cooking. For your information, the above restaurant is equipped with our dining chairs, which, I hope, would add grace to his cooking.


Photo Credit: https://fratello-di-mikuni.com/english/chef


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.


Craftsmanship in Hokkaido


More than 30 years ago, Japanese main railway operations were run by the government. Since the full privatization, many rail lines have been abandoned especially in rural areas like here in Hokkaido. If we only pursue efficiency, we probably should gather and live only in city areas. I’m going to hate to lose diverse regional cultures, though. Neoliberalism still tries to accelerate the shift from the public to the private sector. Such people seem to believe we can be back to a previous state if we fail, but things are not that simple. It’s really difficult or almost impossible to gain back lost systems or know-how.

Sapporo Snow Festival (SSF) and Asahikawa Winter Festival (AWF) are the two main festivals in Hokkaido in winter. They are unfeasible without support from the public sector, namely Japan Self Defense Force (JSDF). Every year JSDF makes huge snow sculptures. Especially the main one in AWF has sometimes set a new Guinness world record. In both SSF and AWF, their snow sculptures are huge but elaborate. In the past, JSDF sometimes made snow sculptures of Disney characters. Once, Disney design staff came and issued instructions in minute detail to give cold shivers to JSDF members, but in the end, the perfection of their sculptures moved the design staff to tears. JSDF in Sapporo and Asahikawa is well known as an artisan group of snow sculptures.

Some people criticize it, saying it’s just a waste of taxes, but I don’t think so, at all. The festivals become important resources for tourism in Hokkaido (please come and see snow sculptures once the restrictions of the COVID are lifted), and a good opportunity for public relations for JSDF. I’m sure it’s impossible to gain back such highly skilled craftsmanship of large-scale snow sculpture carving once we lose it. We shouldn’t always let the market decide. Having said that, I know we have to survive in this harsh market on our own, though I think our wooden furniture craftsmanship is also really difficult to come back once it’s lost.


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.


New Hierarchy


Do you know the animation movie, Astro Boy? It was released in Hollywood in 2009, though it wasn’t a big hit. The origin of the movie is a Japanese classic comic book. The story was set in the future (the 21st century, the future as of 50’s). I’m sure almost all the Japanese people older than me (around 40 years old) can sing the opening song. Such a popular but old comic book character was used in a car commercial in 1997. Guess what car. It was Toyota Prius, with a slogan: “Just in time for the 21st century.” The commercial was great to impress many people older than driving age including me. Watching the commercial, we realized the gap between the coming 21st century and the one we dreamed of when we were kids.

Indeed, Prius can neither fly in the sky nor transform to a robot, but I believe it drastically changed the times. In the pre-Prius era, the hierarchy of cars was clear and firm. The bigger, faster, or more expensive, the better. For example, you can arrogantly drive Mercedes-Benz C class in small towns but not in Tokyo because there are a lot of higher-end models like E and S class. Prius is a small sedan, generally categorized in a lower class from its size and price, but I think it was moved out of the hierarchy. One of the impressive examples is the Academy Awards presentations back then. Some Hollywood stars drove Prius to the venue, instead of emerging from a huge limo.

As environmental awareness increased, people’s values were shifted, and the eco-friendly car broke the conventional hierarchy, even partially. In the furniture industry, we, too, are tied to a hierarchy. It may not be so clear and firm rather than the one in the car industry, but large brands with plenty of funds for promotion occupy the top layer. With the increasing environmental awareness, I expect the same value shift will happen in the furniture industry and Hollywood stars will use our furniture in the future.


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://global.toyota/en/prius20th/evolution/