A Chair of Our Fantasy


AI can create virtual humans that look realistic. It’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between real and virtual actors in movies, for example. As this is a well-known trick, to make the faces of virtual humans good-looking or look like something considered to be good-looking, AI calculates out the average faces of many real people. We seem to judge average faces as good-looking. I have known this mentality of human beings for a long time, but a doubt had been left in my mind as a long-standing mystery. If average faces are good-looking, the world should be filled more with people like Cleopatra and Don Juan, where I would feel difficult to survive.

It is a book that saved me from the edge of the abyss. The title is “The End of Average” written by Todd Rose, a psychologist in Harvard University. He measured more than 4000 U.S. Air Force pilots to calculate their average size to optimize the size of a cockpit, and later found there was no one who met average in all the 10 points of measurement. What the result of his research showed is simple and clear: there’s no average pilot, no average people.

Now I understand why there are not many people like Cleopatra and Don Juan even though average faces are judged to be good-looking. Average is nothing but our illusion, and there’s no one who has an average face. This time, I was going to ignore another mystery: why we judge average faces as good-looking, but I come to feel like it may be because of our nature to seek for a utopia or cry for the moon. In connection with today’s theme, “average,” let me introduce one of our dining chairs, KAMUY designed by a Japanese designer, Naoto Fukasawa. The design is so plain, and there’s nothing novel or eccentric. The designer calls it “the most chair-like chair.” In the language of today’s theme, it can be called “the average chair” that is good-looking, a chair of our fantasy.


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.ancienthistorylists.com/egypt-history/facts-cleopatra-vii/


Our Shops Raised in Sapporo


Conde Nast Traveler, one of the world’s most prestigious travel magazine announces every year the ranking of things related to travel, based on the vote of the readers of which number is said to be more than 6 million. It was Tokyo that had won the first place in the ranking of the Best Cities in the World (10 Best Big Cities) for three years straight from 2017 to 2019. In 2020, Tokyo lost the first position to Kyoto, though. I guess the result would not be so surprising especially for people who have been to Japan. The two cities were always packed with tourists from overseas (before the COVID), but this fact may be surprising: Hokkaido (where we’re headquartered) is more popular with the Japanese people.

According to the Regional Brand Research where the 30000 questionnaire respondents are regionally-equally extracted in Japan, Hokkaido has been No.1 among 47 prefectures of Japan for 12 years since the beginning of the prefecture ranking. The top 3 cities of Hokkaido are Sapporo, Hakodate, and Otaru. They are always ranked in the top 10 of the city ranking.

Sapporo, the capital city of Hokkaido, is also famous as a place for test marketing where many businesses test pre-release products, because its age structure of population is almost the same as that of the whole country; it has no strong characteristics or specific tendency in culture; the people are considered to like new things. Maybe because Hokkaido doesn’t have a long history, different from other areas in the main land of Japan, Hokkaido people may be more likely to accept new things without any resistance, while being said to get bored of them easily. Sapporo indeed seems a good place for test marketing but a hard place for any businesses to survive long. We have our own furniture shops across Japan and keep two of them in Sapporo as well for some decades. Once the COVID is over, please come to the city more popular than Tokyo and Kyoto with the Japanese people, and visit our shops keeping exposed to the harsh evaluation of Sapporo people.


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/


Because It’s There


I often go to a hot spring place in a nearby town. On the way, there’s a collapsing amusement park “Canadian World.” I have a dim memory of seeing its TV commercials when I was a kid, but I’ve never been there. It must not be only me who have a doubt what this small local city has to do with Canada? According to my research, Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery is the theme of the park where the streetscape of Prince Edward Island is re-created so faithfully that the architectural plan was used when the original building of Green Gables caught fire in 1997. In spite of the high degree of completion, the park has never gained popularity and is going to collapse quietly.

Why was the theme Anne of Green Gables? It is said because the wife of the park owner liked the novel. When initially learning that, I remembered the story behind the development of SONY WALKMAN. Just before deciding the final specification, the product development team proposed to add a recording function, and the director in charge of WALKMAN turned down the proposition, saying such a modification would obscure the product concept and mislead the market. Consequently, his decision changed the times by sending the clear message to people “You can always bring music.” You may not believe it, but people believed music was something we enjoy at home with audio equipment. After WALKMAN, they came to listen to music outside with earphones, which was an epoch-making change.

The director of SONY understood simplicity, story, or conceptual necessity was much more important than function or convenience. We are basically lazy and likely to avoid things difficult to understand. Canadian World built by personal preference in the Japanese small local town without the remotest connection with Canada may be destined to collapse. On the contrary, we are so simple, and what we do is said to be a necessary consequence. We’re surrounded by the beautiful mountains of Hokkaido, and make wooden furniture sourced from the rich forests.


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/


Even Homer Often Nods


Coke VS Pepsi, this was a very important issue when I was a kid with a limited budget. In the early 1980’s PepsiCo launched a big marketing offensive, like aggressive comparative advertising, using Michael Jackson for advertising, etc. As that seemed to work well, I remember many forward kids switched from Coke to Pepsi. In 1985, in order to strike a blow back, Coca-Cola launched a long-awaited product after careful preliminary market research. It was a “New Coke” which is later judged to be the stuff of legend in the marketing field as the greatest failure of the century. Why did the failure happen? Was that failure to begin with?

On 23rd April 1985, Coca-Cola launched New Coke and withdrew the old Coke from store shelves. Consequently, all the Coca-Cola offices received endless calls of complaint, and some weeks later, they decided to return the old Coke to the market, giving a new name “Classic Coke.” If we only focus on this as a promotion for New Coke, the promotion is considered as the greatest failure of the century, but we should not overlook that the promotion triggered enthusiasm about the old Coke, so furious that many people made angry calls to Coca-Cola offices to get back the old Coke. Depending on the point of view, the promotion looks like a big success.

Donald Keough, then President of Coca-Cola, said “Some critics will say Coca-Cola made a marketing mistake. Some cynics will say that we planned the whole thing. The truth is we are not that dumb, and we are not that smart.” As he passed away some years ago, nobody knows the truth now, but what makes it clear is that it is almost impossible even for such a big company as Coca-Cola after careful preliminary market research to see through the result of new product sales. How could we do that better? From this view point, what we’ve been doing is not a bad move. Although that involves a risk of making many commercial flops, by rapidly and continuously developing products without preliminary market research, I think we can give the impression that we are a furniture manufacturer full of a fighting spirit and rapid product development ability, 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://pinckneymarketing.com/coke-vs-pepsi-rivalry/


Collective Genius


Japanese people really seem to like to pick up the top three of various categories, such as the world’s three major night views (Hong Kong, Monaco, Nagasaki). If it’s about architects, the top three are said to be Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Le Corbusier. We might like the number 3. Today, what I want to raise a question about is the three major heroes in the history. It is believed in Japan that they are Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, and Napoleone di Buonaparte. Don’t you think this is funny? Why is Alexander the Great not on the roster?

His life and adventure are full of excitement. I know he is sometimes criticized as a tyrant. Simply speaking, what he did is taking over the world without a special reason, which is not something praised based on modern values. Although knowing that in my head, I can’t help but get excited over the stories of his military expedition to the east. The secret of his strength is often explained in connection with the new and unusual tactics he created, such as the phalanx of heavy infantry, the operation of light infantry and cavalry as a set, etc. I always suspected, however, no one could have maintained an edge against competitors only with such new tricks because it’s only natural that competitors (like Persian army, in the case of Alexander) imitate them.

The biggest source of his strength, I personally believe, is the progressive logistics of his army. It’s not too much to say that logistics affect the outcomes of wars. In the case of Alexander, it was more than logistics. Even scholars in various fields accompanied his army, to say nothing of doctors. In other words, it’s not an outstanding talented leader and tough soldiers fighting in the front line but cooperation that counts in order for a team to survive in the harsh competition. I think the same can be said for us. In the beginning was the production of high-quality furniture, but without teamwork with other dedicated departments (including us, overseas sales team, of course) cultivated throughout the history of more than 50 years, the value of our quality products can’t reach the market correctly.


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.history.com/news/alexander-the-great-defeat-persian-empire


Nature Never Breaks Her Own Laws


When you can’t catch fish, think it gave you time to think about life. This quote is believed in Japan to be made by Ernest Hemingway, but as far as I searched, the author seems to be unknown. Does anybody know whose quote this is? Anyway, I often go fishing in the river but am not a serious angler. In most cases, telling the above quote to myself, I just stand by the river. When I daydream like that, another genius also comes up in my mind: Leonardo da Vinci. He was interested in and studied the flow of the river, and now is revered as a pioneer of fluid mechanics, completely different from me blankly staring at the river surface. You can see here what a big difference there is between genius and ordinary people.

Einstein said “Genius is the man of average ability who makes an effort.” It seems genius may not be able to see the desperate difference between them and us. Let’s return to the story of Leonardo. He, by the knowledge of fluid mechanics, presumed heart valves were opened and closed by the vortex of blood flow, which was later demonstrated by the 3D-model experiment of fluid mechanics. From the deep insights gained through nature observation like this, the genius said “Human subtlety will never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple, or more direct than does nature because in her inventions nothing is lacking, and nothing is superfluous.”

Wood has many kinds of figures, such as knags, burls, stripes, quilts, etc. They are unique, and no two are alike, different from human-made material. Our craftspeople are always planning out the ways of cutting wood, combining wood pieces, etc. to show wood figures as beautifully as possible, but some are favored and some are not. We hope people become more tolerant to accept them (including wooden furniture) as one of unique and beautiful inventions devised by 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://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02144-z


Spiritual Exercise and Discipline


The Tokyo Olympics 2020 was over. Japan finished in third place on the medal table, mainly due to the medal rush in Judo, Japan’s forte. Shohei Ohno, winning a gold medal in the 73 kg competition of Judo in this Olympics, has reminded me that Judo was not a sport before. He never raises his fist or even smiles after winning matches to show his respect and consideration to opponents. Do you know there’s another Japanese traditional martial art? It’s Kendo where people fight using bamboo swords. The number of Kendo players is much more than that of Judo in Japan, but it doesn’t become an Olympic sport. It is said that All Japan Kendo Federation is basically against it because they believe Kendo is not a sport but a way of life.

Another barrier that prevents Kendo from becoming an Olympic sport is said to be the complex rules that stem from its inherent spirit. For example, making a pose to express a joy after winning a match, like raising a cry or fist, is explicitly prohibited and judged as a loss. What would make Kendo more complex (and unique) is that players are required to pay respect to tools as well. The bamboo swords are made of multiple thin bamboo strips bundled by string. If the string gets loosen during a match, some points are possible to be deducted. The bamboo swords are regarded and treated as real swords, the soul of samurais, and it is strictly prohibited, even during practice, to step across them placed on the floor. Now, you see how it’s not a sport but a way of life.

In Japan, it has long been thought important or essential to pay respect to and take good care of tools in order to master something. The same is true for furniture manufacturing. In our factory every after a day’s work is finished, all the tools are put back to where they are, and our craftspeople clean and fix up the tools on their own time to time. I believe the same thing lies beneath even in manufacturing sites in Japan.


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://wattention.com/opinion-kendo-and-the-2020-tokyo-olympics/


All Talk No Action?


Have you ever watched “The Sting” one of the classic movies from Hollywood? I believe it’s a masterpiece of a con-game movie. If I were the gang boss tricked by Paul Newman and Robert Redford in the movie, I wouldn’t feel like getting revenge but would reward them for the well-thought lie, on the contrary. Mind you. It’s not because I’m generous with a big heart. I feel rather uncomfortable about obvious lies, believing most of us do, don’t we? Why do you think that is?

Let’s start by defining what a lie is. Imagine a case where a girl drifting to a deserted island talked aloud to herself “I’m having a date tonight!” Is this a lie? I don’t think so, though being concerned about her state of mind. Let me give you another example. We’ve learned from history that all the nations will perish sooner or later, but we give credit to government notes (paper money). Do we live on a spectacular lie? Don’t you think there’s something that matters more than whether it may or may not be true? The point is whether it inflicts a loss to others or not, and so, I guess we feel rather uncomfortable about obvious lies because feeling underestimated as easy targets.

ALP Sofa Bed by CondeHouse

As epidemic as the COVID in the market these days would be the eco words. Many of sales copies and taglines are colored by ostentatious words such as eco-friendly, SDGs, LOHAS, etc. To be honest, they sometimes get on my nerves. I don’t mean to condemn all of them are obvious lies, but can’t help feeling a little skeptical because we’ve learned through real business situations how hard it is to simultaneously pursue both environmental protection and economic benefit. For example, in order to decrease the waste volumes of materials like wood and leather, we’ve started to use them to the last small piece by patching them up. Do you think that’s better economically as well? No way! That’s more costly due to more processing time. Making matters worse, we’re facing with some complaints from the market: “Patches make furniture look cheaper.” “Why not give more discount?” I know it’s important to put an ideal into words because we are bound by words, but I still have a little doubt if such many businesses (with ostentatious company missions) are brave enough to go through this thorny path.


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://earth.org/sustainable-business-the-green-and-the-greenwash/


Not by Bread Alone


I went to the seaside to fish last week, passing by many electric signboards on the road saying “Let’s avoid non-essential outings!” I know fishing is definitely thought to be a non-essential activity. As I may sound like trying to justify myself, let me say. What would be left in us if all the non-essential activities are taken away? Only by eating, excreting, and sleeping, we can keep our hearts beating, but I think we will be dead inside. Work seems to be believed to be essential, but actually is essential only for each of us to make a living. As we’ve seen so far, the world kept moving around even when most of us stayed at home. What makes us human is non-essential things, I believe.

IKEA is the biggest furniture company in the world, though it has been struggling in the Japanese market. One of the obstacles for IKEA to enter the Japanese market would be NITORI, the biggest Japanese furniture company, with about 600 directly owned stores, increasing in sales and profits for more than 30 years. We could be said to be competitors in the broad sense that both NITORI and us are furniture suppliers, though I think we are too small and beneath their notice. From a customer’s view point, I can’t help admiring them. When I moved around a lot for work, I always went to their stores where I could get everything I needed to start a new life in a new place.

Focusing only on if it’s essential or not, we have no other choice but to conclude that such discount giants win. They are necessary and sufficient, and our products would be excessive in quality, design, etc., but again, let me tell you. We and our lives consist mainly of non-essential, vague, and emotional factors. I believe people still need our furniture in order to be alive inside 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://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/20/t-magazine/museums-galleries-open-art.html


Life in a Human Manner


The COVID is sometimes called “a time machine.” Remote work is a good example. I think most of the companies at least in Japan just pretended to take a positive attitude but actually were not so serious about it before the COVID. In the peak season of 2020, however, the proportion of companies adopting remote work exceeded 50%. The time seems to change quickly and greatly. Do you think things will go back to the way we used to be? I don’t think so, especially about this issue, because many people have tasted the comfort to avoid personal relationship problems. Due to the rapid rise of the online communication, we can easily communicate with people who we like and also avoid communication with people who we dislike, which I think would be the most harmful side-effect of this time machine.

In Japan, it was common to drink with colleagues after work. I didn’t personally like it very much but still believe it’s an important chance to communicate with people who aren’t familiar with each other, and people with different beliefs or of different generations. You may think it’s just a waste of time, but I think it’s a necessary cost to maintain public order because lack of communication often creates a social division. For example, there’re growing calls to obligate elderly drivers to give up their licenses, though young drivers like in their 20’s or 30’s have killed much more people in car accidents, according to the stats. I’m worried if the same thing (division) will happen between countries.

On the other hand, in our company, we are free of remote work due to the characteristics of this business (furniture manufacturing), still working on-site together with young and old, regardless of nationality in my division. I don’t mean our work place is an ideal world where everyone gets along well with each other. There are always personal relationship problems, of course. We face and solve them to unite above our conflicts and disputes. Please come and see our factory soon after the COVID is over. You can see not only high-level production but also life in a human manner.


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/future/article/20200331-covid-19-how-will-the-coronavirus-change-the-world