The Laws of Nature


The “wood shock” has still cast a big shadow over our industry. As many of you know, it’s one of the social problems caused by the COVID. As more people tend to work remotely at home, the demand of housing and renovation rises abruptly. The trend is so abrupt that the supply of wood can’t keep up, and accordingly, the price of wood is going up sky-high. This knockabout reminds us of a simple and powerful truth: we are still dependent a lot on this old material (wood), even in the time when carbon, rare metals, nanofibers, etc. are hailed as future materials.

Another thing coming up to my mind during the wood shock is the Epic of Gilgamesh. It is the oldest epic prepared in Mesopotamia about 5000 years ago. King Gilgamesh went to the forest of Lebanon cedar to cut down the trees to develop a city. Humbaba, the deity of the forest got furious and attacked the king to protect Lebanon cedar, but was killed in the fight. This epic is thought to be the metaphor that Mesopotamian people chose to conquer and destroy nature for civilization. As a result, most of the beautiful Lebanon cedar were lost, and Mesopotamia finally collapsed.

Crust – Stool, High Stool, Table 80×42 (Japanese Oak)

On the other hand, woodland deities still survive in Japan, in Japanese people’s minds, to be more precise, as evidenced by the fact that illegal dumping in forest is prevented only by making small shrine gates. You can see the fake gates everywhere in hidden places in Japan, such as forest, riverbeds, lonely road side, etc. where illegal dumping is highly likely to occur. In these few years, we’re using, for our furniture, more and more Hokkaido oak and ash cut out from the forest around us, which enables us to survive in the harsh competition for little-remaining wood. Hokkaido oak and ash are strong in character (clearer grains and more knags) and a little thinner, but we hope people will enjoy our furniture made of them as such. We shouldn’t even try to conquer nature but should appreciate the blessings of 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://lithub.com/who-were-the-scribes-who-actually-wrote-down-the-epic-of-gilgamesh/


Japanese Mecca of Wooden Furniture


Did you know Haagen-Dazs was originated in the US? I thought it came from somewhere in North Europe, which, I assume, would be exactly what the brand founder intended. Let me tell you another example. In Japan, canned coffee is one of the profitable items in the canned-drink market. A Japanese beverage company launched a canned coffee named with “WEST” about 20 years ago, but it didn’t sell at all. They just changed the name to “BOSS,” and it became a big hit and still sells very well. The lesson we can learn here is names are important, sometimes more important than the contents.

In that sense, the name of our hometown (ASAHIKAWA) is at a disadvantage outside Japan because it’s not easy for non-Japanese people to pronounce. In fact, even most of our overseas business partners may not remember the name correctly, I guess. Today, I’d like to show some images (related to the furniture industry) to promote ASAHIKAWA, the Japanese mecca of wooden furniture.

Kagu Lounge at Asahikawa Station

Photo Credit: Kagu Lounge at Asahikawa Station

Asahikawa Design Center

Photo Credit: Asahikawa Design Center


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/


Leather VS Alcantara (Ultrasuede)


When the nobility used to use a horse carriage, the coachman seat was upholstered with leather; the passenger seat inside the coach with fabric. In the modern period when the main means of transportation was replaced by cars, the situation changed 180 degrees. Genuine leather is thought to be standard for luxury car seats across the world. I think the only option alternative to genuine leather would be Alcantara. It’s highly coveted by car lovers (especially Ferrari fans), a synonym for luxury artificial leather. Alcantara is a name of a brand and also a company in Italy that is a joint venture with a Japanese major chemical company, TORAY. The artificial leather was invented by a Japanese scientist.

Some people may be likely to avoid it just by hearing the word “artificial,” but Alcantara looks and feels real suede leather. You can see how it looks by googling with words “Ferrari” and “Alcantara.” In fact, whether it is fake or genuine is not the issue at least for car lovers because it has already been a brand. There have been some cars even sold labeled as something like “Alcantara Edition.” Still, some people may have a feeling of dislike only because it’s artificial. Indeed, it’s made of polyester and polyurethane, but most of them have already been produced from renewable biomaterials. Compared with genuine leather of which production (especially in the tanning process) puts a heavy burden on the environment, Alcantara can be said to be more eco-friendly.

TORAY itself produces the same artificial leather in Japan under a different brand, “Ultrasuede” that is one of our fabric collections. We have only 3 colors in our catalog, but that means we always have those three colors in stock. You can choose your favorite color from more than 80 standard colors of Ultrasuede, wider color variation than all of our leather collections. By upholstering our chairs with Ultrasuede, you can get a luxury feeling like being seated in Ferrari, Maserati, etc. in an eco-friendly way.


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/


New Japanese Office Environment


Do we still need an office? This discussion gets lively everywhere because remote work becomes common due to the COVID. The anti-office people are arguing there’re many advantages: productivity improvement by concentration improvement; more effective use of time by no commuting; stress-free from relationships at work. Before the COVID, I had a lot of business trips and was rarely in the office. Funnily enough, I once worked remotely but now work here in the office, against the times. Let me share what I, unfamiliar with working in the office for a long time, think about the discussion.

In the first place, I think I should explain something more about the basic rules of Japanese offices. Executive desks are positioned at the window, closely facing to their team members. Private rooms are rare, only permitted for big bosses if space permits. Partitions are put in between desks, but they are too small to protect privacy. It can be said to be an open-space community, to put it better; a prison under mutual surveillance, in reality. I may sound like having trouble in relationships at work, but it’s not the point here. Japanese offices are full of distractions. Picture that—the phone is always ringing somewhere; people are talking loudly around your desk; someone even talks to you by throwing a meaningless question “Do you have a minute?” It never ends in a minute, and our minute has already started to be wasted to answer the question.

Having complained a lot about working in the office, I didn’t mean to completely deny it. During the COVID, I’m keenly aware of the importance of human relationships with others. Loneliness is a deadly disease, which leads me to the conclusion: we need to work in the office in order to avoid loneliness, but keeping a reasonable distance between colleagues is important for a good office environment. Today, I have a good solution for you. The above images are of our Tokyo office. My favorite part is its diversity: you can be alone and absorb yourself in something in the semi-private areas with some partitions; you can communicate closely with colleagues in the other areas when feeling lonely to death. The problem is the headquarters office where I’m working is a typical Japanese office, totally different from the Tokyo office.


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.bulsuk.com/2016/05/working-for-japanese-company-challenges.html


Ideal Born in Despair


At the moment, I was in the middle of Tokyo and thought I was going to die, staring out a window street lamp posts widely swinging like a metronome needle in a slow tempo. After the quake subsided, someone turned on the TV, and we just uselessly watched everything was swept away by the tsunami. This is about the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake, exactly 10 years ago. As most of you may still remember, the real nightmare came after the quake: the melt down of the nuclear power plant (NPP) destroyed by the tsunami. Even though we somehow survived through hell with support from all over the world, the current Prime Minister, in his policy speech last October, declared to build new NPPs, to my disappointment.

According to the latest public opinion survey made by Japan’s public broadcasting station last December, 50% of the public are against building additional NPPs. It seems like democracies are dying. Pro-NPP people always attack opposition people like me, by saying “Think realistically. Do you want to go back to primitive times?” I want to say exactly the same words back to the pro-NPP people. After the earthquake, from September 2013 to August 2015, all the NPPs in Japan had been shut down, but there was no opportunity where we needed to light a fire with a flint. The pro-NPP people have alleged it must have increased environmental burdens, but it actually didn’t by saving power and using more renewable energy.

First of all, I hate the words “Be realistic.” If wanting to change the world better, we should be idealistic and struggle to make reality close to ideal even a little. Especially leaders like Prime Minister must be idealists (leaving realism to staff officers). In a sense, the management of CondeHouse is worthy of praise because they have decided to hold up the ideal of being a real ecofriendly company. Since the time of establishment, CondeHouse has been an environmentally conscious company. They will expand and deepen their identity further. Some of the concrete measures may not look advantageous directly to customers. More to the point, the new trial would not be very marketable in the short term. May the force be with idealists.


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://asiasociety.org/new-york/events/fukushima-disaster-10-years-lessons-never-forget

How to Survive Meetings


You won’t read to the end of this article because the average human attention span is down to only eight seconds (one second shorter than that of goldfish). I remember I read many articles starting with this kind of sentence when the survey result was released some years ago. Today, it’s not about human attention span but about meetings that I hate. I don’t mean I hate unproductive meetings, but mean that meetings themselves are basically unproductive. As a hardship destined for workers in Japan, I’ve endured a lot of meetings. It is not only meetings themselves that distress us. We spend a lot of time to prepare meeting materials. What is even worse, a preparatory meeting is sometimes held for a meeting. Some may refute me by saying “it’s a matter of your way of meetings.” Yes, they may be right. We should limit meeting time to eight seconds for productivity.

Of course, holding a meeting within eight seconds is just an extreme argument, but time consciousness is important. The major purpose of a meeting is consensus-building which would not be realized without attendees’ attention. Once I thought only Japanese workers must be victimized at many meetings, but later learned the same tragedies were happening all over the world. It is Sarah Cooper who told me how to survive meetings. Her article “10 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings” is really encouraging by telling me “You are not alone,” though the question remains: why has this problem not been solved yet?

Wing Armchair (Left) Splinter Armchair (Right)

Unfortunately, CondeHouse, like many other companies, has a lot of meetings, too many from my point of view. Most of the meetings are set to 30 minutes, which I think is good, but they are likely to be longer. In such a prolonged meeting, her trick No.4: “Nod continuously while pretending to take notes” is recommended, by the way. Having said that, I think we’re still lucky because we’re a furniture manufacturer. All of our meeting rooms are equipped with our comfort tables and chairs. The same as the 10 tricks, they could help you at meetings. Why don’t you buy some for your meeting rooms? In that case, you will have to be careful not to fall asleep, though.


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.redbull.com/us-en/theredbulletin/appear-smart-in-meetings-without-really-trying

Melancholy About 3D Printing Technology


We are headquartered in Hokkaido, the northern most area of Japan, which is still the kingdom of brown bears. When I was a kid, my father often took me to rivers deep in the mountains to fish, always exploding firecrackers to avoid bears. He told me “When you encounter a bear, don’t run, act dead.” It’s a kind of superstition widely believed here, but I have always doubted, saying to myself “How do we know that’s right? We can’t listen to people who failed.” Later on, I learned it was survivorship bias: the reason why autobiographical books of successful people are good for nothing in most cases. Survivors survive because they happen to survive.

As this may sound a little strange, removal building sites remind me of people who acted dead but were killed by bears, though I don’t know if such people actually existed or not. In order to enjoy commuting even if a little, I make it a rule to try to find something new, something that I hadn’t noticed until the day before. Although I always pay attention to the scenery on the commuting route like this, I forget removed buildings so quickly, sometimes can’t even remember what was there. To put it simply, they make me remember the harsh reality: the world exists for survivors.

There are many things disappearing with the times from the market: rotary dial phones, VHS video tapes, etc. In addition to ones in our memories, there should be something more that we can’t even remember. Since around 2015, we have often heard the news about the technological progress of 3D printers. Now that they can make most of the organs and also buildings, why not furniture? From the perspective of a general consumer, I was just excited by the news of the world’s largest 3D printed building in Dubai in 2019, for example. As a member of a furniture manufacturer, I can’t help but feel a little negative about the future outlook of our business, just hoping some of our products will at least remain in people’s memory.


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.theguardian.com/world/2016/jun/13/warning-four-killed-bear-attacks-akita-japan


Buy Less, Choose Well, Make It Last


The political turmoil over the US presidential election seems to have settled down, but there still have been a lot of related news where I found a name that hasn’t been seen for a year or two. It’s Greta Thunberg. I didn’t mean to discuss the rights and wrongs of her words and actions. Her speech at the UN Climate Action Summit 2019 made her world-famous. To be honest, my inner reaction left a strong impression on me, rather than the speech itself. At that time, I listened to her speech on the part of people who are criticized and responsible to the environmental problems she posed. I’ve finally realized I become an adult, though it’s too late for my age.

In my youth, the same as many other people, I was defiant and ambitious enough to fantasize to change the existing world order. If I had seen someone raising a battle cry like Greta at that time, I would have conformed to the opinion without pretense. It’s not like young people are narrow-minded or naïve. My point is there is a big difference in the roles of human ecosystem between youths and adults. Youths are supposed to insist to change the existing order. No one would be happy to be criticized, but it’s the crucial role of adults to be challenged by youths. At least by thinking that way, I believe we can be calm and have more constructive discussion.

Conde House tree planting held annually by the employees and their families.

I assume another reason why many adults have been reacting against Greta would be due to psychological reactance. You have talked back to your parents “I was just about to do it!” haven’t you? That’s psychological reactance. In other words, most of us have already understood and agreed we should do something to protect the environment. In addition, major global companies and institutional investors smell the money in the environmental business. For CondeHouse, environmental protection is a fundamental issue because we’re a part of the forest industry. The company has carried out environmental protection measures for years, such as tree planting, no-use of petroleum fuel for heating, installation of solar panels, etc. Let me wrap up this article with the quote of Vivian Westwood, a little revised though. Buy less, choose us, and make it last.


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://home.bt.com/news/showbiz-news/dame-vivienne-westwood-greta-thunberg-would-be-great-as-world-controller-11364385821761