Art of Ninja


I have a 12 year younger sister. When she was very small, I asked “What is your brother like?” She lisped “You like to eat tofu.” I know she was not wrong. Indeed, I like tofu even now, but her answer was far from what I expected at that time. Feeling disappointed, I thought by myself who I was, and realized it was very difficult to define myself. For the same reason, most people can’t see their own countries and cultures, but multi-lingual speakers are better at it because language creates culture, and vice versa. Today, let me share cultural differences and Japanese uniqueness found especially by a Japanese-English speaker.

When working as a translator, onomatopée was always headache. Japanese language is said to have the largest number of onomatopée in the world. Making matters worse, there’s onomatopée to express even silence, though I know the sentence is logically inconsistent. It seems we Japanese can hear the sound of silence. There’s another example to show our uniqueness in a sense of sound. A Japanese professor visited Cuba for a medical conference. When someone threw a presentation, he couldn’t focus because the sound of insects was too loud. He got interested and asked a man sitting next to him about the insects, but the man answered he didn’t hear anything.

The professor became more curious, started studying his experience once coming back from Cuba, and found only Japanese and Polynesian people perceived the sound of insects as language in the left hemisphere. On the other than hand, the sound of insects is perceived as a sound in the right hemisphere by the other people, and they subconsciously cut off such a continuous sound as noise. This is the reason why the man sitting next to the professor didn’t even notice the sound of insects. His further study reveals that the difference is caused not by race but by language, and that this unique ability inheres in anyone grown up in Japanese-speaking environments as a mother tongue. The article didn’t explain how Japanese language worked, but I hit upon the idea that we, Japanese furniture manufacturers, may be able to hear better the voice of trees 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://kokoro-jp.com/culture/1293/


Manifesto of Eco-friendliness


Did you know that many brands changed their logos lately? Such as BMW, VW, and Nissan in the automotive industry, for example. It is the mainstream to make it simpler. Speaking of simplification, the most famous example would be Starbucks. When the brand was launched, the scales of the mermaid were depicted one by one. Now, the scales were abstracted into wavy lines, and even the brand name was removed. One of the reasons for the simplification trend is said to be a reaction against the old days when companies tried to dress them up with ornate and decorative logos. Now, the simpler the better?

Another reason for the simplification trend, which is considered as the biggest one, is good visibility in digital devices. This sounds also reasonable because most people access information mainly from their digital devices, but doesn’t always work. The famous failure case is the logo change of Tropicana. By simplifying the original logotype in a tropical style and also the original symbol mark (the orange with the straw), their advantage (the brand image of freshness, 100%, etc.) was lost. The sales dropped by 20%, and Tropicana decided to return to its original logo only in one month. The point seems to be if a logo change has a focused intention or not.

Now, some of you who know our logo change made recently may be a bit worried about us, assuming we’ve just followed the trend. Of course, it’s the market that will finally judge if it is accepted or not, but there is a focused intention in our logo change, at least. The old one (each serif-font letter in a red box) was developed when we decided to expand our business into the US market. The red color comes from the Japanese national flag. It was a kind of manifesto: “From Japan into the world market” Even now, it’s still one of our important goals to become an international brand, but nowadays, another one emerges as more important: eco-friendliness. It is a natural consequence for us, a wooden furniture manufacturer, using a gift from the forest. The new company color (deep green) expresses the forest around the company in Hokkaido, and the symbol mark is an oak tree composed of C and H, the initial letters of Conde House, we hoping you will like it!


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


No Reason to like It


Do you think you always have a rational reason or clear preference when choosing your actions? I’m in charge of sales, and so, always expected to explain the reasons why we recommend our furniture, and to convince people with the benefits our furniture can bring to them, such as comfortability, design, etc. This blog is a prime example. I struggle night and day (a little exaggerating though) with creating new content, and with how to lead all the stories to the conclusion of our brand promotion. Asking to myself again and again “Why our brand?” in order to squeeze out subjects, I’ve finally arrived at this ultimate question: Do we need reasons or preferences to decide our actions in the first place?

This time, a genius who helped me is Petter Johansson, an experimental psychologist. In his TED speech, he said none of us understand the real reasons for our actions, giving an interesting experiment result. First, he shows two face photos to test-subjects, and secondly asks each of them to choose one of the photos and to explain why the chosen one looks more attractive. When making an explanation, the subjects in their hands had the other photo they didn’t choose, by Petter’s good card handling directed by a magician. Surprisingly enough, more than 80% of the subjects didn’t notice the photo switch, and spouted how attractive the face photo they didn’t choose was.

Another experiment he had done also confirmed the same reactions even in more complex questions such as ethics, politics, etc. Petter concludes all the reasons for our actions are made in hindsight, going further that reasons for actions are just created when asked. The closing words of his speech are: Know that you don’t know yourself, but the genius is not negative at all about the human characteristics shown in the experiment result, saying it can be positively interpreted we are flexible. In my stretched interpretation, we don’t have to care so much about the reasons for our actions, and so, you might as well add our brand to your favorite by the only reason that you’ve read this to the end.


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.goalcast.com/2017/05/05/know-thyself-why-self-awareness-is-the-starting-point-for-your-goals/

Better than Chanel No.5


One day at a restaurant with my wife, I was finishing off lunch with crème brulee, a kind of custard pudding. Soon after taking a bite, sweet and sour taste spread in my mouth. Nodding knowingly, I said “Lemon is doing its magic.” My wife, saying “What! There’s no way that lemon is used in crème brulee,” twitched and smelled it, and her judge was “Are you OK? It’s just gone bad.” I don’t mean to make an excuse, but our smelling sense has been most degrading among human five senses. Once human beings had more than 800 olfactory receptors, but now, the number is only less than 400. In exchange for that, we’ve got eyesight much better than other animals, though.

About 200 million years ago, in order to avoid dinosaurs, mammals are thought to be active at night, and accordingly, a sense of smell was most important for them to move in the dark. After the extinction of dinosaurs, mammals advanced into the world in the sunlight, and especially human beings had evolved its visual sense. It is said that we obtain 80% of information input from vision. Inversely with the improvement of visual sense, our smelling sense has been degrading but is still necessary and special. It acts directly on emotions and memories while other four senses work to form a rational judgement.

Handcrafted furniture by Conde House.

Indeed, I often feel like smells trigger some memories or emotions. It can be said that a sense of smell is most likely to cause psychological reactions, like aromatherapy does. The reaction is not a judge of good or bad, but a gut feeling of like or dislike. As far as I remember, most of our likes and dislikes in smell are formed by the age of about three years, but I believe most people like the smell of wood, right? It always reminds me of a sauna, by the way. In addition, some medical reports are saying it actually has some good effects of relaxation, bringing down blood pressure, boosting immunity, etc. There’s no reason not to buy our furniture made of special wood in Hokkaido!


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.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/5/11/15614748/human-smell-good-science


What Created Godzilla


Nissan GT-R (R32), Mercedes Benz 500E. These monster cars were born in around the same time (around 1990). When I was a teenager, my friend’s father owned them both, and they sometimes gave me a drive. I will never forget the impression I had when riding in the cars for the first time. The start-dash of GT-R was just violent, though it was not normal but souped-up to more than 700 HP. I felt like being in a vault when riding in 500E. As it may sound like nostalgia from an old-timer, I don’t think such legendary cars will never be made again. Indeed, car makers could spend more budget on product development, and legal restrictions (crash safety, environmental conservation, etc) were much less in 90’s. I know social conditions have changed a lot since then, but the root of the reason why I’m dissatisfied lies somewhere else.

Lexus is now popular anywhere in the world. Mazda, saved from bankruptcy by Ford in 90’s, has increased sales especially in the overseas markets. In order to leave an impression on people’s memories, recently their cars have common design motifs, such as the spindle-shaped front grill incorporated in all the Lexus cars. The grill shape stems from the history that Toyota started their business as a loom company, by the way. They are often cited as successful examples of branding. Consequently, all the models look almost the same, and streetscapes become featureless. As the accuracy of market surveys and analysis is improved, we are more likely to be led to safe and moderate (sometimes boring) options.

Mr. Yamaguchi making the Ippongi Table

GT-R was developed to win the Japan’s top motor racing series at that time, and 500E was a result of just pursuing the slogan of Mercedes Benz: “The best or nothing.” If thinking about it rationally from the marketing perspective, they might not have put such cars on the market. I feel like there was more room for pathos or passion in product development. Once, I bothered the immediate past chairman with a large number of questions about the marketing strategy of a new product. He answered “There’s no such thing this time. I gave a go because it looked technically challenging. We (the management) have to be considerate to the emotional aspect of the production team as well in order to keep up their morale.” Some of our products may end up in commercial failure, but I believe we can keep on developing new passionate products.


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://hypebeast.com/2020/6/nissan-skyline-gtr-history-car-drivers-ed-guide-information


The Revelation of the Pyramids


It only took 20 years to make the pyramid of King Khufu by using many slaves. Is there anyone who still believes all this? Some decades ago, the Japanese biggest construction company (Obayashi Corporation) seriously calculated and estimated it would take 5 years even if they tried with all their resources without limitation. I always thought the above legend of the pyramid construction would be too short time for people from about 4500 years ago without heavy machines and too high-quality for low-morale workforces like slaves. In my opinion, the construction of the pyramids would be a super-long-term public project to create employment and to enhance the national prestige, though it’s not my own unique view but becomes one of the common theories these days.

Have you ever watched the movie “The Revelation of the Pyramids?” Actually, it’s not a movie about pyramids but about environmental issues. In the structure of the pyramids, can be seen many signs suggesting advanced geometry, astronomy, etc. Many people (even researchers) couldn’t believe such advanced knowledge and skills existed 4500 years ago, and had been only saying “That’s a coincidence.” On the other hand, the movie logically proclaims the pyramids are evidence proving that there was a super-advanced civilization, and that catastrophes (natural disasters) completely destroyed it. I realized again how difficult it is to hand over tradition.

BARCA Lounge Chair

The most popular shrine in Japan is said to be built about 2000 years ago, and is completely torn down and re-built every 20 years, even now. As evident from the fact that Horyu-ji temple, the world’s oldest existing wooden building, was built about 1500 years ago, it’s not because of a structural problem but to preserve traditional building skills. Ancient wisdom knows it’s very costly to take back what we’ve lost, as shown in our much ado about the pyramids. Fortunately, the Japanese traditional woodworking skills are still inherited in the series of shrine rebuilding, and I believe you can see some of them in our products.


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.thetimes.co.uk/article/lost-giza-pyramid-treasure-found-in-cigar-box-in-aberdeen-archive-kz2mj6t9l


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


Japan Blue


Indigo is a dye extracted from a plant. As Jeans may be a synonym for indigo, it was once used to dye fabric all over the world, not only in Japan. You may think most of the jeans are still dyed in indigo blue. Nowadays, in most cases, it’s an artificial dye because natural indigo is difficult to handle. It requires a delicate adjustment according to the day’s temperature, moisture, etc. In exchange for the difficulty, it provides more beautiful and deeper coloring.

Japan blue. Some of you may have heard this color name because it’s the signature color of the Tokyo Olympic Games. Having studied the origin of the name, I’ve learned it is Robert William Atkinson, a British chemist who named it. He was invited to Japan by the Japanese Government in 1875, and wrote in his book he had seen so many people wearing in indigo blue across Japan. Indeed, ordinary people’s outfits of the time were commonly dyed with indigo due to its antibacterial characteristics required especially for work clothes. The proportion of farmers at that time is said to be about 85%. I assume Japan would look like being wholly dyed in indigo blue to him.

Jeans are originated in the US and have spread throughout the world. Even now, the US market is biggest, and the Japanese market is less than one eighth of it. To tell the truth, I’m not interested in jeans at all, and didn’t know that Japanese jeans were popular internationally for its high quality, in spite of such a small market size. Most of Japanese jeans makers still use natural indigo to dye their denim. Our Singaporean dealer has insisted we should collaborate with a Japanese jeans maker, saying there will be a synergy effect because we have a common root: Japanese craftsmanship. I gave it a try and asked some Japanese jeans makers. Surprisingly enough, one of the most popular makers accepted the offer. It’s “Japan Blue.” Now, you can order our furniture upholstered with Japan blue denim by a Japanese top jeans maker. It’s denim developed for furniture, and you don’t need to worry about fading. There’s no reason not to buy it!


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/travel/2019/sep/24/jean-genius-how-kojima-became-japans-denim-mecca


Speed or Quality


Leap before you look. Haste makes waste. These are ancient proverbs, meaning opposite to each other. It seems a speed-or-quality issue has been long bothering human beings, but nowadays, speed appears dominant, maybe because of the rapid change of the times. Mark Zuckerberg, the star of the digital era, well expressed the priority of the present-day business, “Done is better than perfect.” I’m always in haste like the devil, but am not going to deny the spirit of painstaking and slow work. I don’t think speed and quality are necessarily trade-off concepts.

In short, I think it’s a matter of conditions. For example, if it’s a free meal at a five star restaurant, I could wait in a line even outside under cold weather for more than two hours, but I’m sure I couldn’t if I have to pay out of my pocket. This controversy of speed and quality couldn’t be less of an issue only if we mutually pre-determine a minimum acceptable quality and longest acceptable waiting time. In the current era of accelerating change, it’s certain that speed gets more prioritized than before, though. Generally, Japanese organizations take longer to make decisions, which I’ve keenly felt in international business. I’ve been always annoyed by the tradition, but at the same time learned there’s something that can’t be sacrificed even for speed.

Ippongi Solid Wood Table (Photo Credit: mizuaki wakahara)

Among our product lineup, there’s a unique table collection. In the process of order placement for the collection, customers are supposed to select lumber boards for their table tops, to begin with. Basically, the table tops are not shaped into a square, but the shape of the edges is left as is: the outline of a tree trunk. Wood is natural material, with no two exactly the same in shape, color, character, etc. This is what makes this collection special and popular, and makes our craftspeople so nervous. The chief in charge of the collection says “I always feel anxious, worried if I’ve done anything wrong, if everything goes in order, etc. because mistakes are never allowed. I measure more than three times, cut once.” By such reason, we appreciate your kind patience for this table collection, IPPONGI.


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://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/japan-fastest-bullet-train-alfax-scli-intl/index.html

Small Businesses Are Endangered in Japan


In Japan, most of the small and medium enterprises (SME) like us may disappear in the near future. According to the definition of the SME Basic Act, SME are companies of which capital is less than 300 million JPY or of which number of employees is less than 300. In terms of number, 99.7% of the companies in Japan are SME. Soon after the change of government last year, the current prime minister organized an advisory board, and has implemented economic policies based on the advice of the board. The board members always treat SME like an enemy, on the ground that SME is the main cause of low productivity, though I strongly object to it.

They always bring up a gap in wages in order to substantiate the low productivity of SME. I admit there’s a wage gap by company size, but I think the cause and effect are reversed in their argument. Large companies in a better position in competition earn more money and pay more salaries to their employees, which makes them look better in productivity. I’ve worked before for large companies, and am sure SME are more desperate to increase productivity because it’s a more serious life-or-death issue for SME.

The same as many other Japanese makers, Conde House has an improvement proposal scheme where more than 1000 improvement proposals are submitted by employees annually. The white holders for electric drills in the above image are hair dryer holders sold at one-dollar stores. The woman in charge of upholstery came up with this idea during shopping. Indeed, some incentives are offered for good proposals, but this case tells us proposing improvement is something more primitive or voluntary for them. She always placed electric drills on the platform on her left side. The improvement has reduced time and labor of switching hands. I know the case is not a big one, but you can see how serious we are about improving productivity. Such continuous efforts by our craftspeople to reduce costs without reducing quality have made what we are, but SME including us are flickering in the wind of unjust criticism by the government advisory board.


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.nippon.com/en/japan-data/h00798/