Something More Important Than Survival


Do you know the TV program “What would you do?” (WWYD for short) from the US? It’s a situational hidden-camera program starting from 2008. I really like it. Such programs are common even in Japan, but their contents are much lower in quality. Japanese poor ones just make fun of people by setting some embarrassing situations. They’re similar to “Just for laughs.” I found them fun at first but was soon tired. On the other hand, WWYD cuts to the core of social problems such as discrimination, poverty, etc. to show both dark and bright sides of human nature. People’s goodness stands out more by bringing to light the darkness in our hearts at the same time. Today, I’m writing about our conscience as a manufacturer. Please watch WWYD before going on reading, so that this article can sound more convincing.

The market in every sector has been polarized into high- and low-end products lately. For example, in the fashion industry, LVMH (Louis Vuitton) and UNIQLO lead the market. The situation is the same in the furniture industry. Super-luxury Italian brands and IKEA predominate, while we, a brand in the middle-high range, are facing an uphill battle in the shrinking market. Should we raise our price range and try to enter the super-luxury market in order to survive?

Splinter Armchair by CondeHouse

Once, I suggested to then-chairman to develop something super-luxury, innocently saying “Why don’t we try to make something without budget constraint? I want to see how it’ll turn out.” He wryly answered “I know the polarization of the market but don’t think that’s what we should do: making furniture only for rich people, furniture so expensive that even our employees can’t afford. Our mission is providing good furniture to many ordinary people at a price that they can afford (by overreaching a little bit in some cases).” The words might just sound like a platitude, but goodness is surely one of our true colors as WWYD shows. I believe we wouldn’t deserve to survive in the market if we couldn’t ever have such a conscience.


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://ethics.org.au/ethics-explainer-conscience/


Therapy Cheaper Than Camping


Soon after graduating from college, I joined the Japan Air Self-Defense Force. Even though it’s an air force, new recruits are trained in a field exercise. I still clearly remember the strong smell of grass and trees that clung to me when ambushing in a thick forest, excitement when making a fire (mainly because of hunger pains), the sound of rain on the tent, beautiful sunrise in morning mist (after not sleeping a wink all night, though), etc. They are probably what many people expect for a camp that becomes more and more popular in Japan. Me? No way. I was already camped out but am interested in why people do camping, going so far as spending a lot of money for camping gear.

We, human beings, have been keeping on making new inventions for convenience, in order to make our lives easy. Even if you’ve never camped, you can imagine how troublesome camping is, can’t you? We are basically lazy, so lazy that marketers (including me) have to struggle all the time to provide an incentive for people to make actions, even small ones like making a click. Why camping? People who like camping will say “It’s for extraordinary experiences,” but what people actually do in camping are boiled down to super-ordinary things: preparing meal, eating, clearing up after meal, and sleeping. I know it’s important to do such everyday routines in nature, and so, the next question is why and how nature works on our mind.

Today, in order to promote our furniture, let me focus on two reasons: the 1/F fluctuation and phytoncide. The 1/F fluctuation is information or rhythm we perceive through the five physical senses. It is thought to work for relaxation and mental stability and to exist a lot in nature, like in the murmuring of streams, the rustle of grass and leaves, the sunlight filtering through trees, etc. In addition, you can see it in the grain of wood. The phytoncide is a volatile chemical diffused from plants (mainly from trees), which has the effect of killing bacteria and relaxing people. In a sense, you may be able to get the same benefit without going to the trouble of camping if you get our wooden furniture.


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.tokyoweekender.com/2018/09/what-is-forest-bathing-and-can-it-really-help-heal-us/ , @niceviewtokoro

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/


Why Expensive Goods Look Expensive


Why do expensive goods look expensive, and vice versa in most cases? Or are we just hypnotized into believing so by high price tags or brand names? As writing here sometimes, I’m not interested in buying and owning material things, but in investing, strangely enough. My main battlefield is the stock market, but once I researched “watch investment” to learn and be surprised at the price of super expensive watches, such as Patek Philippe, Richard Mille, etc. Some of them are priced more than several million dollars. Of course, I immediately understood I was out of place, though. Today, I didn’t mean to raise the question whether the price of such super luxury things is appropriate or not. My interest developed at that time was discovering the factors that make things look the part.

Even before making the research on watch investment, I had a decent knowledge about some famous watch brands, such as Rolex, Omega, etc., but, to be honest, I can’t tell the difference from their appearance between luxury and ordinary watches. If their brand names are not printed on the watch face, I’m sure they all will look the same to me. This may not be only due to my ignorance or lack of interest. For example, I’ve been playing the guitar for about 25 years, but can’t tell the price difference of guitars above a certain level. Even to me, however, the super expensive watches looked different, really expensive. I suppose it’s because I was able to see the watches obviously require a lot of time and effort to produce. As you can see in the above image, it’s like a very example of high-precision processed products.

Although writing ignorance or indifference should not be blamed, I have to admit a certain level of knowledge may be sometimes required. In summary, the reason why expensive goods look expensive is they have an appearance to obviously make people guess a lot of time and effort are required for production. According to this theory, the pricing of low-tech products like luxury wooden furniture is less likely to be understood, and so, I guess I have to continuously explain the factors affecting the price-quality relationship of products, such as joints without screws and gaps, the frame structure consisting only of curved lines (which makes it impossible to have a reference point for positioning workpieces), etc.


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.watchtime.com/blog/million-dollar-watches/3/


Because We Are Emotional Creatures


What do you think is the difference between success and failure of business? What do you say if asked to analyze a case of a restaurant doing great in the place where many other restaurants closed down successively in the past? I would imagine some improvements in pricing, targeting, etc., and check the hard data of the area, such as the number and type of household population, traffic volume by time of day, etc., but Rory Sutherland disagrees, in his book: Alchemy, with such a judgment made through logical thinking and observations. In the example described in the book, he proclaims it is nice tables and chairs in front of the restaurant that lead the restaurant to success.

Such nice tables and chairs (like our products) are too good to leave outside, and are put back every time after closing, which well works as a sign to indicate the opening of the restaurant. In addition, the author continued people would naturally assume the restaurant must offer good food and service because it pays attention even to furniture outside. That would make the believers of logical thinking like me say “No way! It just sounds like guesswork!” Replying to such criticism, he proclaims it is small psychological factors that make a big difference between success and failure because we are more likely to make moderate decisions instinctively and subconsciously.

According to the author, logical solutions through data-analyzing, streamlining, optimizing, etc. are not always invincible, and we should focus more on psychological factors for problem solving. As writing above, I’m a kind of believer of logical thinking, but I like his idea, because I know we very often behave irrationally and illogically, which, I believe, makes us human. Just to be clear, it’s not only because I can bring this article to a close with the recommendation of our furniture 😊


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.forbes.com/sites/forbesagencycouncil/2019/11/04/emotion-the-super-weapon-of-marketing-and-advertising/?sh=4ff76b964df0