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/


What Good Would It Do Us?


Are you always confident of your free-will decisions? MISTRA (Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart, 1990) has proved our ways of thinking and behaving are NOT genetically affected. We are much more likely to be affected by the surrounding environment. I even doubt the existence of free will. Let me ask one more question. Do you believe market principles are always correct? We, ordinary people, don’t always make rational decisions based on detailed and correct knowledge, just as the principles expect, and so, I also doubt them. Free-will decisions and market principles are two main grounds that neo-liberalism is based on. I don’t like neo-liberalism, not only because of such weak grounds but because it steals my favorite things, such as Morgan 4/4.

The legendary car debuted in 1936 and continued to be produced without changing the basic design for more than 80 years. Can you believe it? In 2019, an Italian investment firm announced to acquire Morgan. It was not a hostile takeover. The press release by Morgan said the investment firm would work closely with the current management to make sure that future development of the business will be respectful of and remain true to the company’s unique heritage. Coincidentally, soon after the acquisition, it was decided to discontinue Morgan 4/4. To me, one of their heritages seems to be lost.

As many of you may know, the frame of Morgan 4/4 was partially made of ash wood to make car weight light. It’s easy to imagine how difficult it is to use wood for a car frame where a heavy load can be applied (heavier than furniture, at least). Wood strength changes depending on the part, grain direction, density, knotted-or-not, etc. of wood. Their website also says about woodworking “Traditional techniques passed down through many generations ensure the precision of each tenon joint and laminated curve.” The wood frame is still used in other models, but I’m afraid the new Morgan may give up in the near future, concluding the wood frame is just an outdated structure. I know I may be just stuck in the past but can’t stop myself, feeling like it’s “today Morgan, tomorrow us, wooden furniture manufacturers.” As Morgan says, traditional techniques are not gained in a day. I think we should be careful about things we can never recover, at least.


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.autoweek.com/car-life/classic-cars/a31118918/are-morgan-cars-still-made-from-wood/


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/

The Shoulders of Giants


Hokkaido, this northernmost island of Japan, is getting deserted. In rural areas (Hokkaido itself can be said a rural area in Japan, though), you can see abandoned and collapsing houses everywhere. Houses with a roof and walls deformed by the weight of snow, like ones in Tim Burton’s movies; rusty bicycles, snow shovels, etc. a part of which are seen in the grass around the house. They are returning to the earth. Generally, such sceneries may just look sad, but (as writing before) I personally like to see them because they remind me of the fact that we are also a part of nature. At the same time, I’ve been interested in the differences that separate things passed down to the next generation from the others.

I once attributed the differences to the features or characteristics of things, but the words of a museum curator that I found in an article gave me a good awareness. He said “There’s no high and low in things. In order to study a specific period of history, important are things made and used at that time. Once we lose things, we can never take them back, and will even forget the fact that they existed. It’s too big a responsibility for one generation to decide which thing should stand the test of time. I want to keep as many things as possible to the next generation.”

Splinter series by nendo and Conde House

I think many people believe whether things are saved or not is the result of the test of time, and that things worth saving are saved anyway, but it seems most of them are just arbitrarily selected and happen to be preserved by some enthusiasts. As the curator said, things brought in the museum are only a part of many things equally valuable. Once, there were many wooden furniture manufacturers everywhere in Hokkaido, the area of rich forests, but more than half of them are gone now. I come to think our struggles to survive in the market have more meaning than business continuity, remembering we are just dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants.


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://places.branipick.com/abandoned-house-in-hokkaido/


The Characteristics of Hokkaido People


The most popular sport in Japan is still baseball. A good example is the national high school baseball championship joined by high school teams going through the elimination tournaments held in 47 prefectures. Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan, is covered with snow for almost half a year, and so, our prefectural representative teams were always weak and lost in the first round in most cases. When I was a kid, I never believed I would live to see the championship flag in Hokkaido. One summer day in 2004, I was just transferred back to Hokkaido. When I was buying daily necessities for a new home at some shopping mall, the background music suddenly stopped, and the news of winning the championship by a Hokkaido high school team broke in. I will never forget the scene where shoppers there were roaring with joy and shaking hands with people who don’t know each other.

I was born and raised in Hokkaido, and so, can say in confidence that so many of us have more or less an inferiority complex to people outside Hokkaido, probably because here is the least-developed area in Japan. We sometimes call the outside of Hokkaido “the main land,” which can be said to be evidence to show our sense of inferiority. I believe such a complex in our hearts has gradually changed, and now it may become something we can call humility. The change in our consciousness seems to have a great impact, by the way. High school baseball teams in Hokkaido had never won first place in the long history of the championship since 1915 until 2003 (second place only one time in 1963), but after the historic win in 2004, took first place one more time; second place three times.

Photo Credit: mizuaki wakahara official

Many of our craft people have long experience in woodworking. Of course, they are proud of their experience and skills but always flexible and open-minded to new and different ideas, different from the general image of a craftsman: just being stubborn about its preference, policy, etc. I’d say this may be because of humility unique to Hokkaido people, and does definitely work to improve the quality of 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://en.japantravel.com/hyogo/koshien-stadium-field-of-dreams/1913


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


Overtime Problem in Japan


It’s very difficult to summarize this problem briefly because it is so deep-rooted. Are you ready to gaze into abyss? The Japan government has started frequently using the word “Work Style Reform” since 2015 when a new girl working in the top advertising firm committed suicide due to overwork. Her average overtime hours were reported to exceed 100 hours a month, which is almost the same as that of mine when I worked in the Ministry of Finance. The painful sad news made many people including me think “That could be me.” Even now, about 300 deaths from overwork are reported annually.

Photo Credit: mizuaki wakahara

I believe this is a structural problem, stemming from the structure of employment systems in Japan. Although the structure is said to be breaking down, the basics of employment systems are still a set of recruiting of new graduates and lifetime employment. Companies assign jobs to generalists grown internally, instead of assigning specialists to required positions. The former companies adjust output by the amount of overtime; the latter companies by hire and layoff. Each employment style has both advantages and disadvantages. People may die due to overwork in the former system; due to unemployment in the latter system. Some of you may think penalties should be toughened. Actually, some bills already passed the Diet in 2019, but dishonest companies have concealed the information of overtime. Consequently, the toughen penalties have caused new poorer victims engaged in unpaid overtime.

There’s another factor making the darkness of the overtime problem deeper in Japan. We should keep away from psychopaths, but they are necessary for human evolvement. The ratio of psychopaths in island countries is less than 1%, much lower than that (around 4%) in continental countries. Do you know why that is? It’s difficult for deviants to survive in the closed society of island countries like Japan. People rejecting overtime are judged as deviants in Japan of today. CondeHouse? Yes, it has the problem of overtime, but the management regards it as a problem and is working on it. Unfortunately, such companies are inferior in market competition. I’m hoping for a system where people reject products made in overtime, like FAIRTRADE activities.


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/2019/06/18/business/japan-work-overtime-tv-show.html

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

How to Spend Money Right


It is common for me to lose (rare to make) thousands of dollars a day in the stock market. On the other hand, I sometimes give up buying cereal only because it doesn’t sell at a bargain price, though I eat it almost every morning. I once bought a suit at more than 2,000 USD but hardly ever wore it. This may be a natural result for a man like me who always wear UNIQLO (synonym for cheap clothes in Japan) from head to toe at home. It seems spending money is as difficult as making it. Today’s subject is “How to spend money right.” Let me share an interesting paper by Harvard psychologists.

“Money can’t buy happiness. This sentiment is lovely, popular, and almost certainly wrong.” One of the coauthors, Daniel Gilbert started the paper with such a sensational introduction, proposing the eight money principles to guide our spending. As some of you guessed it, I tried, as always, to draw a good conclusion to recommend the purchase of our products, but I found it difficult this time because the first one of the eight money principles is: “Buy experiences instead of things.” It seems I made a mistake in subject selection, but give me a chance.

Another one of the principles says “Buy many small pleasures instead of few big ones.” He raises an alert over our ability or curse to adapt, saying “Expensive new iPhone will inevitably reveal itself to be just a smartphone in a matter of weeks.” I should buy good cereal and even toppings instead of blowing money on the stock market (dreaming of making a fortune); wear a little better loungewear instead of paying a lot for clothes to wear once or twice in a lifetime.

Let me forcibly conclude today’s article, though I know it’s the slightly broader interpretation (or intentional misinterpretation) of the principle. The quality of life and cost performance get better by spending more money on things we use often and for a long time. In that sense, I can say buying furniture, especially our durable products, would be a right way of spending money.


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.aarp.org/money/budgeting-saving/info-2018/spend-money-wisely.htm