Designer Profiles


A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them. I’m sure you’ve heard this before: the famous words left by Steve Jobs. Sometimes, making matters more complicated, people say the opposite of what they want. The well-known example of behavioral economics is “Salad dish set launched by McDonald’s Japan in 2006.” The product development team of McDonald’s Japan was not smug, and not acting arbitrarily. The epic-fail menu was developed based on questionnaire results asking for healthy salad and saying no to junk food. Ironically, Quarter Pounder series (huge size burgers) debuted in 2008 and were a big hit.

People don’t know exactly what they want, even say the opposite of what they want. This would be the reason why we can never accurately forecast the market. It is always too chaotic because of human irrational behaviors. In that sense, our product development policy, “not market-in but product-out” may be right. Ex-chairman (the current senior adviser) often said “Proposing new designs to the market is our mission, our value, and our brand. It’s vital for us to find talented designers, build a good relationship with them, and keep developing our skills to realize their ideas and passions.”

CondeHouse x Designers

The other day, the senior adviser came to me nagging “Why don’t you introduce more about designer profiles in our website?” I know he is right and we should do that, but the problem is it’s not easy to profile them. “Who are you?” is the question with which a world-wide smash hit novel (published more than 25 years ago, though) “Sophie’s World” began, as I wrote before. This is a simple but very difficult question for anyone to answer, and so, it’s very natural for designers just to send their study, job, and award history in reply. I guess nobody is interested in such dry and boring information. I wish I could interview each of our designers to dig deeper and share how attractive they are, like I did before with Michael Schneider. Today, can I pick your brains about a good question to profile them to reveal their talent, passion, and charm to you readers?


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.businessinsider.com/steve-jobs-quote-misunderstood-katie-dill-2019-4


Right Wood, Right Place


Do you believe in talent or hard work? This is the topic that has been debated since the beginning of history (I’m exaggerating). Making the topic even more complicated, some people say “Hard work is a talent itself.” One day, I found an interesting article related to this issue. Do you know the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment (SME)? SME is just observing children with marshmallows to see their self-control or delayed gratification under various conditions. The data were later used in many follow-up longitudinal studies to make many people believe the power of self-control is the key to success, like better SAT scores, keeping in better shape, etc.

Whether or not hard work is a talent itself: it’s not subject to debate here, but it’s a plain fact that the result of SME has supported people who believe in hard work. Once I was one of them, but the article by Jessica McCrory Calarco in “The Atlantic” changed my mind. She wrote SME had come out biased results because the number of the subject children was too small (only 90) and—this is much more important—all the children enrolled in a preschool on Stanford’s campus. In 2018, the researchers of NYU improved the problems of SME and conducted some tests, and Jessica pointed out what we can learn from the result of their new tests is what is behind kids’ long-term success is not their ability but their social and economic background.

People change depending on the environment. There are no good or bad people, but people in various situations. In other words (by a little further extension though), it’s like “right people, right place,” and I believe the same thing can be said to wood for furniture. People sometimes ask how good the wood used for our furniture is. Of course, it’s good because it’s carefully selected by the professional suppliers who our purchasing manager trusts. What is no less important is, however, the keen eyes of the manager in charge of milling wood. Sometimes, the process is underestimated as rough cutting, but the very first phase of furniture production decides everything like the beauty and strength of finished products, the yield rate of wood, etc. Right wood, right place is the key to good 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.condehouse.co.jp/


Story-based Products


Did you know that the history of trick-or-treating at Halloween in North America was not so long? It started about in 1930, while Halloween itself has a long history of more than 2000 years. As you may know that, it’s just recently that Halloween became widely known in Japan. The Halloween parade in Tokyo Disney Land started since 1997 is said to trigger the boom. I don’t mean to brag, but we, Hokkaido people, are forerunners about trick-or-treating. Although it’s not related to Halloween, trick-or-treating is a summer tradition in Hokkaido since the late 1800s.

Even now, in August (at the end of short summer in Hokkaido), you can hear kids singing “Give us candles, give us candles” from somewhere at neighbors’ doors. I don’t know why that is, but we are supposed to say “candles” not “candies.” People moving from the outside of Hokkaido sometimes give candles as told and disappoint kids a lot. As such, today I’m going to introduce Hokkaido sweets before getting down to our furniture.

For your information, such candies as shown in the above image are not treated in the give-us-candles. The brand name of those high-class chocolates is RAMS, and it’s made by a confectionary company continuing more than 90 years in our hometown. The feature of RAMS is its ingredients. Every piece contains a local specialty material. Let me introduce four pieces in the above image: local-made blue cheese in the blue one; local sake in the polygon-shape one; caramel made from local pear in the yellow one; local-made honey in the square one. They are not cheap, but I sometimes buy them as a gift because they make a good story to talk about. In other words, they are story-based, the same as our furniture. The best example is this lounge chair, TACK, in the above image. It’s designed by a local designer, and we make it here using ash wood sourced locally.


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.tsuboya.net/rams/


Essentials for Life


One of the biggest reasons why I was back to my hometown is a summer music festival held in Hokkaido, but this summer is ending without the fest due to the COVID, the same as last year. I don’t intend to complain about it but am just worried about people working in the entertainment industry, not only musicians but also sound mixers, light controllers, stage arrangers, etc. in the case of music fests. Their field is more like the world of artisans, different from what many people imagine, and it’s very difficult to get back lost techniques. During the COVID pandemic, the present Japanese government leaves us to our fate in the name of self-help, and is cruel especially to the entertainment industry. It seems that things other than basics of life are thought to be unnecessary.

On the other hand, the measures of the German government are so good that I feel ashamed of my own country. They have earmarked 50 billion euros for small businesses and freelancers, including those from the cultural, creative, and media sectors; Japanese supplementary budget for cultural affairs last year was only 3 billion euros. The German Culture Minister, Monika Grütters said “Artists are bulwarks to protect democracy from totalitarianism and a sense of political helplessness by always asking “why” and pointing out any inconsistency from their rich imagination and spirit of experimentation.”

Furniture may be regarded as one of basic goods and a target industry of government support, but high-quality and rich-design furniture like our products would not. The same as the entertainment industry mentioned above (let’s leave aside the issue if our furniture is art or not), wooden furniture manufacturing industry is the world of artisans. There are still many manufacturing processes that can’t be taken over by machines. As the coronavirus recession continues, many small businesses including furniture manufacturers are fading away, and many skills of craftspeople will be lost forever 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://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-52646104


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