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in other models, but I’m afraid the new Morgan may give up in the near future, concluding the wood frame is just an outdated structure.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/

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

Time for Real Work

The bill of public spending of more than 1,900 billion dollars was passed in the US Lower House. Accordingly, the US economy (the Dow-Jones average, at least) is coming back like crazy, even though many people have not yet been back to business as usual. In Japan, it has been reported that many people at remote work are complaining “So bored to death,” even though they were complaining about non-decreasing overtime before the COVID. Most of us simply believe our work contributes to society or someone else, and that that’s the reason why money is paid, but I come to doubt it after seeing the above facts. We may have just wasted time for things no one wants, and actually may no longer even work for money.

Some of you may say “You talk nonsense! Who will provide for me and my family then?” I know things have not yet been perfect, but do you remember why we, human beings, have continued to make strenuous efforts for technological advancement so far? It must have been originally and mainly for skipping hard work. Now, as the above news indicates, the world seems to keep moving around without our work thanks to the surplus value made by high-performance machines, robots, etc. We may be going to be free from work only for money in the near future.

Conde House table factory

Even in such an ideal future, I believe we will keep on working, though we may not call it work if the definition of work is doing something for money. According to Donald Super, a psychologist famous for his Career Development Theory, work values can be evaluated in 15 scales, and Economic Return is only one of them. The scales where the work of our company would score high are Creativity (work which permits one to invent new things, design new products, or develop new ideas) and Aesthetic (work which permits one to make beautiful things and to contribute beauty to the world). In the future, many applicants might be rushing to us hopefully, though most of the small-and-medium sized companies like us are now suffering from a shortage of manpower.

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/technology/2017/jan/11/robots-jobs-employees-artificial-intelligence

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

Beauty Found By Zen Spirit

Have you ever experienced a Japanese tea ceremony? The most notable feature is its beauty of style. In a nutshell, it’s just a ceremony where a host makes matcha green tea and guests drink it, but every single move of making and drinking tea is prescribed in Japanese tea ceremony. As far as I know, it already started in the 15th century, and the basic style was developed by a major merchant in the 16th century. I’ve not yet experienced it but am so amazed by the creativity of the merchant. It’s just making and drinking tea. He must be a genius to raise such a daily routine up to a stylized ceremony. For example, I have munchies very often but have never thought to stylize snacking.

Japanese tea ceremony is always associated with Zen Spirit that seems to get popular as the origin of “mindfulness” especially in Silicon Valley. It’s very difficult to explain what Zen Spirit is, and so, let me exemplify its essence. Suppose there’s one big rock in a garden, appearing old, dark, and rugged. People may think it’s dirty and hope it would be removed from the garden. On the other hand, Zen Spirit sees things as they are, and doesn’t make a judgement. From the view point of Zen Spirit, the rock is just covered in moss and black mold by being exposed to the weather for the long period of time. It’s like a quiet, objective view and inquiring mind for the nature of things.

Hakama Round Table and Challenge Side Chair By MHK

Although it may sound contradictory to the above mentioned objective stance, imagination to see something in nothing is another feature, I guess. Let me tell you a very famous story expressing Zen Spirit. One day, the then Shogun, hearing morning glories in the above merchant’s garden are reaching peak bloom, visited the garden to see all the flowers were mown off. He, with his anger, went into the tea ceremony cabin in the garden, and found a morning glory put in a vase for him. The Shogun was impressed because he noticed the field of morning glories in his imagination stirred up by the single flower was much more beautiful. I think Zen Spirit will make you see more beauty in our simple 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/2020/01/zen-and-the-art-of-the-japanese-tea-ceremony/

Stick to the High Road

I grew up with the songs of the Beatles because my mother is a big fan of them (Now, I just remember her face like a demon crawling out of hell when I shot some of her LPs with my airsoft gun). When most of my elementary school classmates were obsessed with Japanese pop idols, I listened to British heavy metal, LA metal, etc. Especially if you’re from the same generation and have the same taste in music as me, I believe you would understand how big impact the band left, not only on the world music scene but also on the whole society. It’s Nirvana. Their advent is exactly destructive creation, though I personally think it was too powerful and destructive.

In the previous era of Nirvana, rock musicians were supposed to wear gorgeous stage costume, and my guitar-heros competed in speed and technique. They looked like something in a totally different world, dissident to the existing order. As entirely different from them, the members of Nirvana were dressed in rags even on stage, and didn’t seem to care about errors and off-pitches in play. Once, rock ’n’ roll was condemned as devil’s music, but gradually became the high road of music. As time goes by, the anti-establishment attitude of rock music became an establishment, ironically. Nirvana gave a final blow to it by taking an anti-establishment stance to the anti-establishment icon. Rock was dead.

Conde House Tokyo Shop

To tell the truth, I was excited by the advent of Nirvana at that time, but now feel nostalgic for the days when rock stars performed glamorously, the way they were expected to. Sometimes, it’s easy to create new things. All it takes is just to refuse the existing order. Contrary to common understanding, it may be more difficult to stick to the conservative and authentic way, though bad tradition should be abolished, of course. In order to survive harsh market conditions, we’ve been changing and introducing all kinds of new management methods in accounting, marketing, QC, HR, etc. Such changes are necessary, but still I believe our authenticity is shaped by craftsmanship and product quality that are essential for us to meet market expectations.

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/entertainment-arts-43319021

Free from the Desire To Be Free

A house surrounded by a white picket fence, a SUV, two kids, a dog, and a stable job. They were thought to be essential components of a dream life. Now, people say the times have changed, and the era of possession is over. “Kids-Millennials saw their parents’ lives crumble as a result of the financial meltdown, and watched as their parents lost their life savings to the banks and Madoff’s Ponzi scheme,” said Blake Morgan, a customer-experience analyst. If she is right, Millennials don’t break free from desire for possessions but seem to resign themselves to minimalism out of fear of loss.

I believe I’m a sort of minimalist, not interested in owning things so much, and that there would be quite a few people who think the same way as me. Such minimalists, including me, may proudly say “I’m glad I don’t have a Ferrari. It will be high-maintenance, and there’s no luxury place to go by such a car.” What if someone mercifully offers it? I’m 100% sure I’ll take it with full tears of gratitude. I may be just a would-be minimalist, and my faith of minimalism was widely shaken after careful consideration with this example of a Ferrari. Nietzsche also wrote “Our ego desires everything—it would seem as if men in general were only inspired by desire for possessions.”

KYOBASHI Dining Chair Series, Designed By Yoneya Hiroshi

Hopefully, we are managing to progress little by little and getting smart enough to see we can’t be happy only by owning things, but it seems difficult even for Generation Z, Millennials, and also the tail end of Generation X like me to completely deny the desire. The Master Yoda, too, said “The fear of loss is the path to the dark side.” Probably, we have no other choice but to effectively manage our karma somehow. If you can’t help buying and possessing something anyway, recommended is our furniture—minimal design and environmental burden. Although it may not appear minimal price-wise, I ensure you the cost will be minimal as well because of its long service life 😊

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/what-does-american-dream-look-like-for-millennials-2021-1

Japanese Ambiguity

S/he once sharply criticized the government, but after becoming a politician, s/he comes to repeat ambiguous remarks and looks like losing her/his former self. I’m sure you’ve seen this kind of change of mind. You may feel betrayed and think “I could always achieve social justice.” I didn’t mean to defend all the politicians, but believe most of them are not faithless. First of all, there’s no such thing as absolute justice or evil. Indeed, it is right to pursue the greatest happiness for the greatest number in utilitarianism, but the tyranny of the majority sometimes hurts the minority so deep that people can’t coexist after confrontation. In a sense, decent politicians are meant to be ambiguous.

In terms of ambiguity, I believe Japanese people are second to none in the world. Majority vote is rarely adopted in a company meeting, and even company representatives don’t like to be seen as imposing their opinions. A consensus, decision, etc. are made ambiguously. This national character may be related to the uniqueness of the Japanese language that can complete sentences without a subject. I was so irritated by this ambiguity when younger, condemning such people as irresponsible, but now come to think Japanese ambiguity seen especially at work place may be ancient wisdom to keep working in harmony as an organization.

You may wonder how the quality of work is maintained under such conditions as people don’t know clearly where responsibility lies. We don’t need other people’s eyes to pursue responsibility because of a genetic factor. Japanese people have more S-alleles of the serotonin transporter, and we are genetically more anxious (self-tortured). It is said to be the result of natural selection unique to the island country prone to a lot of natural disasters such as tsunamis, earthquakes, etc. In other words, we can’t work without ambiguity because we’re too anxious and scared. I think it’s similar to backlash for furniture. The joint parts of some furniture must have backlash to absorb the expansion and contraction of wood. The modern age of digitalization allows less and less room for ambiguity, but I think physical things like us, furniture, etc. still need 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://blog.gaijinpot.com/7-things-know-japanese-politics/

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