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

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/


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/


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


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


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/


Japanese Aesthetics


The most beautiful abandoned hotel in Japan (Hachijo Royal Hotel)

Rusted steel frames, faded curtains fluttering out of broken windows, tableware scattered on the floor. Ruined factories, hotels, restaurants, etc. in deserted towns are just shown, sometimes even without any narration or subtitles. Such YouTube videos are popular in Japan, and actually, I often enjoy them. “Horror is a genre in which disgust is central as an emotion,” Malcom Turvey, a British professor of film studies, said. “A lot of monsters are designed to be explicitly or implicitly disgusting.” In that sense, our interest in ruins is completely different. Japanese people see the beauty in things decaying away, which, I believe, is the origin of Japanese aesthetics.

Sakura, cherry blossom is one of the Japanese national flowers (another one is chrysanthemum, for your information). We are a kind of addicted to it. As most of you may know, cherry-blossom viewing would be the most important seasonal tradition in Japan (in spring), so important that the elderly often say “How many more times can I see cherry blossoms before I die?” Indeed, cherry blossoms are really beautiful, but it’s not flowers in full bloom but the scene where flower petals are falling that touches our heartstrings. Sometimes, we are more attracted by a single piece of cherry blossom petal floated in a puddle, rather than ones blooming on trees.

Ippongi Solid Wood Table (Walnut) 3600 x 1200 x 740

Why are Japanese aesthetics like this? I personally think it’s closely related to the natural environment of our country. As I wrote in last article, Japan is the island country prone to a lot of natural disasters such as tsunamis, earthquakes, etc. In such a harsh environment, with a feeling of powerlessness before nature, we have no other choice but to accept reality: we’re a part of nature, and death is a part of life. This is the reason why we find beauty in transient and imperfect things. Our furniture is made of wood. Each wood piece has its unique characteristics, and is liable to change by aging. In the sense of Japanese aesthetics, it’s so beautiful.


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.thesun.co.uk/news/3114057/haunting-pictures-show-faded-beauty-of-abandoned-hotel-on-island-once-billed-as-japans-hawaii-which-is-being-slowly-overtaken-by-nature/


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/