We Need Stories

As I wrote before, the definition of “time” is not completely settled in physics and philosophy. To be more precise, the existence of time is often an obstacle to prove the laws of physics. Apparently, it is doubtful in physics. Recently, I read an article by a neuroscientist. It said we felt the existence of time because we memorize as stories all sorts of things that happen in our lives. The story memory technique itself has long been known. The most famous one would be the memory palace method, by the way. Although I couldn’t understand even a half of the article, unfortunately, it has reinforced one of my beliefs: we need stories to live.

I suppose the famous marketing research “Significant Objects” is an example to show an aspect related to this human nature. It’s an experiment devised by Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn to prove the effect of stories. They bought more than 100 objects via eBay for about 1 USD apiece; sold them for nearly 8,000 USD in all by giving short stories purpose-written by professional writers. It seems no doubt that there’s a close relation between stories and impression/memory.

For example, at the last moment of our lives, everything is losing its value. Money, status, glory won’t be of no comfort to us anymore, but stories in our memory will. We need stories to live. This belief is the driving force that makes me continue to write stories in this blog. I strongly believe stories would be a help as well to make people to know about and remember our brand.

Previously, I wrote something about the president of the company. He seems to read it and have no complaints (at least) so far. Next time I’ll write the historical stories about the company through the profiles of the successive presidents from my personal view point. No worries. It’s not going to be a boring puff piece. If it should be, mourn over me, and make it a lesson to learn the harsh reality of life as an employee 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://edition.cnn.com/2013/05/18/health/lifeswork-loftus-memory-malleability/index.html

Break Out of Your Shell

According to my speculation, most of us feel a sense of destiny when we decide to buy something, especially when it’s big-ticket items such as houses and cars. We may happen to see some articles saying “Now is the best time to buy!” Or we may remember our horoscopes we saw in some magazine. No offense, but there’s no such destiny in our buying behavior. It’s confirmation bias. Me? Of course, always biased, the same as before. I have been trading stocks for years. In most cases when I place orders, I feel like I found secret signs that only a genius can see. Guess what happened next? I stopped facing the reality (the balance of my brokerage account). Be wary of confirmation bias.

Destiny doesn’t guide us to significant information. We always seek information supporting our decision. As Caesar said, men willingly believe what they wish to believe. This human psychology is the source of the bias. Making matters worse, there’s another human nature enhancing the bias, which is our pride. It isn’t a pleasant experience for anyone to admit a mistake. In order to justify our decision, we always try to collect and cling to supportive information. Fraud is a good example. We can’t get out even though being vaguely aware that it may be a fraud, unless we admit our mistake.

Monument in our company forest.

Last time, I wrote about how difficult it is to attract attention in the market. This bias can be said to be one of the factors for that. In most markets, brand hierarchies have been already established, and confirmation bias obstructs people from turning their attention to outside the top brands. I didn’t mean there was no chance for new brands, like us in the world furniture market. Confirmation bias is like a flywheel. It’s difficult to make it move, but once starting to move, it helps us gain momentum. People’s shells are reinforced every day, get more difficult to break, but I’m always writing desperately telling myself that a little leak will sink a great ship.

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.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/03/this-article-wont-change-your-mind/519093/

Nothing in Excess

Have you ever experienced the Japanese commuter rush in the morning? No? Lucky you. While living in Tokyo, I had endured the cruel treatment for more than three years. On the platform of any station in Japan, door positions are marked up. Seeing long queues at the marks on the platform, commuters sigh at the thought of a great trip ahead. As I always thought that was strange, members in respective queues were almost the same, though there were around 15 queues. Me? Yes, always in the same queue without a rational reason. I don’t think other people also would have had a particular reason. Every morning, the usual faces in my queue reminded me that I was firmly caught up in the status quo bias. It seems human beings really dislike changes. Today, I didn’t mean to criticize from a height, saying “You should change,” but try to defend the human nature somehow.

As most of you may have already known that, let me explain the basic structure of the status quo bias. We select our behavior every second. The selection is decided by the comparison of reward and loss resulting from the behavior. What is important here is we are designed to take loss more seriously because it’s related more directly to our lives. In other words, our survival instinct makes us avoid changes. Due to the self-defense instinct, most of us avoid changes, while just a few people aspire to them. In any age, innovators, reformers, or first penguins are more likely to be touted, but I believe the good balance of risk orientation is important to make our society more resilient and sustainable. Changes can’t be made without objects to be changed, such as social norms or people every morning in the same queue without a rational reason.

The President of Conde House, looks conservative but is actually innovative.

Basically, Conde House is a conservative business. To begin with, furniture manufacturing is not novel or trendy at all. Most of the directors still wear ties and jackets, not in black turtlenecks and jeans. However, our president is always actively adopting latest technologies, business schemes, etc. This good balance may be one of the reasons why the company is resilient to survive for more than 50 years.

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://itsyourjapan.com/15-things-you-should-not-do-when-visiting-japan/

The Age of Just-Looking Customers

The epoch-making business was born in the Silicon Valley in 2015, and finally arrived in Tokyo, Japan last year. It’s about b8ta. Let me explain their business model in very short. The shop of b8ta is divided into some compartments. Brands display their products at the compartments by paying a certain amount of money to b8ta. The monthly fixed rate includes everything, like the costs of staff, inventory management, logistics support, POS, etc. There’s no sales margin required, and brands can limit their risks. The highlight of their system is detailed marketing data provided to brands, such as the number of customers stopping at a product, how long a customer picked up a product, not to mention demographic data. Among other things, what impressed me most is the concept of their business. The main purpose of b8ta shops is not to sell products, and so, they call their business as RaaS (Retail as a Service).

As we also run some shops to sell our own products across Japan, we deeply understand how difficult it is to keep making profits in retail. I guess furniture retail is still OK because most people—at least for now—would like to confirm actual products before purchase, but generally, e-commerce is now overwhelmingly superior. People are more likely to buy various articles (even fresh food) online. From this point of view, RaaS looks reasonable. Shops are no longer places to sell but advertise and market products.

Conde House Nagoya

I think this change of shop’s role would create another big benefit: we are free from pressure to buy something on site! Am I not the only one who hesitates to go in luxury places? I may not be able to even breathe in a luxury shop such as Rolex, Lexus, for example. If it’s a b8ta shop, I could casually try on Rolex watches, and even settle back into the seat of a Lexus car. Surprisingly enough, I’ve heard some people said our shops also look too exclusive to casually drop in. Indeed, mood or atmosphere is important to show off products. We always pay close attention to the interior design, lighting, color coordination, etc. of the shops, which may make them look a little exclusive, I guess. However, we totally understand furniture is not a thing people decide to buy on the spot. Our shops are not b8ta, but please feel free to visit us!

Photo Credit: https://www.rli.uk.com/b8ta/

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.

The Dystopia of 1984 Can Appear in Japan

On a ship with people from various countries, you’re the first to notice the ship is sinking. What to say to make the people escape and jump in the water?

To American people: “Jump, and you’ll be a hero!”

To English people: “A true gentleman/lady would jump.”

To French people: “Do not jump!”

To German people: “The regulations say we must jump.”

To Japanese people: “Everybody else has already jumped.”

This is a very famous joke in Japan, and I think it expresses one of the Japanese characteristics very well. In most junior-high and high schools, we, in a uniform, are taught to behave the same as everybody else. At home, parents scold their kids, saying “No one would do something like that!” The only exception where kids are required to be autonomous (be different from others) is when they beg for the same things (toys, bicycles, etc) as their friends have. Anyway, we are grown under such a strong peer pressure in Japan.

In order to control the infection of the new Corona virus, the governments of many countries have issued stay-at-home orders. In Japan, we’ve never had such legal restrictions, but the number of the infections has been kept very small. I heard people outside Japan were curious, but the answer is very simple: a mutual monitoring system by the strong peer pressure. Even though there were no legal restrictions, shops and restaurants opening in the peak period of infection got harassed to close. According to the Google stats, there was no big difference in the amount of movement distance change (or movement distance reduction compared with the last month) between NY and Tokyo in March. In the frenzy of the pandemic, some people bravely said “This is a war,” which reminds me of the words: the first to be killed in a war is always freedom.

Barca by Conde House

Personally, I really dislike this too-much peer pressure embedded in the Japanese society, but it has one big advantage in business: Good quality control by the mutual monitoring system. You can count on the quality of our products. On the other hand, it’s highly likely to impede creativity. You can see the good result of it in the regime change from Japanese electronics and car manufacturers to GAFA.

For any companies in Japan, people like me (dissidents) are difficult to manage, but Conde House still keeps me around, allows me to do what I want, and even promoted me (though the directors may regret). In that sense, you can expect a lot from us, even in terms of creativity!

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.


The Internet Never Broadens Your Horizons

Source: https://www.widewalls.ch/magazine/imaginary-creatures-art


Do you think you can create an imaginary creature which is completely different from existing ones in this world? A unicorn looks like a subspecies of horse; a dragon is just a big lizard with wings. I think this question well expresses the bounds of human imagination. It’s very difficult or almost impossible for us even to imagine something we’ve never known. Today’s topic is a trap we’re likely to encounter in this information overload era.

When I was a college student, it always took time to write essays because I had to struggle with many books for evidence. Now, Google can make surveillance more quickly and accurately. It’s definitely true we can easily get much more information on the internet, but here is a trap we need to watch out. The range of information we access to gets narrower because we can’t imagine information we’ve never known; nor search for such information even on the internet. Making matters worse, the internet only provides information related to our interest. On the contrary, in the newspaper for example, we can access to news we don’t know from headings laid out around the article we want to read.

Source: https://www.condehouse.co.jp/?lng=ja_en


The internet broadens your horizons? I don’t think so. Unless we try harder to keep our eyes open for new things, our horizons more easily shrink in this internet era. In a sense, this newsletter may be a good chance, hopefully, to know Japanese premium furniture as a new option for you and your customers.

What is Beauty?

When I was younger, I loved sports cars. Every detail of sports cars is designed only for speed, and so, they are collections of correct answers as a means of transportation, which is why they look beautiful. Such an easy logic once comforted me to some degree but, at the same time, provoked some smoldering questions: What about art that is of no utility? What is beauty?

Source: https://www.dw.com/en/why-sports-cars-are-works-of-art/a-45661630

Immanuel Kant wrote about aesthetic judgement in his work. I tried to understand, but it was too difficult for me. In such time as I had been in the depths of despair about my poor understanding, a simple sentence of a scientific paper tagged my eyes: Beauty is judged within 1 second in the brain (only in 0.8 seconds, to be more precise).

I thought beauty was a subject of philosophy, but now it seems to be studied in science (neuro-science) as well. The neuro-scientists have identified brain regions contributing to processing aesthetic appeal, and found there is a close relation between beauty and pleasure responses in our neural network. The Plato’s definition ー beauty is pleasure through eye or ear ー seems to be correct.

I know. We now come to have another mystery to solve: What is pleasure? The same as my other journals, I can’t draw a clear conclusion, but the scientific paper this time gives us a good clue. There are key object properties to increase the aesthetic appeal of an object, and two of them are shared in the paper that are “symmetry” and “curvature.” Our products (the above chair consists only of curved lines, for example) can be said to be beautiful in neuro-science.

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.