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in other models, but I’m afraid the new Morgan may give up in the near future, concluding the wood frame is just an outdated structure.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

Because We Are Emotional Creatures

What do you think is the difference between success and failure of business? What do you say if asked to analyze a case of a restaurant doing great in the place where many other restaurants closed down successively in the past? I would imagine some improvements in pricing, targeting, etc., and check the hard data of the area, such as the number and type of household population, traffic volume by time of day, etc., but Rory Sutherland disagrees, in his book: Alchemy, with such a judgment made through logical thinking and observations. In the example described in the book, he proclaims it is nice tables and chairs in front of the restaurant that lead the restaurant to success.

Such nice tables and chairs (like our products) are too good to leave outside, and are put back every time after closing, which well works as a sign to indicate the opening of the restaurant. In addition, the author continued people would naturally assume the restaurant must offer good food and service because it pays attention even to furniture outside. That would make the believers of logical thinking like me say “No way! It just sounds like guesswork!” Replying to such criticism, he proclaims it is small psychological factors that make a big difference between success and failure because we are more likely to make moderate decisions instinctively and subconsciously.

According to the author, logical solutions through data-analyzing, streamlining, optimizing, etc. are not always invincible, and we should focus more on psychological factors for problem solving. As writing above, I’m a kind of believer of logical thinking, but I like his idea, because I know we very often behave irrationally and illogically, which, I believe, makes us human. Just to be clear, it’s not only because I can bring this article to a close with the recommendation of our 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.forbes.com/sites/forbesagencycouncil/2019/11/04/emotion-the-super-weapon-of-marketing-and-advertising/?sh=4ff76b964df0

Why Mirrors Reverse Left and Right

This question is too difficult to solve in this article. It still remains a mystery unsolved for more than 2000 years. Maybe, some secrets like this one should stay secret to keep the world fun.

If I remember correctly, in the film “Dead Poets Society,” the students of the boarding school tried to eat with their non-dominant hands, saying like “It’s for being out of the box.” I, at an easily influenced age, soon imitated it. Using chop sticks with a left hand (I’m right-handed) was difficult, but there was another thing that I found much more difficult. It’s brushing teeth. Of course, the same as other acts such as eating, writing, etc., we can’t do fine and delicate movement with a non-dominant hand. Making matters worse is a mirror. Why don’t you give it a try? I’m sure you’ll be also confused in the direction, angle, and everything of brushing. When struggling with a toothbrush in my left hand, I noticed a man in the mirror held the toothbrush in his right hand.

It is a distinct memory of the moment when I noticed my image was flipped in the mirror. Although you may think I’m just dull, a psychological article said more than 30% of people didn’t perceive that their own images were also reversed like mirror letters. What makes the difference between people who are sensitive and insensitive like me is whether or not they can have a viewpoint from inside the mirror. By the way, the perception of mirror letters is a kind of human function automatically activated without viewpoint movement, according to the psychological article.

Before the COVID, we participated in many furniture exhibitions. Especially in big ones, production people from participating makers inspect new products of other makers. I like to see their reactions to our products because I can learn about our products with a different viewpoint. Their remarks are always more about structure, technique, etc., and are a big help to see our products from the viewpoint of production, even to me who is insensitive and took time to have a viewpoint from inside the mirror. For your information, a comment frequently heard on our products is “How is it possible to sell this only for XXX?” Our products seem a good bargain from a production professional’s eye 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://www.sciencefocus.com/science/why-do-mirrors-reverse-left-and-right-not-up-and-down/

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

Uncanny Valley

Believing I’m not the only one, I feel scared of zombie movies but not of Aliens, Predators, etc., though all those movies are same in terms that many people are eaten or just killed. I had always wondered why that was, and one day, understood the reason when reading an online article about a robot development. The article said Osaka university research team had developed humanoid robots that look exactly like a human being. The robots are well designed and look like us at first glance, but when I saw them move, it soon turned out that they were not human beings, and I felt the same fear as the one I have for zombies.

I learned later that it was a psychological phenomenon called “Uncanny Valley.” The more objects resemble human beings, the more people feel an affinity for the objects, but right before perfect resemblance in the rising curve of affinity, there’s a certain range where uncanny feelings are provoked. According to my further research, this is thought to stem from one of natural human reactions in neuroscience, called “lateral inhabitation.” We are designed to recognize differences more clearly on the boundary of different things. You can experience this very easily. Line up some color plates (put them together side by side); let’s say some grey color plates different in brightness. On the boundary of the lighter and darker grey plates, you will find the lighter grey look further lighter; the darker further darker.

The CRUST Collection by Raw-Edges

This time, what I’m most interested in is the fact (our nature) that we basically feel an affinity to people, though being too sensitive to small differences sometimes. That gives us some hope anyway, doesn’t it? And also, I think that answers to another question: why people like organic-shape products like our furniture, though it requires advanced techniques and additional costs. No worries, by the way. Indeed, the arms of our chairs, for example, are organic-shaped but not so much smooth and resilient as human arms. You will never feel uncanny to them.

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.nbcnews.com/id/wbna46933495

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 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 Summer Festivals

Last year (2020), the Tokyo Olympic Games were prevented by the COVID. There was one more thing it took away from us: summer festivals. The number of Japanese summer festivals is said to be more than 300 thousands. They are held everywhere in Japan every year in late August. It’s a magical time especially for kids. Cheap candies given after a festival dance, food stands, fireworks, etc. Kids enjoy together with friends, missing the last days of their summer vacation. The COVID robbed us of such a seasonal tradition and even a sense of the seasons.

Before going on writing about Japanese summer festivals, I think I should explain a little about Japanese religious views because summer festivals are originally religious events to send back the spirits of ancestors welcomed back during summer. Japanese people are thought to be non-religious, and we ourselves think we are. It’s because the main religions (Shinto and Buddhism) don’t have strict doctrines. This is why we have no hesitation to celebrate Christmas throughout the country, and Halloween is getting more and more popular nowadays. Actually, I think we are religious. About 70% of the population visit a shrine or temple in the first three days of the new year. Most of the companies have a small shrine in the building. The number of shrines is more than 80000, temples more than 70000. That of even convenience stores (the total of 7-11, Family Mart, Lawson, etc) dominating the whole country is still less than 60000, for your reference.

Many people may forget the original meaning of a summer festival, but I don’t think that’s a serious problem. What is more important is many people gather and enjoy a summer festival. It’s a good opportunity to develop relationships. CondeHouse has participated in the biggest summer festival in the home town, making a portable shrine float by using woodworking skills. We always pull the float around the main street, perform some comical dances, and have an after-party. I assume most of the 300 thousands summer festivals were canceled last year, the same as ones in our home town. Summer here in Hokkaido is very short, and so, a summer festival is important more for us to enhance relationships in the local community and the workplace, and to convince ourselves that summer is over. It’s a worn-out phrase, but it seems true that we always realize the importance of something after losing 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://jw-webmagazine.com/best-summer-festivals-in-japan-2018-a377b74f0f08/