Backward progress

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Backward progress


“If you want to write about love, please write in pencil, because if you write something wrong, you have to erase it all. If you write in dark ink about love, it’s much too difficult to erase.”
These are the lyrics of Jeon Young-rok’s hit song in the 1980s, “Write about Love in Pencil.”
Those lyrics were shamed by Tombow brand, a maker of erasers from Japan. Anyone who has ever used a pencil should have heard about this brand. White-out tape from this company takes away the annoyance of having to wait for the white-out to dry. You can erase ink or pen marks just by drawing a line over them.
A reduced demand for pencils and the bubble collapse in the 1990s had caused Tombow’s debt to soar to more than 10 billion yen ($86.1 million). But through the white-out tape, it was able to turn its fortunes from deficit to surplus.
Tombow was founded in 1913. Harunosuke Ogawa visited a patent office after founding the company in the thought that “we need a special trademark for the company.” Within the company and the factory, people wanted a bridge for the trademark, but Ogawa chose a dragonfly. Dragonflies can only go forward and not backward. So in Japan, it is the symbol of a brave warrior. Warriors’ armor are decorated with dragonflies. And the old Japanese word akisu, meaning dragonfly, matched with the old regional name of Akisu Island as well. The dragonfly felt good in several ways. However, when Ogawa made dragonflies a symbol of the company and changed its name to tombow, a dragonfly, he was seeking another change. He made every dragonfly bow its head. The idea was to show the attitude of merchants kowtowing to customers.
Recently, the chairman Yohayi, the grandson of the founder Harunosuke, was arrested for taking drugs. He is the one who developed the correction tape. Four years ago, he transferred his presidency to his cousin and became the chairman, which has no real influence on the management of the company. He started to do drugs from that time on. He said, shedding tears, “After retiring from the presidency, I had nothing to do. Everyone left, even my wife, and I couldn’t bear the loneliness.”
That is correct.
Although dragonflies just fly forward, we sometimes need to go backward in life. Not only should the dragonflies bow their heads, but we also need to practice bowing down. “Oh the happy tombow, now where are you flying to?” The lyrics of Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi’s famous hit song “Tombow” keep resonating in my mind.

*The writer is the Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Kim Hyun-ki []
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