What will the lifestyle shops of the future be like? Will they be like Muji, established in 1980, the Japanese supermarket for minimalist and elegant design that introduces a sense of calm to everyday life?
‘You’re welcome here, Muji! Why aren’t you here yet?’
This is what a lover of good design might say when asked about their thoughts and feelings on the word Muji.
What lover of simple everyday forms has not, at some point, run through the streets of a metropolis, with a map in hand, hoping to find this heaven of Japanese minimalist design? The artless slippers, unnamed small objects, stationery, storage boxes, clothes, facial masks and food: squid, tea, sauces, chocolate, biscuits. And houses.
You read right. Muji, headed by Masaaki Kanai, the International Friend of Habitare 2017, is also looking to the future through its housing concepts, including prefab homes and renovation projects of old apartment buildings in Japan. Prefab refers to a type of house built of prefabricated components and, in particular, to a modern, minimalist style.
The first prototypes for Muji homes, designed by the architect Kengo Kuma, the Window House and the Tree House (image above), were published in 2009. The year 2014 saw the introduction of the Vertical House – an answer to the challenge of narrow spaces in Japanese cities. The minimalist prefabricated houses designed by Konstantin Gric, Jasper Morrison and Naoko Fukasawa, the Muji Huts, saw the light of day in 2015, and went into production this year.
When the latest prototype for Muji homes was introduced in August 2016, the company announced a competition, with the prize of living in the house for a period of two years and reporting that experience to the Muji design and product development team.
If you cannot find it at Muji, you probably do not need it
The Muji brand came into being in 1980, when Seiji Tsutsumi created a concept for unbranded home products, to be made available for sale at the Seiyu chain of supermarkets. The brand slogan was ‘lower prices for a reason’, with the official name, Mujirushi Ryōhin, being Japanese for no-brand quality goods.
The Muji design philosophy brings together aesthetics and moderate cost, and draws on simplicity, beauty and usability. The products have elegant, sophisticated designs, and they can, for example, be made of industrial bulk materials that are only minimally processed.
The concept has proved its timelessness. Today, Muji boasts a turnover of about two billion euros (about six times that of Fiskars or twenty times that of Marimekko) and operates more than 800 shops around the world, making it one of the world’s most respected design houses and one of the most well-known export concepts from Japanese culture. The company is growing strongly, especially in China, as its minimalist aesthetic has quietly made its way from Tokyo to Shanghai, and from New York to Stockholm.
Muji’s simple forms and its aesthetic of stillness are particularly opportune in our time of plenty and noise – the effect is calming. If you cannot find it at Muji, it is probably unnecessary.
And when Muji Helsinki appears on the map, it will be a delightful surprise.
Welcome, Japanese friend!
Masaaki Kanai, the CEO of MUJI, has been invited to be the International Friend of Habitare in 2017. The International Friend of Habitare will choose their Habitare favourites and make a keynote speech at the event. Habitare, the largest furniture, interior decoration and design fair in Finland, will be held at Messukeskus in Helsinki, from 13 to 17 September 2017.