MUJI Toronto is the first location in the Japanese home goods and fashion chain's foray into Canada. Spread over 4,400 square feet (tiny, compared to the megachain's worldwide locations) in the Atrium on Bay, the flagship store will be many Canadians' first introduction to the brand. Others, who have shopped their stores in New York, Japan or Europe, are no doubt thrilled at the prospect of stocking up on no-frills housewares and clothing - without having to lug it all home in a suitcase.
For the uninitiated, MUJI sells pretty much everything, in its most basic, unvarnished iteration, stocked in perfect, neat rows. The name is short for a Japanese phrase meaning "no-brand, quality goods"; everything is developed in-house and sold with minimal packaging and branding.
The brown-paper wrapping is a minimalist's dream, the materials tend to be sturdy, and the designs - from a folding eyelash curler to tiny ceramic toothbrush stands - take up as little space and create as little waste as possible. Think IKEA, with half the whimsy (no blobby shapes or neon colours here) and twice the function.
Their cult appeal has spread the brand's name far and wide into untapped markets, including this one. "We have very enthusiastic MUJI fans," MUJI Canada president Toru Tsunoda told me. "In Japan, they're actually called 'MUJI-ra' - like Godzilla." (On my way home from the media event, two people looked at my MUJI tote bag with wild eyes and asked: "Is it open yet?!")
The materials echo their minimalist aesthetic: Clear or frosted plastic, wood, steel, white ceramic, unbleached fabric and paper. I start my tour in the stationery section, where stacks of blank, brown-paper notebooks are flanked by bins of rainbow pens. (If Kraft-paper notebooks are a little too austere, there's a table by the cash register where you can customize your new notebook with stamps on the way out - including one of the CN Tower.)
The bath section stocks rows and rows of a favourite MUJI offering: Mini empty bottles and jars ($1 and up), ready for you to make travel-size versions of your favourite products. I pause and wonder why racks like these aren't available at Shoppers Drug Marts across the country; then I remember that it's because Shoppers Drug Mart really wants you to pay $2.99 for a one-ounce bottle of Pantene.
There's storage bins in all shapes and sizes, a skincare line packaged in bottles branded with Margiela-like starkness, and glowing scent diffusers (about $80) sold with essential oils in homey scents like lavender and jasmine. Despite MUJI's uber-utilitarian mandate, they maintain an approachable vibe thanks to some cute, cozy touches - glass tumblers that roll and wobble on the tabletop, or paper-craft puzzles in the form of warriors or zoo animals.
That extends to the sheer level of snuggly textures found in the clothing section: Woolly plaid scarves, cashmere sweaters, flannel button-downs, rows on rows of warm socks. Minimalist dressers will want to stock up on their Jack Purcell-style sneakers ($29.95) and thick-knit striped tees ($44.95); price-wise, the clothing offerings top out at $169.95 for hearty wool-blend coats. (Tsunoda, I noticed, attended in a white MUJI button-down shirt, as did several other company reps.)
Though the Atrium store will no doubt sate the cravings of many local MUJI nuts, there are a few holdovers from the Japanese stores; you'll have to go elsewhere for your home appliances, for example, and the store's missing their line of food products (including some truly addictive Japanese snack foods).
But Tsunoda says they hope to roll in food next year - along with a series of three more Canadian stores. Whether or not you knew about them before, you can bank on MUJI being a household name soon enough.
Photos by Jesse Milns.