Intended to be a generic line for the Seiyu Supermarket Group, Muji was launched in Japan in 1980, as Mujirushi Ryohin, which means “no-brand quality goods.” Having initially started out with just 40 products, Muji now sells more than 7,000 different items and has successfully expanded into the housing business, proving that a brand can indeed sell a lifestyle aesthetic.
Welcome to the 53rd edition of magazine B.
Muji is a lifestyle goods brand that offers every kind of product that might be used in a home, from toothbrushes and bed frames to tables and appliances. The brand is my personal go-to when I need a tool for light use around the house. Its draws are reasonable prices and a style that is “just right” — free of strong elements of personality and thus unlikely to clash with diverse personal tastes. With other brands emerging whose concepts and styles borrow a lot from Muji, it wouldn’t be surprising if some consumers got them confused.
In the late 1970s, just before Muji was birthed, consumption in Japan was at a peak, and the criteria for measuring a brand’s value were unclear. Large-scale retailers responded by creating self-branded, low-cost lifestyle goods that could be brought to market in a short time. When the Saison Group’s discount retailer Seiyu entered the market in 1980, however, it chose a different approach: a concept that would combine low prices with high quality and a healthy driving ideology.
Seiji Tsutsumi, then head of the Saison Group and its subsidiaries, including Seiyu, consulted with a broad range of experts across different sectors for the development of the Muji brand. Among them was celebrated Japanese graphic designer Ikko Tanaka, who defined the direction the brand would take in succinct terms: “Mujiryushi Rohin,” meaning “high-quality goods with no brand.” Thus, Muji, as Mujiryushi Rohin would be called outside of Japan, was launched, with the slogan “Lower priced for a reason.” The brand’s slogan today is “Muji is enough,” and where it once sold 40-some items, it now offers over 7,000 different products. With the Muji House project, the company has expanded its business to prefab housing.
onsumer interest in Muji centers mainly on the brand’s philosophy and design. The company has defined and promoted its ideology in exceptional ways, so the emergence of a strong, devoted fan base is understandable. But as we discovered while preparing for this edition of magazine B, Muji is more than just a well-told story. The company, for example, relies on a dynamic of solid teamwork. In the 2000s, during a time of financial difficulty brought on by a drop in sales, then-Muji-head Tadamitsu Matsui was quoted as saying that 90 percent of the company was its system — the way it was run. Matsui also famously equipped company personnel with a manual that outlined, among other things, how local stores were to be managed and how employees were to conduct themselves. Managed by a five-person advisory board that includes Japan’s leading creatives, the company also sets itself apart through its brand strategy and creative control. The current chairman, Masaaki Kanai, has played a decisive role in ensuring that the opinions of the outside advisory board are incorporated into the key message of Muji and that employees are sufficiently inspired to subscribe to this message and “sell” it as part and parcel of the company’s business.
Of course, an extremely well-developed brand concept and pitch-perfect presentation are also important. But it’s much more important — and not to mention more difficult — to motivate people to make such ideas a reality, all while maintaining consistency across the board. No company or organization can last without people who understand its core ideas and put them into action. Brands, I want to stress, do not come to life without a deep attachment and steadfast interest. Nice-sounding words might, for a moment, win over great crowds, but when a company’s actions contradict its words, the consumer eventually finds out. The real value of the Muji brand, then, is its people, who faithfully embody the alignment of words with actions.
Let’s ponder the words of Chairman Masaaki Kanai: “We should all live more thoughtfully.” In learning how such a task might be undertaken, we might benefit from more thoughtfully considering what makes a brand — and a life — truly good.
Taehyuk Choi, Editor-in-Chief
Images of Muji shoppers and comments on Muji from the media
A multifaceted take on the Muji brand from Professor Ken Kusunoki
Muji’s approach to consumption as defined 124 by its lineup of over 7,000 items
Past project collaborators remember and 126 reflect on their experiences working with Muji
A comprehensive look at Muji houses from designer Kenya Hara, a member of the Muji advisory board
The Muji House, a modern living option that draws to mind a catch-all for holding odds and ends
Identifying and understanding Muji style with Yu Yamada, director of creative agency Method
City dwellers whose conceptions of style align with the ideas of Muji
Glimpses of Muji products as they are actually used
Found Muji, a project devoted to finding and recognizing “Mujiness”
Observing what makes Muji products distinct
The story behind the birth and growth of Muji
100 Good Things
Examples of how Muji has given back to the community and supported the environment
Muji headquarters in Japan, where the brand philosophy is a part of life
Muji’s key consultative body of five outside creative directors
The history of Muji as seen through its simple print advertisements
Exploring Muji’s overseas sales strategy and experiences with Director of East Asia Business, Satoshi Shimizu
An interview with Masaaki Kanai, chairman of Ryohin Keikaku
Muji by the numbers
- Publisher Suyong Joh
- Editor In Chief / Creative Director Taehyuk Choi
- Senior Editor Eunsung Park
- Editor Jaewoo Seo, Yeongmin Kim
- Guest Designer Gyeongtak Kang
- Filmmaker Sukwang Baak
- Marketer Hyunjoo Kim
- Distribution Manager Sanghoon Kim
- Correspondents Mihye Nam (Tokyo), Nari Park (London), Lena Shin (LA), Sanghyeok Lee (Berlin), Jeewon Lim (Milan), Hyeseon Jeong (Paris)
- Publishing JOH & Company
- The Laws of Simplicity
- Found Muji
- Designing Design
- Super Normal: Sensations of the Ordinary