The internet is a magical endless hole. It’s our own version of a portkey. One click and you land somewhere else altogether. Sometimes it’s rather easy to come back to where you started from.

Mostly, though you don’t really make your way back.

That’s exactly what happened when we randomly clicked into a short feature by LBB on a Japanese retail store that is opening its doors in Lower Parel, Mumbai.

Muji, name of the retail chain – comes from the Japanese phrase Mujirushi Ryohin that directly translates into “no-brand quality goods”.

Exciting concept in itself, the uniqueness of it gets manifold once you put it into the Indian context.

Traditionally known as takers for over-embellished motifs and designs, India is surely changing taste with globalization. Commercial minimalism has long walked into the Indian market holding hands of global giants – but more than the design / look and feel of the product, takers of these products majorly (not all) tend to be drawn to the apparent class / status & global language that these products bring to their lifestyle.

But Muji comes with absolutely no overt branding€; for it to make roadways in a country with the world’s largest number of Millennials who majorly believe in the idea of using a brand€ rather than using a product, seemed like a tough ask initially.

But that was before; one link lead to another, and Muji made more sense.

26 years after its launch, Muji now enjoys a global appeal. Most who have written about the brand have decoded the appeal to be a product of global acceptance of minimalism – mostly due to excess of everything else in our lives – starting from information, connectivity, social structure etc.

But when you visit the brand’s official website, you see the following in the about us€ section: MUJI’s products, born from an extremely rational manufacturing process, are succinct, but they are not in the minimalist style.

From where is Muji deriving its distinct style then?

To understand Muji’s charm you have to understand one of the primary brains behind the brand, Mr. Kenya Hara.

A revered man in Japan, he speaks in design. Known to have a unique and engaging rhetoric, even while describing mundane object, he discards the obvious and unnecessary, and alludes to metaphysical and philosophical identities.

There’s one thing though that thoroughly defines Kenya Hara and by extension Muji – it’s a love affair with emptiness.

Emptiness he says – irrespective of who uses it, has the power to receive that person’s expectations and desires. To think about it, that makes emptiness automatically customized – to fit everyone like a glove. A design inspired by emptiness thus is universally appealing and more importantly functional.

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Functionality is another distinguishing feature about Muji. The functionality can be deduced as a consequence of the strategic inclusion of “affordance” in Muji designs.

Affordance in design as detailed in Hara’s book is the comprehensive understanding that both the subject of an action and the environment “affords” for a certain phenomenon. The book goes on to explain it with the simple example of standing. A seemingly natural phenomenon €“ that would not be possible without gravity and a solid surface. Thus in case of standing for gravity and solid surfaces “afford” it.

Affordance gives Muji products a great comprehension of customers and their situations, thus takers are spiritually nudged to make a decision to indulge with the product, rather than buy it.

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As for the specific flavour of Japan in Muji, let’s quote Hara himself, where he says that
“Culture is a local thing. There is no such thing as ‘global culture’. Culture is about the wonderful things that flourish in the place where we happen to be born. When I first became responsible for Muji, I thought about it this way: if the idea for Muji had been born in Germany, what kind of Muji would have been born? Or how about China? Or Poland? That sort of imagining is beneficial to the natural development of Muji, I think, because Muji isn’t bound by Japan’s special traditions, not does it actually embody those traditional forms and styles. Having said that, the concept of simplicity being able to surpass luxury (or, to put it another way, emptiness being richer than fullness because it is able to receive more) comes from Japan’s traditional aesthetics. Muji tries to improve on that, and present it in a global context … The world is a rich place precisely because different cultures with their own different colours shine, clash with each other, and sound off each other. I don’t think you can call it progress when Chinese people eat the same quality peperoncino as Italians, or Australians use Northern European saunas. Tradition isn’t just old things; it is a country or region’s great resource for the future.

It’s unlikely that customers of Muji give so much thought to its design principles, presentation and entire visual rhetoric but it’s beautiful to understand that the products give them a rational satisfaction and whenever they choose Muji, they are consciously / subconsciously choosing to strip themselves of all definitions of consumerism, branding and everything else to dive into comfortable emptiness where they feel welcome and flourished.

Studying and researching for Muji’s appeal in India leaves more questions unanswered than answered, though it’s fair to deduce that the business decision to introduce the brand to India doesn’t come in light faith and is a strong sign of how the global flavour is slowly translating in our lifestyles and universality is winning. The same explains the emergence and popularity of glocal businesses and services.

Turning back to Hara again to wrap up the entire trend that the piece was trying to point, let’s say that
“Economic improvement has resulted in globalization, yet art, by contrast, moves toward localization, which means originality.”