On Saturday morning, despite a temperature below freezing and a brisk wind, the line of people on Dundas Street stretched a whole city block. These shoppers were not lined up for a sale, however. We were welcoming a Japanese retail giant to Canada!
Canada's first MUJI is in The Atrium, at 20 Dundas Street West, Toronto. It is across from the Eaton Centre H&M and kitty-corner from Yonge-Dundas Square.
The big question: what is MUJI? This question was anticipated: read the sign above. MUJI could perhaps be described as a minimalist's general store. There is something extremely appealing about the simple design of the products. MUJI has many loyal fans around the world, with branches in 26 countries so far. I admit, however, that the positive aspects of reduced packaging, recycling and reduced production wastage may be neutralized when the goods are shipped around the globe...
I first learned about MUJI just a couple of days after I moved to Japan in 2001. I certainly relied on MUJI stuff to set up my apartment and keep myself organized at work. Even now, I seek out branches of MUJI whenever I travel, to Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan and of course to Japan. I've been wishing for a local MUJI for a decade and as of last weekend, there is now a branch close enough to my work for lunch break errands! It still feels a little surreal, like a corner of Japan displaced.
Womenswear. Opening day was not the time to try on clothes so I cannot confirm if MUJI is sticking to smaller Asian sizing but I expect that they are. The striped and coloured tops above are priced at $20.
Menswear. Again, I can't confirm if sizing runs smaller than North American brands but it's safer to assume it does.
A display of personal care goods, all with minimal packaging and simple design.
MUJI is arguably best loved for pens and stationary. There was a vortex of pen lovers surrounding this display on Saturday and I couldn't get any closer. To be honest, I stocked up on pens and stationary at MUJI in Taipei a couple of weeks ago. The extremely popular gel pens, available in a variety of colours, cost $1.25. The plain covered notebooks can be used with the spines to the left or right.
The line-up to pay for purchases was over 40 minutes on the opening morning. It was not chaos, though, just crowded. I went back to MUJI on my lunch break on Monday and although there was no line to get inside, there was still a considerable wait to pay. I went back again today after work on the fifth day since opening and the line-up to pay was about 15 minutes.
On Saturday, MUJI head office managers, in town for the store opening, were put on bagging duty.
MUJI set up a stamping station so that shoppers could personalize notebooks and cloth bags. I stamped my initials and a sakura blossom onto a mini ringed notebook.
A few points:
-MUJI has a popular line of snacks, drinks and basic grocery items. The North American stores do not have any of the food products at this time but I have heard rumors that they may be bringing the snacks over next year.
-MUJI makes appliances too but the only appliance in the Toronto store was the aroma diffuser.
-The selection of items available at the Toronto store is much larger than I'd expected to see but it doesn't cover the full range of what's in the big box MUJIs in Asia or even in the US e-store.
-Most of the items for sale carry the original Japanese labels which show the price in Yen. As you'd expect considering the cost of shipping, there is a price mark-up to Canadian dollars. This mark-up varies widely. Here are some examples:
80円 pens -> $1.25
150円 stationary items -> $2
450円 bottle of facial cleanser -> $6.50
1900円 travel pillow -> $29
3500円 men's double zip hoodie -> $60
3500円 cotton queen size duvet cover -> $69
The biggest price difference I saw was a set of storage drawers labelled 1500円 but selling for $38 CDN. However, there were cozy flannel slippers with a 1200円 tag for $12 CDN, which is actually a slight mark down.
Voila! The first shoppers through MUJI on Saturday got a souvenir MUJI Toronto bag. It wasn't worth the line-up alone but it was a nice little bonus. After taking this photo, I chatted out on the street with some MUJI staff who had travelled from Japan to set up the new store. They seemed surprised/humbled to see the huge number of people waiting on such a cold morning. According to Twitter, design savvy shoppers were still waiting up to three hours to get in on Sunday afternoon. That's how keen Toronto is for Japanese goods!
Get used to seeing MUJI bags around Toronto! If you've never been inside a MUJI, I do recommend going in for a browse once the line-ups have died down.
More about Muji from the Globe and Mail: Decoding the Cult of Muji, the Japanese minimalist retailer