MUJI, the Japanese version of IKEA, opened its second location and flagship store in Times Square last week. Nestled on the ground floor of the New York Times building, the glass-enclosed, high-ceilinged, new-smelling shop is as neat and tidy as you would expect something Japanese to be. I was immediately struck at the organization of the store. Not only does MUJI sell containers to de-clutter your life, but the whole set up has a box within a box feel. Turn one perfectly 90-degree angled corner to enter another box teething with useful, simply designed gadgets from office supplies to clothing to a stackable cloudy white plastic boxes in every imaginable size.
I instantly felt the need for the Aluminum Wall Hanger, good for hanging up wet socks or drying herbs, and the Cardboard Speakers, which can be folded flat and set up anywhere. Do I hear mini dance party in Central Park anyone? But the thing that got me the most about this store the efficacy of all the objects and the simplicity of the design. When I think of Japanese, I think cute and pink, but at MUJI you will find no Hello Kitty products or anime-themed bath sets. Actually there is little brightness in the store at all as the merchandise’s color scheme runs in various shades of black, white, brown and tan. There are no frills, pictures or logos, just the brown paper tag with a bunch of Japanese writing all over it.
The crowd at 4 p.m. on a Thursday was manageable. I didn’t feel nervous maneuvering around them and the rows of flawless white china. Maybe this calm was due to the lack of loud music or yelling store clerks. You hardly noticed people tiding up towels or restocking the chopstick display. Amid the quiet, a pair of old women whispered to each other about how glad they were that they waked down 40th Street and into the store. Definitely not like walking into IKEA where boxes of Swedish named cheap furniture towers around you and your brain pulsates with the bright colors of their linins. I was surprised to find MUJI in hidden, not shopper friendly location, but maybe they know something I don’t. The proof maybe seen in a few weeks when the desks at the Times begin to show its influence.
MUJI, 620 Eighth Ave. in the New York Times building (betw. 8th & 7th Aves.) Open Monday-Saturday 11-9 and Sunday until 8.