Undoubtedly, Muji's first store in British Columbia has been one of the most eagerly anticipated retail openings in Metro Vancouver. Yet, curiously enough, the Japanese company has become an international success story by eschewing the product and marketing strategies that the vast majority of commercial ventures embrace.
For those who aren't familiar with the store, Muji, which launched in 1980, offers a range of household items, clothing, skincare and beauty items, and food products that are simply designed with a Spartan aesthetic.
A company statement explains that they launched with the intent to create products that aren't related to desire, which the company says "expresses both faint egoism and discord", but with an expression of "this will do", which "expresses conciliatory reasoning".
That approach supports their aspiration to blend into their customers' lives seamlessly and unobtrusively, and is also reflected in their low-key, muted colour palette of their products.
Today (August 25), those products finally became locally available on a regular basis when the company held a grand opening ceremony for their new store at Metrotown (4700 Kingsway) in Burnaby.
Several company executives and local politicians attended the event and made speeches.
Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan pointed out that the city is home to the Japanese Canadian community's National Nikkei Museum and Cultural Centre.
"We are given the honour of protecting the heritage of Japanese people in British Columbia and to remembering both their accomplishments and their tragedies here in our province," he said. "We continue to consider the Japanese people to be one of the founding people of the new colonists who came to British Columbia."
B.C. Minister of Jobs, Trade, and Technology Bruce Ralston acknowledged the work by the B.C. trade and investment representative in Tokyo worked with Muji Global to establish the store here. As testimony to power of the Muji brand, Ralston told attendees how he was surprised by the response that people had when he told them he would be attending the opening.
"When I talked to some people about the fact that I was coming here, I very rapidly learned that Muji has an incredibly intense and enthusiastic following and people were probably more envious of the fact that I was here at Muji today than anything else I've done since I took over this job," he said.
Satoru Matsuzaki, president of Ryohin Keikaku (Muji's parent company), said that the Muji has 422 stores in Japan and 428 stores outside of it.
"We can confidently say that we are very proud of how our brand and concept has been received by everyone all over the world," he said. "I have faith that this store will outdo our other stores in Toronto and that it will help introduce Muji to new customers, which will drive us to expand our store all across Canada."
Matsuzaki explained the core of the company's minimalist philosophy.
"The basis of Muji's project and development is to create a product that is truly fundamental to daily life without any unnecessary complexity," he said. "We hope that products that are owned with this concept will help our Canadian customers improve their lifestyle."
Muji Canada president Toru Akita apologized to British Columbians for making them wait for such a long time for a Muji store to open here. Although the company has four locations in Ontario, they have been searching for a B.C. location since 2009.
Yet as the saying goes, good things come to those who wait: he pointed out that this new 7,770 square foot store is their largest store in Canada, is 20 percent larger than their Toronto stores, and offers 4,000 items.
Something different from other companies, particularly North American ones, is that Muji removes any displays of corporate branding on their product.
In fact, Akita explained that their company name in Japanese means "good quality product with no name".
"This is one reason why our product can be easily blended into each person's lifestyle," he said.
The principles embodied by the company reflect many traditional Japanese values.
Accordingly, the opening event featured several demonstrations of traditional Japanese culture, including shodo (calligraphy) and cha-do (tea ceremony), and several women dressed in kimonos.
Consul General of Japan in Vancouver Asako Okai led the attending dignitaries in kagamiwari, a sake barrel opening ceremony, as attendees made a toast by saying "kanpai" with sake.
The forthcoming downtown Vancouver Muji location at 1125 Robson Street (formerly occupied by the Gap) will be 10,000 square feet and will open by the end of the year.
Although this is the first permanent store, Muji previously held an appointment-only pop-up store in Vancouver from January to February at the Fairmont Pacific Rim for an exhibition about Japanese architecture, design, and culture.