Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Muji earned 21.2 per cent of its $2.35-billion revenue in overseas markets in 2013, and is aiming to make it 30 per cent by 2016.

Sylvie Milner/The Globe and Mail

This is the first of an occasional series from The Globe's Brian Milner, who visited Japan to assess the results of dramatic efforts to revitalize the world's third-largest economy.

An innovative Japanese retailer that inspires fierce loyalty among customers for its unusual no-brand philosophy and carefully crafted apparel, appliances, stationery, furniture and myriad of other household items is coming to Canada.

Muji, which has expanded rapidly across large swaths of Asia and Europe and recently opened its ninth store in the United States, will launch its first Canadian foray in the heart of downtown Toronto near the Eaton Centre in mid-December. It intends to add two more stores in the city by the end of next year, before spreading to other large urban markets.

Story continues below advertisement

With some 3,000 available products (compared with about 7,500 in its Japanese stores), Muji will be doing battle in the hotly competitive local market with everyone from nearby purveyors of branded casual clothing, home and fashion accessories, to the likes of Target, Staples, Shoppers Drug Mart and even Ikea.

But this doesn't faze the Japanese invader, which sticks resolutely to its pitch as an environmentally responsible antidote to overpriced global brands, shoddy discount goods and wasteful packaging. To keep costs down, it steers clear of the highest-priced malls, spends nothing on market research, next to nothing on advertising – less than 2 per cent of sales in Japan and below 1 per cent overseas – and largely ignores the competition.

"We have over 270 shops around the world," Satoru Matsuzaki, the ebullient senior managing director responsible for overseas operations, says in an interview at the company's low-key headquarters in northeast Tokyo. "We did not do any market research coming into a new country. We don't spend such money. Then, we can achieve reasonable prices."

Like other major Japanese retailers, Muji has focused increasingly on foreign expansion, especially to China and faster-growing Asian emerging markets, to counter slower sales on the home front. The Japanese launched a similar overseas drive in the 1970s and booming 1980s. But then, the charge was led by higher-end fashion and department stores.

Today, the action is centred in the mass-market end of the business. By 2017, Muji expects to be operating more stores abroad than in slow-growth Japan, where retailers are grappling with fierce competition from foreign and other domestic players, amid reduced spending by an aging, shrinking population and declining work force.

Fast Retailing's Uniqlo apparel chain, Asia's biggest, is also reported to be coming to Canada by 2016 as part of a huge overseas expansion. The company declined an interview request to discuss its plans.

Aeon Group, Japan's largest retailer, which once owned U.S. clothing chain Talbots, has been building its own malls across China and other markets in emerging Asia. Its goal is to reach 1-trillion yen ($10.65-billion) in overseas revenue by fiscal 2016, double the current level and 12.5 per cent of its target for total sales.

Story continues below advertisement

But Aeon is steering well clear of the established markets of Europe and North America, where Muji executives see plenty of potential for their array of products featuring consumer-friendly designs, simple materials, plain packaging and reasonable – though not discounted – prices.

In Europe and the U.S., "we were told that there are many simple products on the market. However, there are not many that are both simple and well-designed," Mr. Matsuzaki says.

Like Aeon, Muji is still expanding in Japan. But foreign sales are growing faster. They accounted for 21.2 per cent of total operating revenue of $2.35-billion in fiscal 2013 and the company is aiming for 30 per cent by 2016.

Muji itself is the retail brand of Ryohin Keikaku Co. Ltd. But you won't find its plain logo on any of the thousands of items on display in its spacious, uncluttered stores. It doesn't even acknowledge the often celebrated designers it has recruited to develop everything from entire houses to made-in-Japan jeans, its best-selling aroma diffusers, ubiquitous travel cases, ball-point pens and notebooks.

"I don't think things have to be branded. It's more that they have to be useful in daily life," Shiori Tajima, 24, a yoga instructor, says as she checks out neat piles of exercise apparel at the softly lit flagship store in Tokyo's Ginza district. "Wearing Muji is different from Ralph Lauren. I only wear [branded] clothes for special occasions."

The name is short for Mujirushi Ryohin (no-brand superior items), which began life in 1980 as the private-label brand of a major supermarket chain. At the time, Japan was starting to feel the effects of the bubble economy that would drive real estate and other asset prices sky high. Consumers, who had long equated discounts with lower quality, used their increased wealth to acquire foreign luxury brands.

Story continues below advertisement

"They thought that expensive was good, so the products must be good too," Mr. Matsuzaki says partly in English and partly through an interpreter. As a result, something worth, say, 500 yen was being sold for 10 times that amount "just because of one brand logo. We thought: What if we could provide customers with truly valuable products at a good price?"

Canadians will soon get their first look at the answer.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Tickers mentioned in this story
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies