Anyone who knows Japanese retailer MUJI (無印良品) in Europe or America is probably familiar with their “no brand” stationery, but in Japan, their product range is far bigger with clothing, furniture, food & drink, kitchenware, cosmetics, bicycles, plants, consumer electronics and even houses.
When it came time to equip my new apartment in Tokyo with the kitchen necessities I couldn’t help but be drawn to the unadorned simplicity of MUJI’s appliances, designed by Naoto Fukasawa, so picked up a rice cooker and toaster. Compared to the downright revolting offerings from the usual suspects there wasn’t really any competition.
Shaped like an oversized marshmallow the snow-white rice cooker has nary a straight line or right angle in sight. Its matte-finished surface gives way to a sparse control panel which provides settings for white/brown rice, curry and porridge. 99% of the time I use it on fast mode since I’m usually in a bit of a hurry while cooking.
“The closer an object gets to the human body, the easier it will be to adapt to if it has a softer, gentler form. Our job, you could say, is not to give forms to objects, but instead to determine their positions, if it’s going to be installed near a wall or used while in a human hand—that’s what’s important.” — Naoto Fukasawa
A simple latch opens the lid revealing the usual Teflon-coated cooking bowl, with indicator lines for how much water you should use depending on the amount of rice, and a removable pressure lid.
Once the lid of the cocoon is closed a raised bump at one end provides the perfect place to rest your serving spatula while not in use. It’s a nice little touch which gives the product a personality, especially when using a bamboo rice paddle instead of the plastic one included.
“You first take the rice bowl in your left hand, and then you take the rice paddle and open the lid with your right. After you dish the rice out, you have to stop and think of where to put the paddle down, and you come to a dead stop. I asked a lot of people what they did next, and they said they put in on the side of the sink, or on the lid. However, there are almost no rice cooker lids that are flat, and since they have switches and whatnot on top, it’s not safe. So I put the interface on the front, made the lid flat, and had a rest for the rice paddle built-in.”Naoto Fukasawa
Hidden on the back are the required regulatory notices along with a handy retractable power cable. As with everything in this world, it’s made in China.
The pop-up toaster comes in a similar curved form-factor using identical materials for the shell. The only controls are a sliding lever, timer dial and buttons for defrost/stop. There’s also a hidden tray in the base which slides out to remove crumbs.
“Toasters have also become somewhat less angular, but they’re still more square-shaped than rice cookers. There are reasons for this. In order to toast the bread so that the inside’s moist and the outside’s crunchy, there needs to be a certain distance between the heater and the bread. Reduce that distance, and you can toast the bread more quickly, but you won’t get that springy texture. Also, if the outside of the toaster isn’t constructed to a certain thickness, it’ll get hot, so also for safety reasons, a boxy shape is optimal for the appliance.”Naoto Fukasawa
“In the appliance business, it was important to drive industrial growth, but since competition intensified, new products were constantly being launched, and I think consumers got tired of it. As we get more and more of these items coming to market that have so many features, we also have people who think, “I can make do with just the minimum functionality.”
It’s the role of unbranded superior goods to ascertain the functions that aren’t just the products of competition-driven fads but that will probably always be with us.”Naoto Fukasawa
The task of cooking rice or toasting bread isn’t particularly complex and, while other manufacturers compete on fancy but unnecessary features, MUJI gets the basics right. It’s nice to know that there are those willing to stand up to the excesses of capitalism without compromising on quality or design.