In Tokyo a couple falls ago, I was having lunch with my brother when I dropped a tiny piece of brown sauce–dipped tonktasu on my shirt. Of course, my hand-eye coordination abysmal, I overcompensated trying to catch it and just smeared it into my shirt even further. Miles away from our hotel, I didn't want to walk around the entire day looking like I had just used my clothes as toilet paper, so I stopped into the nearest 7-Eleven and bought a simple white T-shirt to change into.
The entire rest of that day I felt like a god. What soft cotton! What neat seams! What stylish design and cut and color! What casual, life-affirming comfort.
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If Tokyo is notorious for making foreigners feel lonely, then Kyoto may be even less forgiving. But there’s something precious about being in that vulnerable state as a traveler to a new place. A heightened sensitivity means that you’re on guard all the time — it also means that any small act of kindness from a stranger becomes magnified, and food that would otherwise just taste good becomes that much more nourishing.
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We've lauded the many beautiful things that a Japanese 7-Eleven offers (egg salad sandwiches, fried chicken, fish cakes simmering in broth). But I’ve always loved that there's a small section for Muji home and lifestyle products: T-shirts, stationery, even underwear. Famous in Japan (and now internationally) for being a quality retail brand on the cheap, Muji (which comes from Mujirushi, "no-brand" or "unbranded") is minimalist in its design, focusing on whites, grays, and beiges, and even avoids waste in its packaging and recycled products.
The way I feel about Muji is, I suppose, the way many of us feel about Trader Joe’s, or how my mother feels about TJ Maxx. It saves lives. You go in because you need something in a pinch, but walk out with a perfectly designed thing you’ll use forever.
All my plain white, black, and gray T-shirts are Muji-brand. My favorite red flannel shirt, now that I think of it, is from Muji (like my 7-Eleven tee, I bought it on a whim one night because I was cold and miles away from home).
I’m particularly fond of all their pens, pencils, notepads, and paper products. I write down all my recipe ideas and testing notes in these simple, perfect $1.50 notebooks that are as stained as all my T-shirts.
For years I’ve been sending typewritten letters to my long-distance friends (I have a restored Royal typewriter from the 1940s, the same exact model Hemingway used to use). Muji has this soft brown recycled paper that feeds into it beautifully, and brown envelopes that look very nice and old-fashioned with it. If you're a stationary geek like me (and a little nostalgic), then you're in luck.
And don’t even get me started on my Muji suitcase. I first bought it because I was in need of luggage and noticed that my cousin Becky—the person I travel with most—had been flying with the same one for years.
"I've had it forever and it's still sturdy as hell," she tells me. "I use it both for carry-on and check-in. Love it."
So why do I love mine?
- It's got a hard-shell case, for one, which means if I'm checking it, I'm confident that everything in it will be safe. After all these years (I've had mine for two years, Becky's had hers for about four or five), it's still sturdy as heck.
- Because I got the "light gray" color (which reads offset white)—and because no one else has this suitcase—I can pick it out of the baggage claim lineup easily.
- If you're a light traveler like me, it's standard carry-on size and fits perfectly in the overhead compartments of all the commercial airlines I've flown so far.
- Speaking of traveling light: I lied. This suitcase is deceivingly roomy and has a deep secret compartment that can fit sooo much. Every time I pack for a trip, I feel smug. Like I'm the absolute best at packing—but really, I think the Muji guys are just design geniuses and they in turn make me feel inordinately competent at life.
- On that note, this suitcase makes even the heaviest loads (like books, jackets, sweaters) feel light en route. Because when it rolls, it glides. I've taken it to Japan, Switzerland, Atlanta, Portland, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Honolulu—airports and train stations where I've had to walk miles and miles carrying my luggage—and in those moments have always felt grateful for its magic wheels.
I wear these brown-checkered Muji slippers around my apartment, which really helps in the colder months when my floors are freezing, or when I want to go downstairs to get the mail or do laundry (but not fully commit to stepping outside).
Anyway, I'm not the only one can wax poetic about Muji. Here's why my colleagues love it, too:
“Omg. So many favorite Muji products, take your pick: The travel-sized containers; striped shirts (for me, my daughter, and my husband), perfect marker pens and blank notebooks are just some... Oh! Muji makes my favorite wet ‘Swiffer’ (it’s like a flooring mop + pole) with this microfiber mop refill. —Hana Asbrink, senior lifestyle editor
“Muji linen duvet cover and pillowcases in white.” —Ella Quittner, food writer & recipe developer
(This is the refined, edited version Ella sent me after the initial message, which was was full of typos, exclamation points, and a follow-up: “Sorry, I got excited when you asked initially.”)
“I love this guy! Not only is it the perfect size for my everyday toiletries, like mascara, lip balm, and tissues, but I also love that I can immediately see if something's missing. On the kitchen side, Muji has cute, basic plates, bowls, cups, etc.; they're all very nice." —Katie Macdonald, assistant editor
“I’m a stan for the socks, the T-shirts, and the whole wall of aromatherapy products. All of the makeup-adjacent stuff is weirdly good too, from Q-tips (they have fancy all-black ones!) to cotton squares to oddly cute toothbrushes to cleansing oils. Oh, and don't sleep on the furniture section! I'll just take one of everything.” —Cory Baldwin, director of partner content
This post is not sponsored.
Do you love Muji, too? Let us know in the comments below.