Can you explain the concept of ‘emptiness’, the basic philosophy of MUJI?
I think it’s easiest to understand by comparing it to ‘simplicity’. The ‘simplicity’ brought about by modernism, with the goal of finding the most direct and rational relationship among materials, objects and functions, is a very nice idea as it stands.
On the other hand, emptiness can be utilised by anyone in any way — its goal is ultimate flexibility. In order to be able to accept any kind of use, and any kind of image, the object exists in the condition of an empty vessel.
In order to express the difference between the two, I often display two knives. The first is a German Henkel knife. The other is a Japanese yanagiba kitchen knife for sashimi. The Henkel knife, its form based on human engineering, is extremely easy to hold and easy to use — as soon as you grip the handle, your thumb automatically finds the correct position.
The grip of the yanagiba knife, on the other hand, is blunt and plain, like a baton. The handle gives no indication of where one should grip it, but actually you can grip it anywhere, in any way you like. This plain grip is able to admit, to handle, the superb skills of any Japanese chef.
The Henkel is simple.
The sushi knife is ‘empty’.
Both are wonderful knives, but herein lies the difference between them.
However, this is something that the product development side thinks about, and MUJI does not explain this to the customers, and I also do not plan to have the customers understand the products in terms of this kind of logic. I believe this is something one naturally comes to understand in the course of using the object. Even if the form is neither novel nor flashy, it’s something you come to realise gradually, and by the time you’ve realised it, you should have already come to a deep understanding.