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A Los Angeles Primer: Hollywood

Though you can no longer go to a Japanese department store on the Miracle Mile, you can go to one in Hollywood. Half a century after Seibu took leave of Los Angeles, Muji arrived, representing the current shopping generation as thoroughly as its predecessor represented its own. Seibu, which in its native country harks far back, and far away, to the lavish department stores of fin-de-siècle Europe, theoretically dovetailed right in with the automobile-oriented, fully enclosed shopping experience, which developed so rapidly in postwar America in general and Southern California in particular. Why it didn’t take nobody can quite say, though at that time the country still regarded things Japanese as a novelty, and by the early 1960s traditional department stores, even those out on the “suburban” stretches of Wilshire Boulevard, had already ground to much larger, even farther-flung suburban malls, against whose comfortable convenience even the grandness of Seibu proved no match.

Despite occupying more square footage than any other branch in America, Hollywood’s Muji, by contrast, looks like a utilitarian, almost bare-bones operation. Clothes, snacks, housewares, gadgetry — all of it occupies a single floor, and little separates one type of product from another in placement, design, or (often nonexistent) packaging. Everything at Muji shares the family resemblance of maximum simplicity, a deceptively rigorous aesthetic reassuring shoppers that they haven’t paid for frivolity, for display, for bells and whistles. A far cry indeed from the days when opulence sold in quantity, and one whose number of eager respondents signals the definitive end of the developed world’s previous cycle of big spending. Muji’s product shows us something about the new vogue — for what we in America and Japan like to think of as the old, unwasteful virtues — but, given the newest wave of city life, so does its location.

Read the whole thing at KCET Departures.

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