$3.50: MUJI's minimalist metrosexual toothbrush

TWO MONTHS after returning from my whirlwind bike+bullet train visit to Japan, I'm still turning Japanese. I'm cooking up a nabe storm in my Kyoto nabemono, I'm drinking sencha+matcha at all the wrong moments (like before going to bed) and I'm leafing luxuriantly through the copy of The Aesthetics of the Japanese Lunchbox by Kenji Ekuan "one of Japan's foremost industrial designers".

Ekuan-san romances the minimalist, orderly tension of the bento box with such a lyrical reverence I wouldn't be surprised if he had something to do with the design of this toothbrush.

This is just toothbrush. Thank god.  It's not an mp3 player to groove along to while you floss. It's not a vibrating wand with meat-seeking infra-red technology to hunt and destroy trapped flesh of dead animal from your fajita binge. It's not an exercise in Pantone mayhem and ergonomic design overkill that typifies the average Oral-Turbo-ABC.

It's actually even less than your average, ugly, overwrought toothbrush. It's a barely-there, colorless handle, smooth and minimally sculpted, with no weird kinks and bends, ending in a brush that can actually duck behind the molars in the balcony seats. In fact, the bristles themselves are "rounded" to further reach those spots where floss fears to thread, although Muji also sells a slightly cheaper, "flat bristle" version - why, I have no idea.

The complete absence of color is restful. Perhaps it really is designed for die-hard metrosexual bachelors, who have no need for a pink or other colored version sitting in the rack to know which is theirs.

Radical idea: Imagine using merely the dictionary definition as a design brief?

toothbrush |ˈtoōθˌbrə | noun
a small brush with a long handle used for cleaning the teeth.

Before spotting this piece of marvellously modest Muji minimalism, both Stateside and Tokyo-side, I went to the usual place - a drugstore - to buy a toothbrush.  I was bailed up for several minutes trying to reconcile the bewildering array of contorted, technicolor offerings. Like these:

I mean, holy cavity, what is that? I feel like it came from the 8-and-under section of Toys'R'Us, like the bristles are going to give me blue or purple teeth, and how much extra am I paying for some fancy die-cutting machine to sculpt all those graphical swooshes and dots? Have you not heard of "blue and green should not be seen, without a color in between?"

Now don't get me wrong - I am as much a lover of color and and bling and out'n'out maximalism when done right. But the Sagrada Familia these ain't.

In my FastCompany blog I wrote about Feldenkreis and the perils of escalation - otherwise known as "overkill". The product of overkill is ugliness. An overloaded piece of "pizza sushi", as my Japanese friend calls it - groaning under the weight of avocado, fish roe, mayonnaise, mango, tempura - is flavor ugliness. A boss that says "and if you do it again," after you've said "It will never happen again, boss", is personality ugliness. An overproduced studio track is ... Barry Manilow (no personal offence to Bazza, he's a good guy). OK, make that Celine Dion.

No doubt the manufacturer of the above blingy brushes will insist that focus groups like them. Well, when you force people in a fluorescent-lit, carpeted-partition room on a Tuesday night to focus on a bunch of objects on a white table, they'll eventually end up growing on you like a wart. How many of you have flicked though the unfathomable dross in an airplane duty-free catalog;then, for god's sake, ended up actually buying some bling at 30,000 feet in a frenzy of boredom?

Visual and aural escalation creates an environment of cacophany, causing dizziness, confusion, irritation and stress, ultimately leading to the consumption of happy pills, alcohol, therapy and television shopping. Include in this, road rage, stripmalls edged with awful neon lighting, Build-A-Bear - you get the idea.

Overwrought technicolor toothbrushes like this must be stopped.

Thank Buddha I can gaze through the barely-there, unobtrusive handle of my Muji toothbrush, and feel a sense of calm and clarity wash over me like ripples over pond of fat koi. Throw away your meds, buy a Muji toothbrush and notice a visible difference to your life in just three gargles.

Now about escalated dental floss - that's another 20 minutes in the aisle ... don't get me started.

toothbrush |ˈtoōθˌbrə | noun
a small brush with a long handle used for cleaning the teeth.


Anonymous said…
I found this article while browsing for a toothbrush precisely like the one you write about.
I am appalled at the common toothbrush selections selections stateside. They remind of me of Nike sneakers. Once I was staring at the selection in a drugstore here in San Francisco when after several minutes the stranger next to me finally said, "they're all so ugly."
Your writing style is beautiful and you articulate well. The things you say resonate with me.
This toothbrush has made me decide to bump Tokyo up on my list of places to see before I die. And I will bring my Muji toothbrush with me when I go!

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