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The Muji Hotel Shenzhen.

At first Muji Hotel, in Shenzhen, minimalism tops convenience

Japanese lifestyle brand’s first hotel, in southern Chinese tech hub, is suitably stylish but suffers from poor attention to detail

Asia travel

First impressions? From the window of our taxi we saw the big Muji logo shining in the distance; a beacon drawing us to the crowds thronging the pavement outside, selfie-sticks waving above their heads. Standing outside the entrance were large flower arrangements with good luck messages from neighbours and business partners, the hotel having opened just two days earlier.

What’s it like inside? The lobby was a hive of activity, too, every square inch being committed to smartphone memory card. If you’re familiar with the Japanese retailer, you might be able to imagine the interior; the stylish minimalism in natural materials is typical Muji. The staff speak good English, the welcome was warm and Irish banjo music streamed from speakers. The hotel’s 79 rooms are spread over six floors and integrated with a restaurant and a massive Muji store. The library on the third floor has books on, of course, interior design and architecture.

The interior of the Muji Hotel Shenzhen.
And the guest rooms? The minimalist vibe continues here, with simple wooden furniture, quirky artwork and pleasing little design objects. The slippers are thick and soft (and you can take them home), and guests who insist on well-hosed nether regions will be pleased to find Japanese-style automatic toilets.

So why has Muji moved into the hotel business? The brand already sells everything from beds and night lights to toothbrushes and pyjamas, and runs cafes and bakeries, so perhaps it was only a matter of time before it would open a hotel. And why in Shenzhen? “Why not,” said deputy hotel manager Joe Guan.

A buffet at the hotel.
Any drawbacks? Behind the perfect exterior, the hotel feels a little empty, and fails with some details. In the shower, water alternated between scalding hot and freezing cold – and reaching for the tap revealed that it was coming loose. On several occasions, all the lights in our room suddenly went out and the automatic curtains drew themselves closed; finding the switches was not easy in the pitch dark. Incompre­hensibly, a locked glass door blocks the passage between lobby and lobby bar.

Thirsty guests must trudge into the street, through the crowded shop and then the even-more crowded restaurant to get a drink. Guan explained that the shop and hotel are run by separate companies (Muji runs the shop and property giant Shum Yip the hotel) and the bar appears caught in the middle.

The hotel has no pool, sauna or spa and there is little in the gym other than treadmills. And that Irish music mentioned earlier follows you everywhere – the same song on repeat, all day long. It’s enough to drive you crazy, especially while engaging in the battle of elbows that is checkout.

An interior detail at the hotel.
You mentioned a restaurant. What’s that like? Breakfast also leaves a lot to be desired. At one serving station in the 118-seat Muji Diner, light dishes such as miso soup and fruit were available, but to get hot food like sausages or dim sum, one had to queue for almost half an hour. Global-inspired home cooking is offered at other times, and is proving popular, judging by the lack of empty tables.

What’s the bottom line? Prices range from 950 yuan (US$150) to 2,500 yuan for the largest double room, similar to those at the Hilton or Marco Polo. “And there is a chocolate fountain at breakfast there,” pointed out my disappointed 11-year-old son.

Lasting impression? I was reminded of something singer Ola Salo, of Swedish glam-rock band The Ark, once told me. “Scandinavian minimalist design is fantastic until you add that pink lump of meat.” What lump of meat, I asked. “People,” he said. This hotel is a paradise for Instagramers but a little frustrating for regular people, of any hue.