How are Japanese houses?

9 Jul

What kind of houses do Japanese people live in?

Some time ago there was a message from Ia at my shout box says;
“I love your blog so much! I was wondering if you may post about living space in Japan? I read that it is very small, how do you fit everything?”

So today I’d like to introduce you houses in Japan.
Here are images of traditional Japanese houses. There are many of these houses out of big cities. Heavy and solemn roof tiles, Fusuma, or paper sliding doors that separate more than 2 tatami rooms, (and there maybe transom windows upper sliding doors), Shoji, paper sliding doors with wooden grid in front of windows instead of curtains, Tokonoma, or alcove where art or flowers are displayed is equipped in tatami rooms, etc. These are the very characteristic interior or exterior that illustrate traditional Japanese housing. Usually two-story detached house with garden is common. The garden is not always very Japanese style as known as “Japanese garden”. Houses like this is not that small. The more away from city the bigger houses can be. :p

Then how about the city area? It’s totally different. As you may know, land price in Tokyo is not cheap. As most of job opportunities are concentrated in Tokyo, people try to live in Tokyo if they can afford that, or at least try to settle at commutable prefectures located next to Tokyo, which means Saitama, Kanagwa and Chiba prefecture, to be more precise. This means Tokyo and these areas of especially easy reach to Tokyo, there is high demand of people who want to live in, hence the rent or price of houses goes high.

I live in Kawasaki-city, Kanagawa prefecture, but just across the Tamagawa river, there’s Tokyo, so I say I blog from Tokyo. There’s no big difference (although land prices are very much different!) and most of non-Japanese can recognize when they hear Tokyo, but how about Kawasaki? (That’s my city.)They would imagine Kawasaki motorcycles! šŸ˜†

example-of-floorplan2 So how people in Tokyo and outskirts of Tokyo live like? It’s far better to give you images than explain by text. Many people live in an apartment rather than detached house because, as I mentioned, land price is so high.

Here are some examples of casual floorplan for single to live in. In Tokyo, one small room (studio type) or one bedroom of under 20 square meters requires a rent from around 50,000 yen – 80,000 yen or more (USD 500 – 800) which may sounds too expensive for the space. If you are from Hong Kong, you might feel it’s OK, (as land in HK costs high, too and the situation may not differ so much) but I’m sure most of you’d feel uncomfortable with this small space to live in. These days there are young people who share a house or an apartment, but the trend is not that popular when compared with other countries.

Families may rent a house or an apartment but most of them like to buy a house where they will keep living forever, because in Japan buying a house means only one time shopping in one’s life because of the price, whether it’s in Tokyo or countryside.

Here are random examples of major Japanese housing makers. (They are big names and it is not always that we ask them to build a house. Some people hire local architects and builders. )


And Random examples of major Japanese apartment/condo makers. (HUDOSAN is a Japanese word meaning real estate.)


Just browsing photos in these sites, you’ll see houses in the city area look much different from those of most other parts in Japan. They are modern and various ways of designs are possible. Of course there are people who buy second-hand house and get it renovated, but in Japan, second-hand house market is very small compared with Europe and the U.S ones, which may because of our housing structure is not durable after 20 – 30 years, due to the humid climate, wooden structure of the house, and frequent earthquakes. šŸ˜¦

Anyway, my previous job was something to offer a renovation design to the second-hand apartments. Whether it is a traditional old Japanese house or a modern up-to-date Japanese house, there is a basic rule that doesn’t change for centuries. It is that we take off our shoes at the entrance of the house. It is that our way of taking a bath is very unique as this. I like to live in other countries, as I want to experience various life styles in my life, but I can say for sure that I cannot live without Japanese bath, Japanese foods, and taking shoes off to stay with bare foot in the house.


Well, I was a little off the track, Ia. (-_-;) This post looks like a basic info. regarding Japanese housing, and I was not exactly answering to your question, so I’ll continue the post about how we live in a small space cleverly some time later. Stay tuned!


19 Responses to “How are Japanese houses?”

  1. megan July 9, 2009 at 4:30 pm #

    I stayed in a traditional style Japanese house in Utsunomiya for a few days with a host family. The layout of the first floor was something like this (Sorry about the bad picture; I made it quickly in paint):

    Both bedrooms had tatami floors, as did the bedroom upstairs. The room I stayed in (the bedroom on the bottom by the hallway) had shoji on two walls (facing the hallways), and the other two were fusuma. There was also a closet built into one of the walls. I could post up some pictures if you'd like!

    There is a question mark on my drawing because I didn't see that part of the house (though I think there was another toilet there). Its where the grandparents live. That was one thing that was different–while the grandparents did live in the same house as the rest of the family, they never ate dinner with us or anything; I only say them outside in the mornings when they were working (agricultural work). Which makes me wonder if they had their own kitchen and such! Anyways, another thing that was quite different was that the toilet and bathtub were on separate floors.
    I enjoyed sleeping on a futon. I love how the comforters are big and fluffy. And even though I was very close to the floor, it was easy to turn off the light because of the long cord tied to the switch (it had a 5en coin on the end). šŸ™‚

    It was a very nice, and I enjoyed staying in a different kind of house.

    • kirin July 10, 2009 at 8:15 am #

      Thank you for the drawing, I can guess what it'd be like from your story.
      You really had a great experience in Japan! I think there are many people who travel in Japan, but not many would have experiences like you did. I think the house you stayed is connected with the grandparents' one, which means they have their own kitchen and other facilities.

      It's very natural that eldest son would invite wife to his house where his mother and father lives (family house). They live in the same house all together. This trend is very strong outside the city area, because it's our tradition. But in the city, people tend to live in a small house, and city people would not like sharing the living space with mother-in-law or father-in-law, wife would convince husband to have own home even if it's very tiny…Just like me, maybe? šŸ˜†

  2. Miss Ia July 9, 2009 at 5:51 pm #

    Thank you for the introduction post, Kirin! It's so interesting how it all works. Here in the U.S., a studio sized place can be very small and also cost anywhere from 500-800 USD, so it's not really that different in pricing (at least in my area, in the midwest it's much more affordable but very inconvenient without a car). I'll definately keep reading!

    • kirin July 10, 2009 at 8:21 am #

      Thank you Ia, you suggested me this subject. Next time I'll introduce how we are coping with the limited space.
      Living in Tokyo or close to it allows us life without a car. Bus and trains come every 5 minutes or so, and they are well connected. I go to my train station either by bus or by bicycle and then 10 – 15 minutes later, I reach Shibuya, Tokyo…something like this. I don't have a car. I don't need it. šŸ™‚

  3. Rosa July 9, 2009 at 9:01 pm #

    Very interesting. I went to some of the home maker sites and I really like the Japanese houses. Very minimalist compared to the U.S. and a lot less space but it seems very functional.

    • kirin July 10, 2009 at 8:25 am #

      Thank you for your comment, Rosa.
      We cannot afford as big house as the U.S people have, but instead, we make use of functional equipment and storage. I'll introduce our ideas and good devices we make use of in our small houses some time later. Hope you like the post, too. Stay tuned! šŸ™‚

      • Rosa July 11, 2009 at 2:59 am #

        Great! That would be a great follow-up post for the Japanese houses post. Thanks! I will definitely stay tuned!

  4. Ivy July 10, 2009 at 2:13 am #

    Singapore is really expensive too. >.< But at least the houses aren't as small as the ones in Japan – although most of the new developments are starting to become that small. Ahh, I miss Canada's almost-unlimited supply of land!!!

    • kirin July 10, 2009 at 8:31 am #

      I have no image on Singapore, really nothing…so I need to visit you some day. šŸ˜‰
      I've visited Canada once, it was only Vancouver though, and I had the impression that the city was clean. I've never been to Toronto but from what you've mentioned so far in your blog, I already have good image against it.

  5. n a n d a July 11, 2009 at 1:51 am #

    nice post. have no idea that the prices are that high. no wonder why even in dorama the houses/apartments are so small.
    but lucky japanese have bathroom and kitchen in studio apartment.

    in indonesia most ppl (esp. university students) only rent 1 single room (bathroom inside/outside (means you use it w/ other tenants) are optional depends on the price) but usually no kitchen in the room. kitchen's always outside and shared.

    hope someday you can post about how to decorate tiny rooms cos from what i see in dorama (my only source other than internet to japanese lifestyle haha :D) ppl live in tiny spaces yet things are fit and the rooms are look beautiful. i live in a house (small house) and have small bedroom too. and still trying to find ways to decorate it ;p

    • kirin July 11, 2009 at 3:14 pm #

      Hi nanda, thank you for your comment.
      Do you often watch Japanese dramas? Then you have to know that the setting in most of dramas are a little bit far from reality. I mean heroine would live in a nice apartment. In reality, if the heroine works for such and such company and the age is such, then how could she live in such a nice house? …something like that. I rarely can watch TV, but have you ever watched Hatarakiman, for example? I happened to watch that drama (a few years ago though), but there's no way the heroine can live in such a nice apartment if she were out of the drama.

      Next time (which does not always mean next post), I'll write about how we make the most out of the limited space. I may refer to our interior decoration then or next after next time. So please be patient until then. Stay tuned!

  6. n a n d a July 18, 2009 at 2:31 am #

    thank you so much. i already appreciate u replied my comments and requests hehe šŸ™‚
    will be waiting for it patiently šŸ™‚

  7. mei August 3, 2009 at 4:20 am #

    barefoot in the house??just the same with Indonesian people:D

    reading your post about housing in Japan, I can figure it out that there no diff with here in my country. In big city as Jakarta, which land price are so high, average people just like us just can buy average house. 2 rooms, small kitchen and small bathroom(no bath up). About Apartment, it's a bit different with your country Kirin, here high society live in apartment. coz price for apartment are higher then a house šŸ˜€

    • kirin August 3, 2009 at 2:12 pm #

      Barefoot in the house, yes! Same in Indonesia? I feel this is the best, and for this I will never understand Western culture where they wear shoes in their house. In Japan apartment is cheaper than house because 5 people would share the land if the apartment had 5 floors. šŸ˜‰ Thanks for your comment. I've never been to Jakarta. I've only been to Bali.

  8. Catherine October 11, 2009 at 8:10 am #

    Hello again! Mm… Perhaps one day soon, I'll make a video to show you my apartment in Singapore? ^_^ It is 110msq and costs a bit less than 15 million yen. It'll take us about 25 years to pay for it. But we borrow $$$ from the Govt at an interest rate of about 2.5%. The housing market is good now. I can sell this apartment for about 25 million yen. But if I do that, I'll have to live under a bridge or something. Haha…

    • kirin October 12, 2009 at 8:05 am #

      Wow, that's so reasonable. In my area (a river across Tokyo, so it's cheaper than Tokyo) 70 sqm apartment house costs 35 million yen. (Is it like Hong Kong, or maybe a little betther?) When it comes to a house with 2nd floor, it'll be 50 -60 million yen even in this area. Of course people buy house by borrowing money from bank and the house is mortgaged until we return all debt. It's nice if your house will be sold at higher prices. In Japan it used to be like that, but not any more.

  9. jessy November 10, 2009 at 8:58 pm #

    i can relate when you say you cannot live without japanese food, bath, and taking shoes off.!.!.!.
    now that i live in US for a bit, these things (food, bath, shoes) are different.
    I am from puerto rico, and there, the bath is connected to the floor. like US baths', there the ''bath'' is just a part of the bathroom that is divided by see-through doors.
    and people don't wear their shoes inside the house too. we use house sandals. there is an old saying "dirty shoes will bring worms". we still take our shoes off here in US, but it gets tireding to tell other people to take their shoes off when they visit. ^^''
    thank you for giving exampols of housing markets.
    i see advertisement of "Daiwa House" in many dramas, and now i know what it is. xD
    i guess a normal apartment in japan, is like studio in US.

    • kirin November 12, 2009 at 3:25 pm #

      Normal apartment for a single is called "one room" in Japanese and yes, it's like studio in the U.S. šŸ™‚

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