Sunday, 13 February 2011

Building a Japanese House

As I have always had a strong interest in architecture, I was particularly keen to have a closer look at domestic architecture while in Japan. Over the years in my Design classes we would inevitably discuss the stylistic inspiration of Japanese architecture on modernist pioneers such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Charles Rennie Mackintosh. This would eventually lead to the Bauhaus and obvious connections to the minimalist style that remains so popular today. While the traditional wooden, grid-based style can still be easily found, it is fair to say that the modern Japanese home is now very different in both design and construction. Fortunately, I have the opportunity to observe modern house construction first hand while passing the numerous building sites on the way to school. Being in the outer northern suburbs of Osaka, the once open foothills are now quickly being covered with what can only be described as ‘instant’ homes.

The first thing that strikes you is the size of the land on which they are being built, which is very small. However, in true Japanese tradition every portion of the space is fully utilised ensuring that each home is literally within arms length of its neighbour.
Most sit very close to the road, with just enough space for a small car space. The generally double storey designs vary considerably, from flat roofed modern executive styles to traditional cottages that would look more at home in England. The last remnants of Japanese aesthetic appears to have almost totally disappeared, with even the traditional tatami room increasingly giving way to the popular home cinema. However, what continues to fascinate me is the sheer speed in which they are constructed. With the foundation barely dry, the wooden framework goes up with tradesmen busily working into the night, often under floodlights in order to push the job forward. A cloth covered scaffold is neatly placed around the house while construction is underway, so for several weeks the house looks like a large present ready to be unwrapped by the proud owner in due course. There is not a cement mixer in sight, with the stone, brick or cement exterior finishes achieved by textured panels that are eventually glued on. Not surprisingly, I have heard that modern homes are not particularly well insulated and this might explain the high demand for reverse cycle air conditioning units. Nonetheless, when the finished home is revealed a few weeks later, it has the appearance of a shiny new appliance.
Of course there is great care taken in selecting an impressive front door, which always opens outward for some reason. This could be cultural or more likely a way of providing more interior space for removing your shoes; a traditional practice that still continues today.

Le Corbusier once stated that a home should be ‘a machine for living in’ and it seems that the Japanese have taken this adage on board. Like most modern products that inevitably become obsolete, these homes are not expected to last forever. Having lived with earthquakes for centuries, the Japanese are well aware of that. I was told that 30 years was a reasonable expectation for the life of a house and with that in mind, you can well understand the sense of impermanence these modern homes often seem to reflect.


  1. Hello Chris, Enjoyed reading your last 3 blogs: Housing, Electronics Maze and Karaoke. The Japanese seem to have gone for the consumer life style hook, line and sinker! How much do the homes cost to rent or buy? The Yodobashi Camera sounds incredible. For an oldie like me it would be quite overwhelming. The Karaoke would be more my style. If you do it well I suppose you get a free drink.

    Have you made any Japanese friends and been invited home? All Good Wishes to you Both, Peter (Norwich)

  2. Good to hear from you Peter...always enjoy your comments and feedback.
    In answer to your question, I was told by a colleague that the going house and land package as described would cost between 225-250,000 GBP.

    Keep in touch!

  3. I loved ur Japanese Architect in house it amazing I liked very much .. super design ..

    House And Land Package

  4. You can clearly see the evolution of Japanese houses. After WWII most wooden and tile roof houses were destroyed or demolished, replaced with modern structures. Japanese houses are now famous for touting modern designs using concrete, glass and steel.

  5. I find Japanese houses very quaint and minimalistic and I see those as positive points. But what I love the most about their houses is that they are very well-organized, from the roof down to the ground, both inside and out.