Sunday, 1 July 2012
Buying a Japanese House
Upon entering, we were initially struck by the sheer size of the gated complex, with some 55 fully furnished homes on display. Unlike display houses in Australia that might have consisted of possibly 6 homes, this was in fact a small neigbourhood that required a street map in order for us to make our way around. As we looked down the roads, we could see some of the typical features of Japanese selling…the use of strange inflated cartoon like characters, which in this case were emerging from several of the first floor balconies. We’re still not quite sure how this approach is supposed to encourage you to buy a house, but we can only assume that if the display is interesting enough to entice small children, perhaps the parents will quickly follow. With an average Japanese house costing anything between 9 -16 million Yen (approx. A$110,000 – 195,000) this is no small purchase and that is assuming that the customer has already invested into a block of land, which is generally more expensive than the actual house itself (despite often being only slightly larger than a postage stamp). So every little incentive is used (including even a lottery draw for small prizes at one house we viewed) to encourage you to take those first tentative steps toward house ownership by simply walking through the doors to view the sample home. Each of the sales staff are particularly attentive (even more so than usual), often standing at the front door with an inviting smile and encouraging you to enter. Leaving our shoes at the door (as is tradition) we were provided with slippers then the mandatory house plan, while the assistant politely followed at a discreet distance behind, eager to answer questions or generally sell the merit of the design (sadly much of the sales ‘patter’ was wasted on us).
The interesting thing that we have learnt about new build housing in Japan is that each home is only expected to last 25 – 30 years and that just like buying a new car, houses depreciate rather than appreciate in value as they get older. It is the land that holds its value, while houses will be eventually demolished to make way for the next generation of design. However for most people, buying a house remains a one off purchase and much effort is made to ensure that it will fulfill the families current and future needs. Despite their small building footprint, most houses pack quite a lot into the design and with many buildings standing three stories tall, there is a surprising amount of space. We found that the Japanese genkan (the entry way where shoes are removed) were now wide and inviting areas, while many homes still found space to incorporate the traditional ‘tatami room’, although often designed with a slightly modern twist. We were pleased that the ‘wet room’ approach to the shower/bathroom had been retained, as this is a concept that Jules and I have increasingly grown to appreciate. Thankfully, ‘futon’ style sleeping and squat toilets appear to have become relics of the past! There is now clear evidence that the Japanese are seeking modernity in their homes with greater emphasis upon kitchen (which Jules loved) and the entertainment areas (which I loved), while the emergence of a new space called the ‘communication centre’ reflected the growing amount of time spent on the computer. We were amazed at the amount of designs we viewed that were clearly influenced by the prairie style of Frank Lloyd Wright, with their use of woodwork, stone and cantilever style roofing. This is quite ironic as the great American designer cited traditional Japanese architecture as his only genuine influence upon his own style during the early 1900’s. Somehow this approach to design had now become totally reversed with one of the salesmen proudly pointing out the reproduction lighting and panel work, the originals of which we had seen only last year when visiting one of Wrights greatest homes, ‘Fallingwater’.
After spending several enjoyable hours at the ‘housing display park’, we left not only with a bag of brochures, but also with a new appreciation for modern Japanese housing. We weren’t buying into the Japanese dream just yet, but as always with this type of experience, it was fun imagining what living in these homes might actually be like. So it was back to the apartment for us, but the next time we walk by a new build home, at least we will have some understanding about the interior design behind the front door and what it takes to buy a Japanese house.