Traditional Houses: Japan seen from the inside   日本の住宅

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View a tanhokutei, home of the tea ceremony, the temple foams, foams Saiho-ji in Kyoto.

View a tanhokutei, home of the tea ceremony, the temple foams, foams Saihoji Kyoto.

Japanese housing

Wooden structures, tatami rooms, paper walls: in Japan, houses are enough to disorient Westerners who are more accustomed to concrete walls and tiled or carpeted floors. Between Japanese culture and history, discover traditional Japanese houses and their peculiarities.

Japanese Houses: a brief history

After World War II, Japan experienced a strong economic and population growth, causing an unprecedented housing shortage. To overcome this problem, a wide range of different housing in Japan was built. Here are the different types of house in Japan available.

  • apato (アパート)

Short for "apatomento" from the English word "apartment": as the name suggests, its an apartment built within a wooden building and often on two floors. Not all these apartments have individual bathrooms, and sometimes have shared facilities.

  • manshon (マンション)

English "mansion": these are apartments built in multi-storey buildings of reinforced concrete, unlike "apato".

  •  ikkodate (一戸建て)

These individual houses usually have a wooden frame.

The "minkas" are very traditional Japanese houses.  The word Minka litereally translates as ‘house of the people’; they once housed the peasants, merchants and artisans.

The interior of traditional Japanese houses 

The entrance is through the "genkan" (玄関), where you must remove your shoes before entering the main living space.

The "washitsu" (和室) is the living room commonly found in homes in Japan. Covered with tatami mats, they are separated by sliding doors made of paper (shoji : 押入れ障子) or by thicker doors (fusuma: 襖). In the living room, no table or chairs, but a kotatsu, a heated table, and zabuton, cushions used to sit around the kotatsu. To sleep, the table is moved, and futons that are stored in "oshiire" (押入れ), a wall cupboard with sliding doors, are placed on the floor.

In Japanese homes, "daidokoro" (台所事情) is the kitchen area. Quite similar to Western homes, they are especially distinguished by the items found in the room. Rice cookers are for example very common appliances, like our kettles. Dishwashers and large ovens are still much rarer than in Western kitchens.

The typical bathroom consists of two areas. The first area is usually equipped with a sink, where you undress. The other is where the bathtub (o-furo : お風呂) is located; in general, the Japanese wash and rinse off outside the tub; then clean water is heated to the required temperature before bathing.

The toilet is always separate from the bathroom, and traditionally looks like a Turkish toilet in reverse: you squat facing the wall, not facing the door, but the principle remains similar. While traditional toilets are becoming scarce in homes in Japan, they remain widespread in public places.

Traditional Japanese houses are becoming rarer, as developers look to Western style houses more and more, especially since the end of World War II and the beginning of globalization.  However, some of the traditional design elements have remained in modern housing, retaining the charm and refined décor of Japanese housing. 

Did you know?

Japan Experience offers house rental in Japan. Our houses and apartments can accommodate up to 6 people and offer an ideal setting to discover the country, its culture and its people. To help you during your stay, our Travel Angels greet you on arrival and assist you during your stay. By providing the best addresses, explaining customs, modes of transport and use of appliances: you can enjoy living like a local during your stay. 

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