Apr 24, 2017
One of the questions I get asked many times, as a European living in Japan, is what do I think of the houses here. The houses in Japan are indeed very different from anything I grew up with or viewed in other Western countries. My first experience of a Japanese house was when I first came to Japan in 2000 and did a homestay for three months. After that I lived in a company dormitory, followed by a stint in a modern apartment, to 2 years living in a “bedsit” (Japanese style) and finally myself and my husband bought a 2nd hand house in 2006.
The apartments, bedsits and company dormitory were all also very different, but it is the house that significantly differs from the Western equivalent. The photos presented in this post were taken just after we moved in. We've done a lot of work since, but these photos from 2006 represent more like what a typical Japanese house looks like, before it is altered by a Westerner. Our house is a "4LDK" which stands for 4 bedrooms, living room, dining room and kitchen. One of the first differences I noticed about a typical Japanese house is that, as much of Japanese society is based on the concept of “inside” and “outside”, this is also reflected in the structure of their homes. Upon entering the home you encounter the “genkan”, or the nearest equivalent in English, the porch. The porch is constructed at just above ground level and to enter the house you have to step up about one foot into the hallway.
As you enter our home, the genkan
The genkan and hallway
As you can see in the above picture there are two pairs of slippers in the hallway. The reason for this is that when you enter a home in Japan you remove your shoes in the genkan. You don’t have to wear the slippers, but you should ALWAYS wear socks when visiting a Japanese person’s home. It is considered rude and unmannerly to go bare feet in a Japanese house. There is a place to store shoes in the genkan, in the above photo you can just see the dark wood corner of the unit, to the left of the slippers. The door that is adjacent on the left leads into our dining room:
The Dining Room
This is the dining room before we furnished it. You can see a Japanese style computer desk in this photo (right hand side). This type of computer desk requires the user to sit on the floor to be at the right level to use the keyboard. On the top of the unit you may be able to see our telephone which is also a fax machine. It is the norm in Japan to have a multi-purpose phone / fax / copier. The sitting room is to the right of this photo, where you can see the sliding doors. The above photo was taken from the kitchen, which is off the side of the dining room.
In my opinion, the kitchen is most different to a Western home’s kitchen. In Japan, by and large people don’t use ovens. The main reasons for this are the expense of an oven and the difference in diets. We have since replaced the “cooker”, but like most Japanese cookers the one that was in the house when we moved in was just made up of a grill and two rings. We also have a rice cooker, “toaster oven” (much smaller than a conventional oven) and microwave for preparing food. The kitchens are also generally much smaller than in the West and they would not be the “hearth” of the home.
The other room which is significantly different to Western homes is the “bathroom”. In Japan, unlike the West, the bath has a room all of it’s own! The toilet and hand basin usually in a separate room to the bath. The bath is also much deeper and most baths come with a built in “heater” than can be used during your bath to reheat the water if it starts to go cold. Off the bathroom, there is a “utility room” that is used for dressing as well as for laundry. It is where the top loading washing machine and sometimes a dryer are kept, not in the kitchen like in the West. Another point of interest is that mainly the washing machines use cold water only.
The toilet is usually in a room of it’s own. Most toilets have the hand basin built into them, above the cistern. Also, a lot of toilets have built in functions such as seat warming and a bidet. The controls can be seen on our toilet above, your left of the photo.
The other room of interest to non-Japanese people is the “tatami” room. A tatami is a straw mat. A tatami room can be made up of a number of tatami mats and to this day it is still how many people count the size of their houses. We have two tatami rooms in our house. One on the ground floor, pictured, and one on the first floor. Both were bedrooms when we moved in, but the downstairs tatami room is now a playroom. We also have "Western" style, i.e not tatami, bedrooms upstairs. Both of the tatami rooms and all the bedrooms have oshire which is a type of wide wardrobe that is used for storing futons as well as clothes. The windows don't have curtains in this room or the upstairs tatami, they have the typical Japanese sliding shoji screens as pictured above.
Lastly, what may be of interest is that Japanese people don’t have house alarms and while they have shutters on their windows and sliding doors this is for safety from the elements rather than from intruders. In my experience our house is fairly typical of Japanese homes built in the last 20 years. If you have any questions about Japanese homes please do leave a comment.
Level 8 LocalGuide with Google. Blogging about life in Japan as an Irish WAHM to 4 kids on insaitama.com.