Windowless Homes

Recently, there have been a crop of modern Japanese homes without windows that look outside the home. Open to the sky, they are daylit by skylights and open courtyards. These internal spaces offer brighter living conditions than typical homebuilder homes with their familiar pitched tiled roofs and small windows veiled by net curtains. However, the lack of any view to the outside world is puzzling and, some might argue, unsociable. Continue reading

Before After ビフォーアフター

My last article mentioned a popular Japanese television series called “Before After”. In the cultural wasteland of Japanese television, dominated by cult-celebrity panel variety shows, it stands out as one of the few gems worth watching. Despite being a show ostensibly dedicated to home improvement, it might also be one Japanese TV’s most emotional…

Continue reading

Tour of Muji’s 白い町 White Town

Muji generously invited us to don white gloves and tour their newly completed development in Chiba prefecture. Having previously written about the project, it was good to see it firsthand. Sadly, wet weather did not offer the best photo op.

Working for the developer Orix, Muji has built 22 homes of various layouts. Surprisingly, the project does not include Muji’s previous home designs. Here, these typical Japanese suburban homes are given the Muji touch by stripping them of extraneous elements and making everything (as Muji likes to say) “simple”. The development is made cohesive by a standard white exterior finish, square glazing, and inset balconies. Inside, the homes offer a similarly white, but otherwise unremarkable interiors.

Continue reading

Green Spaces in Japanese Cities

Japan is a notoriously cramped nation. The commercial pressures to utilize land efficiently entail that little is set aside for the gardens, parks, or open spaces. Well, perhaps this post should be re-titled: “Something that Japan IS Learning from the West” because the Japanese retailer Muji is attempting to put Western town planning practices to use in building a greener suburban community East of Tokyo. The project makes an interesting case study. Continue reading

Kura Storage Spaces

Japan’s house building industry is characterized by intense competition. With so many young families choosing to build new homes, volume house builders come up new innovative features to outcompete rivals’ products. Although these features often seem gimmicky, one idea that seems to be a must is the half-height storage level, or “kura” space. Two families we are well acquainted with here in Japan have both built new homes with a kura space in the last year. Continue reading

Terrace Housing – Why is it uncommon in Japan?

Western visitors are often struck by the density Tokyo’s small houses. Often a gap of only 40 centimeters (15″) separates two houses – barely wide enough for a person to squeeze between. Windows often look into these dark gloomy voids. Seeing this depressing site throughout Japan’s towns and cities leaves me to wonder: why haven’t the Japanese built more terrace housing? Continue reading

Veranda – Balconies Serve Utilitarian Functions in Japan


Living in Europe and America balconies seemed like an added amenity or even a luxury. In Japan they are sustainable and utilitarian extensions of domesticity. One thing that distinguishes run of the mill Japanese homes from their Western cousins is an inordinate number of balconies. Many Japanese houses have a balcony (or veranda as they are known here) protruding from every bedroom, whilst apartment buildings are often encircled by a continuous run of them. Where space or money are tight, Juliet balconies are the solution. Continue reading

Ofuro – The Wonderous Japanese Bath


A Culture of Bathing
In a land where hot water seems to bubble up from volcanic hot springs at every turn, it is little wonder that bathing is an integral part of Japanese society. When the country urbanized, the tall boiler chimneys of public bath houses (called sentos) popped-up throughout dense residential quarters of Japan’s towns and cities. Sentos offered a plentiful supply of piping hot water jetting from long banks of showers and overflowing from piping hot pools for communal luxuriating. These were also important social hubs where people from all walks meet, stripped bare of society’s trappings. As Japan became a leading technological and industrial exporter, household affluence grew and homes were built with their own baths. Today, local bathouses are a dieing institution, but the tradition lives on inside the the Japanese home – each equipped with its own miniature sento. Continue reading