Typical home layouts – Differences between Japan and abroad

Insight

Many people looking at Japanese property for the first time – either as a renter or buyer – are not aware that there are differences between their home country in the typical room types and their intended purposes. This article explores some of the most common features and introduces 3 major differences between Japan and abroad.  

A typical Showa-era Japanese home

Features of the home

Living Room

The first area we will look at is the living room. Please look at the floor plan of a typical one-storey house above. There is 1 bedroom, an i-ma (Japanese style living room), a kyaku-ma (Japanese style guest room), a kitchen and a bathroom in this house. Each room is separated by walls or fusuma (paper-covered slide doors and partitions). Most people are reminded of the Showa era (1926–1989) when seeing this typical Japanese-style house.  

 It is said that Japanese-style residences these days are based upon the Shoin-zukuri style from the Muromachi era (1336–1573), which was the turning point when aristocratic society turned into samurai society. Shoin-zukuri was a residence as well as a workplace of samurai, and since they regularly engaged in deal-making and negotiations to expand their power, their residences needed to have a public space for meeting people and a private space for their daily life.    

A typical US apartment

Trend towards Westernization

Overseas, the living room is located close to the entrance of a house and visitors are shown into the living room first. Sofas and tables are placed in the living room, so this is where hosts welcome visitors. Additionally, the living room is often a hub of family life.   

 In contract to foreign residences, the functions of a Japanese living room is divided into i-ma (private space) and kyaku-ma (public space). Visitors can see the hallway first after going through the entrance, and the other private spaces are generally hidden. I-ma is considered to be a private space where family members can be themselves so that it tends to be located in the farthest from the entrance.   

With the westernization of Japanese housing, there was a trend toward people choosing houses with an ousetsu-ma (guest room) rather than a kyaku-ma (Japanese-style public space). Nowadays, however, people think they don’t even need guest room much because they don’t often have guests, and they would rather use that space for other purposes, therefore the number of houses without guest room is increasing recently. Nowadays the border between the living room and Japanese-style i-ma is becoming more and more obscure.  

Bathroom

The second area is the bathroom. In foreign countries, a bathtub and toilet tend to be put in the same room and in many cases there are multiple bathrooms, so some foreigners wonder why there is only 1 bathroom and 1 toilet in Japanese houses.   

A bathtub and toilet were traditionally separated in Japan because the bathroom is considered to be not only the place to wash but also the place to relax in a hot-water filled bathtub. People considered the toilet as dirty and did not want to have it next to the bathtub. Thanks to the separation of the bathroom and toilet, there is less need to queue when nature calls. In the Edo era (1603–1868), it was common for the bathroom and toilet to be installed in different buildings outside of the house and to be shared with extended family members.   

Hot water was also shared with family members and that is the reason why Japanese bathrooms are wetrooms, separated into a bathtub and a place to wash. People washed themselves then used the bathtub to soak, thereby keeping the water clean for other family members. Outside of Japan, the bathroom is often considered to be a private/individual space and is not something to be shared. Even if the bathtub is full of hot water, the water is generally only used once as washing takes place inside the tub.   

Ceiling Height

The last area to consider is the ceiling height. The average ceiling height in Japan used to be 220cm because people generally sat on tatami mats and the ceiling height was decided based on the eye level. As Japanese houses became more westernized, people’s lifestyles also changed and tatami was replaced by chairs and flooring. The most common ceiling height in Japan is 240 cm and takes into consideration the efficiency of air conditioning and the average height of Japanese etc. This can be lower than abroad, for example, the standard ceiling height in the US is 8-9 feet (243-274 cm).  

Key Takeaways

These 3 points above are the typical differences in a home’s floor plan between Japan and abroad. Therefore please be aware of these differences especially when you are looking at properties constructed by a Japanese developer. If you prefer a western-style home, Housing Japan has extensive experience sourcing these types of properties. Housing Japan also has produced western-style luxury houses in the central of Tokyo including Gravitas Akasaka, Gravitas Minamiazabu, and Zenith Akasaka.

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Author: Ryuta Hojo

Ryuta Hojo is in the Sales Division at Housing Japan. He speaks Japanese, English and Chinese and helps our clients to acquire an ideal home in Japan. He researches market trends and news thoroughly to be able to provide the most salient information and give the right advice acting on the buyer’s side.