Interesting Facts about Japanese Houses


There is a certain charm about Japanese homes. Their uniqueness and functionality mirror the Japanese centuries-old traditions combined with ingenuity.


They are miniature Shinto shrines that are usually used when remembering deceased loved ones. Worship at the kamidana typically includes the burning of incense (commonly done during the morning hours) and the offering of lucky items as well as food and beverages.


The kotatsu used to be traditionally heated with a charcoal brazier (a container of hot coals) underneath it but now an electric heat source is used exclusively — in fact, a lot of kotatsu have built-in electric heaters. People use the kotatsu to sit, eat, or relax and watch TV. The kotatsu is in high demand during the winter season, it’s because a lot of Japanese households do not have central heating systems.


During the olden days, Japanese households didn’t have baths and people used to go at communal bath houses called “sentō.” During the Meiji era, baths had become more common in homes. Usually bathrooms are separate from the rest of the rooms. The bathtubs tend to be deep but short. The earliest bathtubs were mostly made of wooden drums, and they have remained popular up to this day. It is customary that you should take a brief shower first before using the bathtub.


This is evident of the Chinese influence that had a profound effect on Japanese architecture.


Tatami mats are used as a flooring material inside traditional Japanese-style homes. Traditionally, tatami mats are made of rice straw, while latter-day variations are made form either polystyrene foam or wood chip boards. Tatami is so common in Japan that they used it as a unit when measuring houses and apartments. Tatami mats are usually associated with “seiza,” the traditional formal way of sitting in Japan.


Also known as “toko” for short, it’s almost the equivalent to the alcove of the West. The tokonoma is placed with artistic items such as scroll painting or an ikebana (traditional flower arrangement). There are certain etiquettes connected to the tokonoma. For instance, it is improper to sit or step into the tokonoma (except when changing the display). The guest should sit close to the tokonoma with his/her back to it. This is because of modesty, as it is improper for the host to show off his prized displays in the tokonoma to his guests.


This extreme contradiction is not really strange in Japan because it also occurs in other countries. While there is a desire to hold on to the traditional Japanese architecture for the sake of continuing the country’s cultural identity, there is also another desire to try what is new and modern as a gesture to push their culture forward.


In traditional Japanese carpentry, “wagoya” is a form of wood framing created by using advanced joinery techniques, without the use of nails.


Zabuton is basically the equivalent of chairs, used to sit on the tatami floors.


Since traditional Japanese-style homes do not use glass for their doors and windows, they use “shoji” for both interior and exterior doors. The translucent papers in the “shoji” give the Japanese homes a unique character by letting scattered light and shadows through.


The chabudai is usually used on tatami floors but can also be seen on any type of flooring. It’s usual for Japanese people to sit on the zabuton while eating or drinking tea at a chabudai


Traditional Japanese style homes often have engawa, a narrow strip of wood that serves as a corridor around the house. Traditionally, engawa is placed as a separator between shoji and hurricane shutters.  It is often the equivalent of a veranda.


One of the most identifiable aspects of Japanese architecture is the fusuma, the sliding panels that function both as doors and walls. Fusuma helps to redefine space into bigger or smaller rooms depending on the purpose.


The primary purpose of the genkan is to leave one’s shoes before entering the house. This area is considered dirty. Once inside, the occupant or guest will wear slippers or any other indoor footwear called uwabaki. It is considered rude to wear shoes inside any Japanese home as it can be likened to spitting on the floor.