Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Mansions for All!

Inspired by yesterday’s post about residential hotels, we thought we’d look at how other nations handle clean, safe and affordable housing for single folks. In Japan, there is something called called the “wan rūmu manshon” or “one room mansion” (get it?). It’s a very small studio (~100 sq ft) with a bed, bathroom and kitchenette. They’re not fancy or architecturally that interesting. We found some with nifty glass-wall bathrooms (another living room?), but for the most part, they’re small, simple rooms to crash in. They’re designed for singles who don’t need, want or can’t afford anything more.


Japan has 870 people per square mile, making it the 39th densest nation in the world (US has 84 people per square mile and is the 180th densest). Because of these geographic circumstances, Japan doesn’t have the space for one-size-fits-all housing. Single people use the space they need, which is less than couples. Couples use the space they need, which is less than a family, and so on.

The US’s surplus of land has led to many of us to occupy spaces well beyond our needs: singles live in two and three bedroom homes, empty-nesters have 4K sq ft homes and so on. The result is more money spent, more places to store stuff, more sprawl, more energy expended, more surfaces to mop, dust and upkeep. Perhaps it’s time we start using what we need, rather than what’s available. Perhaps it’s time we start building tiny mansions for everyone.

A version of this post first appeared on this site on April 24, 2012

  • I have lived in a one room mansion in Tokyo for a year, and what was the most amazing is how well used the space was. The size was approximately the same as a student room in France (10 m²), but it had a kitchenette, a bathroom with a bathtub, a small balcony, storage for shoes near the front door, ustensiles in the kitchenette, a big cupboard in the main room…

    Whereas the French student room has nothing but a bed and a water point, no kitchen and common floor bathroom, for the same size. It was amazing how differently the space is used in Japan, thought to be both simple and functional.
    In the end, although I was afraid of how it would be to spend a whole year in such a small space, I had all I needed for everyday life alone. I can even say that it was more functional than my current apartment, which is 3 times bigger!

  • Jacquie Ottman

    I love this post! Thanks!  I lived in a studio apt  — 280 sq ft (the Japanese would have gotten lost in it) for 22 years. Now I live and work in 630 sq ft.  Living in a small space makes me naturally efficient, naturally selective, —and happy!  I invite anyone to come over and check out how it can be done — and see how much time I have for the important things in life. Way to go. Thanks for sharing this.

    • if you have any pics of either space (maybe via flickr) we’d love to see them.

  • Beth

    Bear in mind the Japanese are able to live in small places because they arent overweight.  A place for everything and everything in its place is how they live, and how one lives in Paris as well. As long as a place has good light I do fine. Its why I adore my wee place here in the Sierras. Around 350 sq ft.  One sure learns the value of having things they will use/need. No walk in closet with clothes with sales tags still on them.  Also noticed that cities/towns with smaller living places tend to be walkable areas which I adore.

  • Americans amaze other peoples. Some good, some not so.

    One thing that amazes this American about Americans is that so many of us, like blinded bellrats insist on the past. Americans want their 4000 square foot estate home, and rarely use it for more than idle popular culture artifacts and kitsch.

    Somehow Americans bonded the idea of “exclusivity” like gated communities, and with large things (Hummer vehicles, vast deserts, and the idea that big is better) and quantities joining their self definition with all things big as the defining valuation of what’s desirable.

    Why is this?

    Some may say there is a pathology here.

    Part of the subtext is that Americans have swallowed whole the notion that the “American Dream” is defined with owning a home. “A home of your own.” That is to say a physical building. Imagine for a moment that the highest endeavor of a peoples on some remote planet is to own, that is to say they’ve the right to patrol the borders, of their own physical building. What would we say about such a civilization?

    If America were a cartoon, it would be laughable.

    There is a economist from Columbia University who upon being interviewed and questioned about his understanding of  the complexities of his mortgage contract when he bought his home, astonished his interviewer with his statement that he never bought a home. (silence).

    You don’t own the home where you live?


    He explained that the American people have been sold a “bill of goods” that the American Dream has been defined to mean owning your own home, when in fact the American Dream, he said, should be showing Americans how to own their own lives.

    There are two aspects to the Japanese:
    1) Yes, they have a 1000 percent greater population density and that alone would force any intelligent population to consider real estate in a different light.

    2) The Japanese have a healthy sense of the value of a life on the scale across the beam from the other side weighing quantity of building.

    Americans *could* learn a great deal from the Japanese. They probably won’t though.

    • Joy_F

      Japan also believes that quality is much more important than quantity – they were one of the few countries to deny Walmart full access.

    • clarkbennett

      I have no problem owning everything you use and renting it back to you.

  • Joy_F

    Love Japan! The capsule hotels are worth noting as well, and might be worth looking into as a venture in the US for those who don’t like couch-surfing. I lived in Japan for four years and before that four years in China. It alters ideas of what can be done with space.

  • gblock

    I’d love one day to have a space like that. I’m in what is probably a 400 (or less, not quite sure) sq ft apt, but the layout is god aweful. hopefully, if I’m stuck in WV a few years down the road I can find a piece of land and get a tiny house.