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.

See the Future in Ancient Japanese Architecture

While there’s a time and place for innovative space-saving solutions, sometimes the way forward requires a little looking back. A perfect example of this is the traditional Japanese home, a space-saving layout that works as well today as it did 400 years ago.

Unlike western homes, which typically have designated rooms for specific purposes (e.g. living, dining and family rooms), traditional Japanese homes center around a large living space called a washitsu that serves as any and all rooms (excepting the kitchen, toilet and genkan). Many modern Japanese homes still include a washitsu, though they are now accompanied by several western-style rooms as well.

Subdivision of the main room is achieved with shōji, translucent paper walls, or fusuma, thicker, impermeable walls, both of which move along wood rails on the floor and ceiling. Opening and closing these walls can dramatically alter the size and utility of the room.

This versatility of the room is made possible by lightweight portable furniture such as futon beds, zabuton seating cushions or tatami chairs for seating and low tables. All furniture can be stowed in a large closet area called an oshiire.

One of the most brilliant aspects of the traditional Japanese architecture is its standardization. Layouts are based on the tatami, an 18 sq ft mat, traditionally made of rice straw. The fusuma are the same size as the tatami. Imagine a home that required no custom pieces? Where everything was standardized and easily replaced?

There are definitely some downsides to the traditional Japanese home. Privacy probably being the first one. Fusuma and shōji are really glorified paper walls and provide little in the way of audio isolation. Historically, rooms were shared by the whole family, which might not suit everyone. Western knees and backs are not necessarily conditioned to sitting cross-legged or getting up and down from a 6″ high bed either.

All that said, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine adapting many of the traditional Japanese architectural elements to western preferences: More robust sliding walls, a platform for your futon, folding chairs rather than zabutons and so on.

Have you lived in a traditional Japanese home? What were the advantages/disadvantages? We’d love to hear your experiences in our comments section below.