Housing Information in Japan


Basic Housing Information:

There are generally two types of housing in Japan: the single-family detached home and the multifamily dwelling. The majority of Japanese live in single-family detached homes. A feature common to the Japanese, but uncommon in the U.S. is housing is typically torn down and rebuilt after a span of 20 to 30 years as it is thought homes are not meant to be very long-term and rehabilitated as they are in the U.S.

The single-family detached home:

The more traditional single-family home has a very different look from the typical western home. Older homes are typically made of wood and paper and are usually one or two stories. Modern homes are constructed of similar materials as in the U.S., including wood and iron and generally are similar to single-family homes in the U.S. Rooms in a typical home do not have a designated use like the U.S., with the exception of the genkan, kitchen, bathroom and toilet. A sliding door made of wood and paper are used to partition rooms and can be removed when more space is needed. The partitioning of rooms gives the home a more spacious feel than the typical Western-style home. At least one room in a traditional home is made into a traditional Japanese room, or a “washitsu” and is sparsely furnished with tatami mats as flooring.

The Multifamily Dwelling:

The multifamily dwelling typically consists of rental apartments or owner-occupied dwellings in a large building, much like the typical apartment/condominium building in the U.S. The typical apartment in Japan is much smaller than in the U.S. Most come with wooden or tatami matted floors. A “tatami mat” is traditionally made of rice straw, although in more recent times, it consists of compressed wood chip floors or polystyrene foam. Apartments in Japan usually come with one room and a kitchen. Some include a dining room and others a separate living room, dining room and kitchen area. The apartment also includes a bathroom and a “genkan,” the entrance where the shoes are taken off.

The Genkan:

This is the recessed entry into a Japanese home. It is where the shoes are taken off before entering the home and avoids tracking dirty into the home. After taking the shoes off, one typically changes into slippers or house shoes that are more appropriate for wearing inside.

The Infamous Japanese Toilet/Bathroom:

Unlike in the U.S., the toilet and the bathroom in a traditional Japanese home are separated. A typical Japanese toilet is very different from a western-style toilet and many westerners are put off by its looks and how exactly to use it. Basically, to many Westerners, it looks like a hole in the ground but fancier. When entering the toilet, one changes out of his/her house shoes into specific “toilet” shoes. Then one proceeds to squat in order to use the toilet. There is no comfortable seating as on a Western-style toilet. Although many homes and public places have the traditional “squat toilet,” the western toilet is becoming more and more popular.

The shower and the bathtub are separate but housed in the same room of a typical Japanese bathroom. The shower is used for washing one’s body whereas the bathtub is used for soaking and not used for bathing. The water in the tub is neither soapy nor dirty from one’s body and is usually reused for clothes washing. In smaller apartments, the bathtub and toilet are in the same room, with no separation of space, much like in Western-style bathrooms.


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