Japanese housing (日本の住宅)

Japanese housing

Until recently, most Japanese houses had been one-story or two-story wooden buildings (using the wood frame-based building method or traditional building method) centered on tatami mat-using rooms (Washitsu (Japanese-style rooms)). After WWII, and in particular since the high-growth period, Japanese lifestyles and house-building methods have changed rapidly, altering the styles of the houses drastically as well. Concerning lifestyle, more and more houses have no Washitsu. Concerning the building methods, reinforced concrete structures or steel-framed structures have been used for building more and more condominiums (middle/high-rise or super high-rise buildings), and even for low-rise detached houses, use of reinforced concrete structures or prefabricated building methods has increased.

In this article, traditional Japanese-style houses (Wa-fu houses) are mainly described, taking into account comparisons with western-style houses that have been popular nowadays.

For furniture, refer to "Cultural lives in Japan."

History of Japanese housing
In the primitive period and ancient times people lived in (tateanajukyo (pit dwelling houses) or takayukashiki jukyo (raised-floor houses))
In the Heian period, Shinden-zukuri style was established for nobles' residences. However, the common people still lived mostly in pit dwelling houses.

The style of samurai houses in the Kamakura period is sometimes called Buke-zukuri style (Samurai house style), but nowadays the style is considered to be a simplified version of the Shinden-zukuri style.

Residences of people in high classes
It was in the Muromachi period that the basic patterns of Japanese style houses were established
The residence of Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA was provided with slight signs of the Shindenzukuri-syle. However, the residence of Yoshimasa ASHIKAGA in the period of the Higashi-yama (east mountain) culture (around Onin War) was built in the so-called early shoin-zukuri style. In such a house, tatami mats were laid all over a room, shoji-to (sliding paper doors) were used, and Zashikikazari (a set of decorative features), such as tokonoma (alcove in a traditional Japanese room where art or flowers are displayed) were introduced.

As well, the unification of Japan by Nobunaga ODA is considered epochal in the history of housing history. The Shoin-zukuri style was established for clarifying the social status orders of persons and for showing dignity of the person in authority in Azuchi-jo Castle built by Nobunaga or Osaka-jo Castle built by Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI. Vassals were ordered to live in castle towns, and it is supposed, for example, from Rakuchu Rakugaizu Byobu (urban areas and suburbs of Kyoto, a folding screen) by Eitoku KANO, that buildings in urban areas (such as Machiya (traditional townhouses found mainly in Kyoto) and samurai residences) had progressed as well.

The Shoin-zukuri style was established for residences for persons in high classes, and during the Edo period and later, houses also came to be built in the Sukiya-zukuri style where factors of tea rooms were introduced (Sukiya-type Shoin-zukuri style).

Houses of the common people
(Refer to private houses as well.)
Machiya houses of the common people in urban areas are depicted on picture scrolls and others in the early feudal period. According to the depictions, it is supposed that the houses of common people were quite simple; for example, one-story and having a shingle roof (a roof made with many layered small wooden plates).

Entering the Edo period, the houses of the common people had progressed gradually. Roughly speaking, the quality of such houses was higher in the Kansai area, and their structure and building methods had gradually affected those in the Kanto area as well.

In the Kanto area in the early modern period, ordinary dwellings of farmers were mostly built in such a way that an irori fireplace (open hearth) was made on doma (dirt floor) and straw mats were laid on the floors. Having changed little since the ancient times and the early feudal period, these houses were built with hottate bashira (an earthfast post) and using thatch for the roof and walls. Corresponding to economic advancement, the quality of these houses had been improved gradually: Dirt floors came to be used only for kitchens and workspaces, and raised floors were built for rooms for eating food and for sleeping. As craftsmen with a high level of skill became engaged in building such houses, houses became built in the way that pillars were placed on foundation stones and beams were assembled in complex ways. However, mud walls and thatched roofs were often made in cooperation with family members and persons in the community. In the latter half of the Edo period and later, the floor layout with the shape of the Chinese character 田 came into wide use. This layout was adopted in consideration of using the house for events with many participants, such as wedding ceremonies and funeral ceremonies. The fusuma sliding doors were opened or closed according to the necessity of using these rooms. Today, many traditional private houses maintained in, for example, minka-en (a place where traditional private houses are exhibited), are provided with a floor layout having the shape of the Chinese character 田.

In the Edo period, social status-based control was followed in building a house. For example, samurai and farmers in the nanushi (village headman) class were permitted to provide tokonoma (alcove in a traditional Japanese room where art or flowers are displayed), but the common people were generally prohibited from providing tokonoma and tiled roofs, because they were too extravagant for the common people.
(However, in some towns, provision of tiled roofs was promoted or obligatory, for fire prevention.)

In modern times and later
Entering the Meiji period, feudalistic restrictions on building houses were removed and it became possible to build houses depending on funds available. Affected by technologies in European architecture, carpenters' tools had been improved and craftsmen had interacted with each other actively, improving the quality of buildings as a whole. In the Meiji period, only a small number of persons in limited social classes, such as politicians and successful businessmen, lived in western style houses, and most people lived in traditional Japanese style houses.

In the Taisho period and later, salaried men and intellectuals in urban areas longed for western style lives, and new style houses which partially adopted western elements came to be built in suburbs. However, the lifestyle in which shoes are taken off within houses and people relax on tatami mats has remained almost unchanged.

During the housing shortage after WWII, mass-production-type houses were built, such as those in apartment buildings constructed by Housing Corporations. Eat-in kitchens and other features were introduced, aiming at making lives more rational.

In the past, houses without tokonoma were almost unimaginable. However, nowadays, as western style houses have been built widely, those with tokonoma as well as Japanese style rooms have decreased. In the past, many houses, such as farmers' houses and Machiya houses, were place where persons lived and worked for earning their living. However, nowadays, most houses are only for living.

House types
Houses in Japan include detached houses, condominiums (so-called Mansions, apartments, Danchi (apartment complexes) and Kodanjutaku (apartment buildings constructed by a Housing Corporation)), Nagaya (rowhouses), and Bunka-jutaku (new style houses).

Houses located in a small area are called Shuraku (a settlement), buraku (a hamlet), or Chiku (an area).

According to time-honored custom, the terms merchants' houses, Machiya houses, and farmers' houses are also used, depending on the place where the houses are located or the jobs of the persons who live in the houses.

The configuration and layout of a house
Roof (thatch, tile, or galvanized iron)
Ceilings, the spaces between the roof and ceilings
Pillars, beams, Kamoi (lintels), a central pillar, an alcove post
Floors (wood floors, Mushiro (straw) mats, Tatami mats, dirt floors, or flooring)
Walls (sand walls, mud walls, board walls, plaster-coated walls, or clapboard walls)
Fittings (sliding doors, paper sliding-doors, wooden doors, and sliding shutters)
Entrance (hard-packed concrete floor, Shikidai (a step), Getabako (a box for storing Japanese wooden footwear) and a shoe box)
Stairs, box-using stairs, spiral staircases, emergency staircases, ladders
Rooms (bedrooms, Tokonoma, living room, bath room, kitchen, lavatory, underground room)
Storage spaces (Oshiire (a space mainly storing futon, with sliding doors), Nando (a room for storing furniture and/or clothes), Kura (a warehouse), Monooki (a house for storing tools), closets, and/or walk-in closets)
Private houses, Gassho-zukuri (a house built of wooden beams combined to form a steep thatched roof that resembles two hands together), Machiya houses (Merchants' houses), rowhouses

Walls or fences (brick walls, stone walls, stone fences, mud fences, hedges, fences, or concrete block-made walls)
Japanese style gardens (garden rocks, burrowed landscapes, and karesansui (dry garden style))
Engawa (a narrow wooden passageway along the edge of a house facing the garden), Endai (outdoor benches), Tobi-ishi (stepping-stones), Chozu (water basins), toro (garden lanterns)
Ponds, moats
Bonsai (dwarf miniature potted trees), flower arrangement

Units used for houses
Ma (room), jo(one sheet of tatami), tsubo (3.3 square meters/tsubo), square meters, eat-in kitchen, LDK
Events for building a house
Ground-breaking ceremony, and Jotoshiki (roof-laying ceremony)

In Taiwan, Korea, and Sakhalin, where Japan once ruled, Japanese-style houses still remain even today.