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Living place of Japanese people

If you see the cityscape from the high point in any city of Japan, you may feel wilderness of houses.
Maybe it is lack of unity.
Surely modern buildings, mansions (condominium), steel framed houses and traditional wooden houses are mixed in the area.
In addition, they have little garden, so they look denser.

Japan often experiences natural disasters such as earthquakes and typhoons.
Japanese traditional house is generally built of wood.
Additionally, it is humid in Japan, so they say that the life of it is less than 40 years long.
Therefore, some old houses are come down and some new houses are built somewhere today.

The parts of Japanese traditional house


Japanese house is generally tile-roofed.
Traditional roof tiles are blackish, but recently we can find blue or brown roof tiles.

In the country there have been the roofs made of straw or stem of reed, and it is difficult to find them today. But you can find such houses at Shirakawa-go or Gokayama village, and they have been designated as a World Heritage Site.

In Hokkaido the roofs of most houses made of galvanized iron. Because snow lies thick in winter and it is easy to slide snow down from roof.

Tile-roof edhouse A thatched house in Shirakawa-go


The entrance of Japanese house is the place where you take off your shoes.
So there is a shoe cupboard aside.
And generally there is a step to the room, and it is 20 to 40 cm high.
In short, Japnese house is high-floored a little.

Entrance in a house
Please take off your shoes at the entrance.


Roughly speaking, traditional Japanese room has not concept of privacy. Because one or two sides of the room are all keyless sliding doors.

In addition, the sliding door is screen of paper. The sliding doors are "fusuma" or "shoji".
Fusuma is the screen of opaque paper, and shoji is the screen of white and thin paper.

If you open a fusuma, you offen find the next room.
In Japanese house, fusuma and shoji have the function of both doors and walls.
Fusuma was the canvas of artists in medieval times, and many pictures by famous artists are remained in old castles and so on.

On the floor in the room several tatamis are laid. "Tatami" is the floor mat which has developed in only Japan.
The surface of a tatami is covered by the mat woven of stems of soft rush grass, and straws of rice are stuffed inside. It holds warmth and be highly hygroscopic.
A tatami is rectangular, and it is about 1.8m long by 0.9m wide and about 5cm thick.
The size of the room is based on number of tatamis and the name of unit is "jo". Common size of room is 3-jo, 4.5-jo, 6-jo, 8-jo, 10-jo and 12-jo. (In 4.5-jo room, a half-sized tatami is used.)

Of course, you must walk, sit or lie on tatami without shoes.

Often, the guest room has "Tokonoma".
Tokonoma is an alcove and a few art works or flowers are displayed for guest.
The tokonoma side in the room is the place of honor.

Fusuma, Shoji, Tatami Shoji, Tatami
Tokonoma Surface of Tatami

Kitchen and dining room

Modern house in Japan is narrow, so kitchen also is narrow.
There is a small sink and gas stove, and a few cupboard and a refrigerator are pleced nearby.
The cook can work by moving only a few steps.

In traditional house, there was a kitchen at north of house.
Because it is hot and humid in summer, it is a means to protect food against spoilage.

Until around half a century ago, Japanese people had used "kamado".
Kamado is the Japanese cooking hearth installed on dirt floor.
They set some pots or kettles on it and burn firewood under them.

Few house use kamado in Japan today, but we know that the boiled rice cooked with kamado is best.
So a few ryokans or minshukus use kamado and appeal to travelers.

Originally Japanese house don't have a dining room.
The family has meals at living room, and they serve guests a meal at guest room.
But recent houses have a dining room near a kitchen.

Some houses in mountain village have "irori".
Irori resembles fireplaces without chimney.
A square hole is dug in the middle of a room, and fire is kindled with firewood as fuel.
In the center, a pot hanger is suspended from the ceiling, from which cookpots or iron kettles are hung.
It is like a kitchen and a dining room.

Kamado Irori


Japan is a narrow country and many people are living there.
So most houses have narrow garden and many houses in big cities have no garden.

At the garden in traditional house, you can see the image of nature.
Several trees are planted, some rocks are put and there is a little pond.
The big and famous Japanese gardens are same as this concept.

Commonly there is a "engawa" in front of the garden. It is like a balcony of wooden floor, and you can step out from a room.
This is the place that we can see the garden in a relaxed mood and take the air.

Most farm houses in the country have the garden like open space.
The garden is used as working space.
Farmers need the space to thresh rice, wheat and other grains or dry harvestry in the sunshine.
But the farmers recently is decreasing, so many farmers use the garden as their parking space.

Garden in a residence Engawa


In Japan, traditional lavatory had the squat toilet without seat.
But recently seat and flush toilet has become common.
Additionally warm-water cleaning toilet seat is popular at many hotels and ryokans.
It was developed by Japanese companies for the public around 1980, and became popular nationwide.
It is sold as one of electric goods, so it is installed at many ordinary houses in Japan.

However, you may find sometimes squat toilet in old ryokan or public toilet.
If you have no experience of squat toilet, please observe the following points and try once.

While you are squatting, you had better hold a handrail or touch your hand on the wall.
And get off all closes of lower half of your body, and it gets easy to squat.

Toilet seat with warm-water cleaning seat Squat toilet

How to spend in Japanese room

To sit

In Japanese room you wear no shoe. So you are free to stand, sit and lie there.
But when you commune, have a meat or take part in a ceremony in the room, you must sit directly on the tatami.

Formal sitting is that you fold your legs so that the body rests on your heels.
If you are not accustomed to it, probably you feel that doing it for a long time is painful.
If you are too painful to tolerate, you may do the relaxed way of sitting.

If you are a male, start with legs out straight and fold them in like triangles. This way is called "agura" in Japanese.

If you are a female, it is ill-mannered to do so. Maintain the formal sitting with knees together but with the feet just off to the side.

In each case, please say "Excuse me".

Nevertheless, if you are painful, stretch out your legs as a last resort!
(I remember that President Reagan of the United States did so at a lodge held a summit meeting by Prime Minister Nakasone when he came to Japan in 1983.)

In guest room, "Zabuton" is commonly put at your sitting place.
Zabuton is square Japanese cushion, and please sit on it.

To sleep

Futon In Japanese room, you sleep not in a bed but on a set of "futon".
There are two kinds of futon. They are a mat to sleep on and a quilt to be covered with.

A futon are filled with cotton or feathers.
A mat to sleep on, like a bed mattress, is covered by sheets, and a quilt to be covered with is used as coverings with blankets.

Futon can be put in a closet when not being used. So they are practical bedding for small Japanese rooms.
And they are laid out on the tatami floor directly, before going to bed.

Japan is quite humid, so futon is hung out on nice days to air in the sun.

In most ryokans a few attendants come to lay out the futon after dinner.
Futon are laid out directly on the tatami floor.

A pillow is put on the mat of futon.
Most of Japanese pillows are filled with buckwheat husks or small plastic pipes. So you may feel hard on back of head.

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