Everyday Features in a Japanese Design That Just Make Sense

Shannon Quinn - October 9, 2020

Life in Japan is very different from what we see in the west. In a lot of ways, Japanese homes are actually better designed and more technologically advanced than what we see in American houses. Here at Home Addict, we’ve pulled together some of the most interesting aspects of a Japanese home that just make sense.

Toilets come with buttons for various features. Photo Credit: The True Japan

40. Toilets Come With a Built-in Bidet and Other Fancy Features

Japanese toilets are very technologically advanced, to the point where some wealthy homeowners even choose to export them to their own countries. Each toilet comes with a control panel that allows you to do a variety of things like heating the seat, use a bidet, and even dry yourself off with a bit of wind on your backside. Many Japanese toilets also come with the button that will allow you to play a sound effect to drown out any embarrassing noises. This is great for privacy, especially if you live in a small home with thin walls. If you wanted to buy one of these for your home in the west, expect to pay at least $1,000.

New Japanese houses have hidden coolers in the floor. Credit: Her Atlas

39. Hidden Floor Storage Acts as an Extra Cooler

This next feature won’t appear in every Japanese home, but it was featured on Her Atlas, a YouTube blogger who moved into a new western style house built in 2017. On the floor of her kitchen, there is a small hidden door that opens up to a space meant for extra food storage. It’s insulated like a cooler, and stays cool at all times since it’s technically outside, under the house. The cooler even comes with a little hole that gives you options for putting ice inside, and draining it when it melts to water. While some people use it as a beer fridge, Her Atlas personally felt that she would rather keep extra dry goods. Something like this might even be a great place to hide your secret stashes of snacks, especially if it’s hidden under a rug.

This is a Japanese courtyard with a view of nature. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

38. Traditional Homes Are Designed With a Private Courtyard to Give Homeowners a View of Nature and Natural Light

Before Japanese houses started to become westernized in 1950, traditional homes always had a courtyard garden, or “tsuboniwa”. This was typically in the center of a home large, and the hallways moved around this central open courtyard. The reason behind this was to allow natural light to come into the house, no matter what direction the room happened to be facing. It also gives a very strong feeling of peace, tranquility, and zen. Most homeowners decorate their tsuboniwa with water features, plants, a rock garden, and meditation space. For people who live in older houses in a city like Kyoto, this also gives them a built-in garden space, even if they don’t have a backyard. It’s like they realize how important nature is to calming the human spirit, and how it should be incorporated into everyday life.

Pan clips make it so that you don’t need mitts to protect yourself from burning. Credit: Her Atlas

37. Ovens Come With a Pan Clip, So There’s No Need To Wear Mitts

Japanese ovens are much smaller than what you find in the United States. (This is probably because they don’t traditionally need the space to bake something huge on holidays, like a turkey on Thanksgiving.) From the outside, they look more like a microwave. But in reality, they have a metal plate that fits perfectly into the oven. Instead of needing oven mitts to remove the tray, it has a pan clip that picks up the hot metal without ever having to touch anything. Genius!

Japanese tubs come with a control panel to help maintain the perfect temperature. Credit: Paolo in Japan

36. Bathtubs Have a Control Unit To Keep The Water At The Perfect Temperature

Baths are a huge Japanese tradition, and their culture fully embraces relaxing at the end of a long day. This is why every single home in Japan has a nice, deep tub. In more modern apartments and houses, there is actually a control panel that helps you choose the perfect temperature for the bath. You can walk away knowing that the water will automatically turn itself off when the bath is full. Since baths take so long to fill up, some apartments even have a second bath control unit in the kitchen! Imagine having kids, and pressing the button to fill the bathtub while you’re cleaning up for dinner. By the time you’re ready to give the kids a bath, the tub will already be full, at the perfect temperature.

Bathrooms are retro-fitted to be water tight, and everything is done in one room. Photo Credit: Pochivkablitz

35. Bathrooms Are Made To Get Wet, and Showering Isn’t Quite The Same

In the western world, we try to keep water inside of the bathtub and shower while carefully stepping on rugs or towels. But in Japan, bathrooms are designed to get wet. This is why the entire room is usually tiled from floor to ceiling. The door to the bathroom seals the entire room shut so that moisture cannot leave the space. Traditionally, Japanese people take a shower using a detachable hose before soaking in the bath. In their culture, baths have more to do with relaxation than getting clean. So some families will actually re-use the bath water from person to person, because they know that everyone was clean beforehand. In the center of the room, there is a drain that filters out any water that splashes on the floor. Toilets and sink vanities are kept in a completely separate room, which remains dry.

Japanese people leave their shoes by the door. Credit: Shutterstock

34. People Leave Shoes By The Door to Protect Floors From Dirt and Scuff Marks

In Japan, it’s tradition to take your shoes off at the door. This is because the wooden floors scratch very easily. Aside from maintaining the floors, this also prevents you from tracking in mud and dirt to the rest of the house. Most Japanese homes have a little cubby for shoes by the front door, or a cabinet in the entryway. At the very least, you will see a step that goes down to the front door so that shoes can be left on a different level than the rest of the living area.

Her Atlas shows how there are handles on both sides of fridge doors in Japan. Credit: Her Atlas

33. Fridge Doors Open From Both Sides, Which is a Leftie’s Dream Come True

Most American refrigerators open in a direction that’s convenient for someone who is right-handed. While it’s possible to get a left-handed fridge, it might need to be special ordered from the hardware store. In Japan, fridges are made to be ambidextrous, because they open from both sides. This is such a simple way to accommodate both left and right handed people! It’s also convenient, because many Japanese kitchens are very small. Depending on the layout of the home, it also might make more sense to open the kitchen door in a different direction.

Bathrooms have a drying feature which allows you to hang clothes. Credit: Paolo in Tokyo

32. Bathrooms Double as a Dryer Unit

We just mentioned how bathrooms are designed to get wet. One of the ways they’re able to achieve this without the room going moldy is the fact that the bathroom also doubles as a drying unit. With the touch of a button, you can turn on a warm fan that blows through the entire room. After a few hours, everything in the room is bone dry, and there is no need to worry about mildew. In the winter time, Japanese people will hang their wet clothes on a rod and turn on the drying feature. Traditionally, they don’t use a curtain rod, but there are inserts in the wall that allow you to snap two clothing rods in place. If you are already drying out the bathroom anyway, this helps to conserve electricity, and metaphorically kills two birds with one stone. As an added bonus, clothes that are hung to dry are typically less wrinkled.

On the Her Atlas YouTube channel, she shows how she can open her front door with a button on her key fob. Credit: Her Atlas

31. The Front Door Locks With The Touch of a Button

In modern western-style Japanese homes, locks and security systems are second to none. On the YouTube channel called Her Atlas, we see that newer house locks open and close with the touch of a button. This looks identical to a car lock button that we have in America. And, if you were to ever run out of battery, the button opens up to reveal the metal key for opening the door instead. Aside from being convenient, this is also a lot faster and safer way to get inside quickly without fumbling with your keys.

Drawers that slide in and out hold appliances out of place. Credit: Her Atlas

30. A Kitchen Appliance Shelf Slides Away Bulky Products When You’re Not Using Them

One of the worst things about kitchen appliances is the fact that they take up a ton of counter space. And if you want a more minimalist looking kitchen space, you might have to go through the annoying process of putting your appliance into a drawer once you’re done using it. In modern Japanese homes, there is a sliding appliance drawer. So your appliances are sitting back on a shelf, and you can pull them forward to use them whenever you want.

29. Bathrooms Have a Control Panel to Make Heating and Ventilation The Perfect Temperature

Have you ever gone to the bathroom in the early morning and shivered from the cold? This can be a terrible way to wake up, and it makes us more insensitive to just stay in bed. In Japan, they have come up with a solution to that problem by installing a control panel specifically for the bathroom. This way, you can set the temperature on a timer knowing that your bathroom will be nice and toasty before you wake up to take your shower. There is also a ventilation system that helps to release the steam if it gets to be too hot in the summertime.

28. Sliding Doors in Every Room Helps Save Space

Instead of having doors that swing open and closed, Japanese houses have sliding doors. This helps save a ton of space, and it also eliminates any issues with knocking into furniture. However, bathroom doors still swing open and closed, because they have that waterproof seal. In the United States, some older homes have “pocket doors” that give you the option of dividing up a space, or opening up two rooms to make it bigger. But in Japan, this is a standard style of living. So you can instantly have the option of either having open-concept, or separate rooms.

This kitchen door slides to open ventilation on both the top and bottom. Credit: Her Atlas

27. Kitchen Door Windows Slide Open to Provide Extra Ventilation

Since Japanese people cook so much fish, it can stink up a kitchen pretty quickly. That’s why all modern homes come with glass doors that slide down to reveal an extra ventilation screens on both the top and the bottom of the door. Sure- it’s still possible to open a window here in America, but not everyone has that option. In Japan, it’s an absolute standard for everyone that the kitchen needs proper ventilation, and that just makes so much sense.

26. Toilets Come With Two Types of Flushing, Which Helps Conserve Water Usage

American toilets use over a gallon of water to flush. In some households, there is a saying “if it’s yellow, leave it mellow”, because it doesn’t require you to flush right away. But in Japan, they have a much better option. They have two buttons- one for a light flush, and another for heavy flush. So, depending on what you just did in the bathroom, you could be conserving water. This saves money, and it’s also better for the environment.

25. Stoves Have Various Heat Settings For Popular Food

Rice is one of the most commonly eaten foods in Japan. So it only makes sense that they have a “rice” button already built into the stove. Of course, a lot of people have a rice maker, which defeats the purpose of having the rice button. Either way, Japan makes sure people have multiple options for making rice easily. Here in the United States, we might have buttons on our microwave for popcorn and other foods, but they’re not always accurate.

Japanese ovens come with a fish grill that cooks the meat perfectly. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

24. Ovens Have a Special Grill That Cooks Fish Perfectly

Traditional Japanese breakfast consists of rice, fish, pickled vegetables, and miso soup. This might sound like a strange breakfast to foreigners, but it’s incredibly common for people to eat fish almost every single day. After all, the entire country is an island in the Pacific Ocean. For countless generations, people depended on fish to keep them alive. This is why every single house has a fish grill build into the oven. There is space to pour water underneath the grill, which allows steam to come up and keep the fish moist. This makes the fish taste perfect every single time.

A built-in intercom system in a Japanese home. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

23. Apartment Intercom Systems Come With A Built-In Security Camera and Emergency System

In modern Japanese apartments, video intercom systems are in each and every home. Instead of only hearing a person’s voice through the intercom, you can also see an image of them on a small video screen. If you’re not home to respond to the visitor, the system automatically records the video footage onto an SD card. This doubles as added security, because you never know if this was simply a delivery person, or a thief trying to scope out your home. Of course, other countries have similar video intercom security systems. However, these are really only available to homeowners who can afford to install them on private property. In the United States, people who live in apartments would never have something like this.

A security guard showed up quickly to respond to pushing the panic button. Credit: Paolo in Japan

22. Every Apartment Intercom Has a Panic Button

We already mentioned how the doorbells on Japanese apartments have built-in cameras, but what if you feel that you’re in danger? On the top right corner of the intercom, there is a button that will automatically alert security. This is perfect for anyone who is trying to get help, but also trying to stay quiet as not to bring attention to themselves when there is a home invader. Even if you aren’t awake to press the button, the security system is automatically triggered if someone tries to open the front door when you’ve locked yourself inside. According to Youtuber “Paolo From Tokyo”, he tested the feature, and was surprised to see how quickly armed security arrived at his door to help. Because of this, Japanese people can sleep soundly feeling absolutely safe, even in a big city like Tokyo.

Modern Japanese apartments have a button that notifies neighbors of a fire. Credit: Paolo from Tokyo

21. Apartment Intercoms Have Built-In Fire Safety Measures

On top of home security, apartment intercom panels also have a “fire” button. Since all of the intercoms are connected throughout the apartment complex, if one resident hits “fire”, then all of their neighbors are immediately notified by an alarm sounding off through all of the intercoms. This is far more efficient than having one fire alarm in the hallway shared between everyone. In theory, this button would help everyone in the apartment complex evacuate more quickly, and it would prevent loss of life.

A package delivery room in a modern Japanese apartment complex. Credit: Shutterstock

20. Every Resident Gets Their Own Package Delivery Box

At most apartments in the United States, large packages are delivered to the main office. And if there is a private entrance, they’re left on the front stoop, which makes them vulnerable to theft. Japan really has the right idea, because apartment complexes have a large package box for each resident, which can only be opened with a pin code. As soon as they receive a package, their intercom will notify them on the screen that it’s ready for pickup. This system is already perfect for zero-contact, which protects both residents and delivery people. On top of that, you can also drop off packages that need to be sent by simply leaving it in your box. This is a huge advantage compared to the United States, because you need to drive to a physical location like USPS, Fedex, or UPS to send packages here.

Tiny air vents are hidden away in the walls of new Japanese apartments. Credit: Paolo in Tokyo

19. Air Vents Relieve Air Pressure and Cleans the Air

In Japan, homes have air vents installed to help regulate the pressure in a room, as well as work as an air filter. These air vents also dry out the air when moisture gets too high, which completely prevents mold from forming. They were found to work so well, that it actually became part of the Japanese building code in 2003. Now, every new home in the country is required to install these air vents. Considering what we are going through in 2020, the idea of having a built-in air filtration system sounds amazing, because it would drastically reduce the chance of spreading the virus.

In Japan, they take a lot of time to make sure the elderly have a high quality of life. Credit: Shutterstock

18. Japanese Homes Have Safety Features For the Elderly Automatically Built In

Japan has the highest proportion of elderly people in the entire world. Because of this, much of society has been designed to accommodate the needs of older people. In the United States, many homes are not designed with the elderly in mind at all. In fact, many people sell their original homes they purchased when they were young, and move to retirement communities with one-story houses. When Japan started transitioning into building more western style homes, architects actually took a lot of care to analyze how safe it was for older people. For example, the fancy bath tub console we mentioned a few times before has a button to help anyone who has fallen down in the tub, and can’t get up.

Lights can be dimmed by remote controls. Credit: Shutterstock

17. Lights Are On Dimmers, and Have Remote Controls

It’s possible to get light dimmers in any country, but you typically have to spend more money to have the wiring and proper lighting installed. However, it’s typically standard to have dimmable lights in modern Japanese homes. Many houses even have a remote control that will help you do more completely turn out your lights. This is perfect if you are laying in bed and don’t want to get up from under the covers to turn off the light switch.

This Japanese laundry room has a slide-out table top to conserve space. Credit: Taylor R

16. Homes Are Designed With Space-Saving Features

In general, Japanese homes have a lot of clever space-saving features. This might be different in every home, but furniture is often made to fit inside of small spaces. For example, in Taylor R’s 2016 Japanese house tour on YouTube, she showed how her laundry room came with a table top that slid inside of a storage shelf. This way, the laundry room had a built-in table to fold laundry or iron, but it could be easily put away to save space again. It’s also very common to find trash cans that slide under a countertop, or an appliance shelf that tucks objects away in the kitchen.

Credit: Shutterstock

15. Air Conditioning and Heating Units are On the Ceiling

Japanese homes typically don’t have HVAC systems installed, which is why they have single-unit heat and air conditioning systems. Instead of installing them into a window, they are installed at the top of the wall, near the ceiling. Since they are so high up, people need to press the buttons on a remote to change the temperature. In a lot of ways, this makes so much more sense than box air conditioning units. For one, they’re much safer than a box unit, and don’t require you to remove them every winter. Japanese home owners typically have a professional come into their home to clean and tune up the machine once a year. If you like this feature, it’s possible to buy one of these units for your home in America, and they’re especially popular with tiny homes.

The kotatsu is a heated table that Japanese people use in the winter time. Credit: Smart Tech

14. Traditional Homes Have a Heated Table For the Winter Time

In the previous entry, we mentioned how heat and air conditioning comes from units on the ceiling. This may not heat up a large house completely on a very cold day, especially in older Japanese homes that are made with poor exterior ventilation and paper walls. Most older homes have a “kotatsu”, or heated table situated in the living room. This has a thick quilted comforter and a heater underneath. Many families like to snuggle under the kotatsu with a warm cup of tea while they watch TV. Even in some more modern Japanese homes, they will opt to keep the temperature down and use a kotatsu instead.

In many countries around the world, washing and drying all happens in one machine. Credit: Her Atlas

13. Washing Machines Are All in One Unit

While this feature isn’t unique to Japan, their washing machines are typically all-in-one unit. For whatever reason, the United States is one of the only countries that has two separate machines to do our laundry. By having one machine, this saves a lot of space and makes it much easier for you to put your laundry in and walk away for a couple hours until it’s done. Even though these modern machines are all-in-one, there are many Japanese people who still opt to hang dry their laundry out on the balcony on a sunny day, because it saves money. Or, they will use their bathroom drying feature that we mentioned earlier in the list. If they’re already drying out the bathroom anyway, they might as well get both things done at once.

Sink strainers catch particles so that they can be thrown in the trash. Credit: Her Atlas

12. Sinks Have a Strainer To Catch Food Particles

In America, we typically have sinks that come with a garbage disposal built-in. This grinds up leftover food that has fallen into the sink. Otherwise, we have to be very careful to not allow food to fall in the sink, because it will clog. In Japan, they don’t use garbage disposals. Instead, they have a filtration system that catches all of the food particles into a little mesh bag before it has a chance to clog the pipes. After about a week, homeowners have to remove the mesh bag and throw it away. In a lot of ways, this makes a lot more sense than the two options that we have here in America. It also means that your house has one less expensive machine that’s liable to break and need repairs.

In Japan, they take trash organization very seriously. Credit: Shutterstock

11. Multiple Bins Help Organize Waste For a Greener Recycling Program

Recycling is on another level in Japan. People have to divide up their waste into various recycling bins depending on the material it’s made out of. If you get it wrong, they will actually return your garbage to your house, which would embarrass you in front of the neighbors. For westerners, this might seem like a disadvantage rather than a good thing. But in terms of sustainability and helping the environment, it really does make a lot of sense. In America, recycling plants have employees (sometimes prisoners, actually.) sorting through garbage to divide up the materials. By forcing homeowners to sort this out ahead of time, it eliminates the need to employ people to do it later, and it’s better for society overall.

In traditional Japanese homes, there is under-the-stairs storage. Credit: Shutterstock

10. Traditional Homes Have Storage Under the Stairs

In older traditional Japanese homes, most staircases have storage hidden underneath. They install pull out drawers and sliding doors behind the wood paneling to keep extra tatami mats, blankets, and anything else that you need to keep in your home. This is brilliant, because you might not even realize that the staircase is hiding storage when you look at it with the naked eye. It’s one of the many ways that Japanese homes cleverly hide away clutter so that you can enjoy the minimalist space. Here in the United States, there are some homes that do this too, or we might have a closet under the stairs. But this idea of having drawers under every single step is so much better, and it just makes sense.

This woman is walking on the engawa outside of a house. Credit: Shutterstock

9. Houses Always Have an “Engawa”, Ensuring Everyone Has a Safe Space to Walk

Here in the United States, you’re lucky if you have a sidewalk outside of your house. Unfortunately, a lot of neighborhoods have houses that directly meet the road. So if you want to walk your dog or if your kids want to ride your bike, they’re doing it in the street. But in Japan, every home has something called an “engawa”. This is the name for their front porch and walkway. Since everyone has a walkway, it’s guaranteed to connect all of the sidewalks to one another, wherever you go in Japan. This means that no matter where you live, your kids are guaranteed to have a safe place to walk to school.

This Japanese house name plate has the last name of the family on it beside the number. Credit: Shutterstock

8. Every House Has Both a Name Plate and Number

In the United States, everyone has a house number, which is used by the post office to deliver the mail. However, if you have guests coming over for the first time, it can sometimes be confusing to figure out which house is which. This is especially true considering that we have mailboxes on just one side of the road. So you might have two numbers in front of the same house. In Japan, they don’t have this problem, because they always include both a number and a nameplate on the front of the house or on the outside gate. This way, you are never wondering if you are going to show up at the correct house or not.

A Japanese family standing in front of a modern home. Credit: Shutterstock

7. Modern Homes Are Designed to Withstand Earthquakes

Japan is known for having earthquakes and tsunamis. It’s an unfortunate reality of living in such a beautiful country. However, modern architecture has developed to a point where all of their modern homes are made with earthquakes in mind. Engineers and architects make sure that everything is up to code oh, so Japanese families don’t have to worry if there is an earthquake. Here in the United States, we unfortunately don’t always take those precautions. It’s usually only after a natural disaster that building codes are updated. If you’re worried about this yourself, please check to see what flood zone you’re in, or if you live near any fault lines.

This small shrine is meant to honor loved ones who passed away. Credit: Shutterstock

6. Kamidana Honors Passed Loved Ones

Japanese people are very respectful of their elders, and they honor their dead relatives on a regular basis. Most houses have something called a “kamidana”, which is a small Shrine dedicated to prayer. In a lot of households, people will put photographs of loved ones who have recently passed. This way, they always have a place to go to when they want to pray to the people who are no longer in their lives. Some people will remove the photographs after the appropriate mourning period has passed. Others will permanently hang a photograph over the top of the kamidana, like one of their parents or grandparents. Here in the United States, we will keep photographs of our deceased loved ones on our wall. But we don’t have a designated area of prayer quite like this.

This colorful manhole cover helps bring a little bit of cheer to a daily walk. Credit: Shutterstock

5. Neighborhood Manhole Covers Are A Work of Art

When you’re looking to buy a new home, the neighborhood matters a lot. If your surrounding neighborhood feels cheerful and happy, it means that you feel a lot safer where you live. In Japan, they have a beautiful tradition of decorating their manhole covers with art. It doesn’t matter where you go in the country, and you’ll still find these everywhere you go. The artwork usually has something to do with local attractions or natural splendor. It’s a small way for people to feel proud of the place they live. Sometimes, people go out of their way to paint this artwork so that it’s actually in full color. Other times, the weather will chip away at the paint and it is left with the original metal covering. But it’s still beautiful either way.

Japandi is the blend of Scandinavian and Japanese style. Credit: Shutterstock

4. Many Modern Homes Embrace “Japandi” Style

As time goes on, Japanese people like to incorporate more western-style into their homes. Recently, “Japandi” has become incredibly popular. This is a word used to describe the combination of Scandanavian and Japanese styles brought together in one home. Since Ikea is a popular company in Japan, it’s very common for you to walk into a home and see the Scandinavian furniture incorporated into their homes. Since both cultures embrace minimalism and functionality, it is actually a perfect marriage of the two styles.

Many older Japanese homes have a hearth in the floor itself. Credit: Shutterstock

3. The “Irori” Hearth in Traditional Japanese Homes Is Amazing

In western culture, we have wood burning stoves that help to heat a small house. These double as a cook top as well. But in Japan, they go one step further with the “Irori”, which is a sunken area of a room that’s meant for heating the house, grilling, cooking, and drying laundry. Other homes have a table top grill rather than something sunken inside the floor. This makes it possible for families to sit around the table as they cook a hibachi style meal together. Modern Japanese houses do not have an irori, and they have opted for cleaner and easier methods of cooking, like a fish grill built into their stove.

This entire bathroom is retro-fitted to a house or apartment so it’s fully water tight. Credit: Shutterstock

2. Japanese Bathrooms Are All One Piece

In Japan, most houses and apartments are very similar in size and dimension. This makes it easy for repairmen to come in and replace or fix something with all in-house parts. On the YouTube channel Rachel and Jun, they asked their landlords if they could take something from their bathroom and bring it to the new house. To their surprise, they learned that bathrooms are actually all one retrofitted piece of plexiglass. This is done to make sure the room is completely watertight, so that it never leaks or creates mold. Here in the United States, it’s the exact opposite. You need to pick your sink, bath, faucets, shower, and toilets all separately. However, this is obviously an issue that causes leaks and mold. And when a handyman comes to help, they’re not guaranteed to be familiar with your particular pieces.

This large traditional house can open its walls to make its own event hall. Credit: Shutterstock

1. Fusama Walls Help to Make a Room Any Size You Want

In traditional Japanese homes, they have sliding walls called “Fusama”. These can open or close depending on how many rooms you want in the house. These walls are usually painted with murals, which incorporate artwork into the home. This is incredibly convenient, because it eliminates the need to rent bigger spaces for events. For example, if you’re throwing a huge party, you can open up all of the sliding fusama walls and make one huge banquet hall. And if you want to go back to having private bedrooms and living rooms, all it takes is to close the walls again. Even with “open concept” houses, we don’t have anything like this in the United States.