30 Interior Design Secrets From Japan We Should Start Using

Shannon Quinn - June 11, 2019
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Japan is a beautiful country, and its people truly appreciate aesthetics. If you watch Japanese movies or anime, you have most likely seen their interior design and felt incredibly impressed. They tend to have a design called “Wabi-Sabi”, which means that there is perfection in the form of imperfection. To most people who come from Asian backgrounds, it is only natural to figure out how to emulate that style. But in English-speaking countries, most of us are not even sure where to begin when it comes to designing our homes to emulate Japanese styles. Here are 30 tips on how you can incorporate Japanese vibes into your living space.

Kintsugi bowls fill in the cracks with gold. Credit: Shutterstock

30. Kintsugi Bowls

In Japan, there is a tradition called “kintsugi”, and it is a perfect example of how Japanese people incorporate “Wabi-Sabi” into their lives. This is a practice of taking a bowl, cup, or plate that has been broken, and putting it back together with a golden paste. This technique looks absolutely beautiful, and these pieces make great decor. You can find hand made kintsugi pieces on Etsy, or try to make your own.

Almost all Japanese homes have hardwood floors. Credit: Shutterstock

29. Hardwood Floors

All traditional Japanese homes have hardwood floors that are polished to perfection. Maintaining these floors is taken so seriously, that every single Japanese person takes their shoes off at the door, so that the floors never get scuffed up. If you are aiming to make your home look more Japanese, this is one of the first things you should probably consider. Anyone who lives in an older home is in luck, because you just may have hardwood floors hiding underneath your carpet. All it takes it a good sanding and polish to bring old hardwood floors back to life.

Most Japanese homes incorporate nature into their rooms. Credit: Shutterstock

28. Elements of Nature

In Japan, a certain segment of the population practices Buddhism. That culture shows a lot of respect for nature and the world around us. This is why, in many Japanese homes, they will open windows and doors to let in the greenery from the outside, instead of trying to seperate the outdoors from indoors. If you cannot do this in your own home, consider buying a potted plant, instead. Plants look amazing in any home, no matter what style you are going for.

Sliding doors are efficient. Credit: Shutterstock

27. Sliding Doors

Sliding wooden and paper doors are traditional in every older Japanese home. These are actually amazing, because you can often open up a room to make it feel much larger, or slide it closed for added privacy. (Unfortunately, they are not sound proof!) Since most western homes do not have sliding doors, this is a project that would need to be customized. With the right style elements, it truly may make your home look very impressive.

Most Japanese homes have a neutral color palatte. Credit: Shutterstock

26. Neutral Colors

Every single Japanese home has a neutral color palette of cream and beige. There are often pops of color that come from nature, like pink cherry blossoms, or green foliage outside. By keeping everything neutral, it brings more attention to the beautiful objects that are actually in the home. This will make a room feel much larger than it actually is, and it will also help you get in a better mood compared to walking in a room that has far too many dark colors.

Japanese people do not wear shoes in their house. Credit: Shutterstock

25. Entryways

As we mentioned earlier in this list, Japanese people take their shoes off before they enter their house. This is to help prevent scuffing the wood floors, but it also prevents too much dust and dirt from getting inside of the house. In western countries, we sometimes have entry areas for our coats and shoes, or an entire mud room. In Japan, though, they have a small landing space right near the front door, and people have to step up before they get inside of the house.

A Japanese style soaking tub. Credit: Shutterstock

24. Soaking Tubs

Taking baths is a huge part of Japan’s culture. It is tradition for parents and their young children to take baths together. They have natural hot springs, so people go to communal spaces to soak and relax after a long day at work. They do not find it strange at all to be soaking totally naked next to perfect strangers! (At least they are the same sex.) Since it is such a huge part of the culture, every single home comes with a deep soaking tub. Some houses do not have showers, or only give you the option of a shower head that detaches from the bath.

Larger Japanese homes usually have a rock garden. Credit: Shutterstock

23. Rock Gardens

In Japan, rock gardens are very popular. However, most people do not have them unless they are in a large courtyard in the center of their home. There are ways to incorporate small rock gardens inside of your home, though. Some people have a box filled with sand and a tiny rake, along with a bonsai tree. These mini rock gardens are beautiful on a desk, and can actually be very soothing to take care of.

Most Japanese homes have tatami mats. Credit: Shutterstock

22. Tatami Mats

In traditional Japanese homes, their floors are polished hardwood. Even though they take their shoes off to prevent scratching the floors, tatami mats help to add more cushion to the flooring of a room. This is usually done in a space where people are going to lay down to go to sleep, kneel, or sit down for a meal. Unlike rugs and carpet, these mats can be picked up and cleaned very easily, because they are very light and easy to move.

Bamboo in a Japanese garden. Credit: Shutterstock

21. Bamboo

Bamboo grows naturally in Asian countries, so it makes a lot of sense that it has been utilized to make furniture, fences, and more. If you don’t have a lot of room in the budget for a tons of bamboo, though, you may be happy with just a small plant to sit on your windowsill or desk. Most nurseries and garden centers will sell small “lucky” bamboo plants. However, there is a chance you can overdo it. Or, if the bamboo is not maintained, you might also make your neighbors angry at you. So be careful.

Most Japanese homes do not have a lot of clutter. Credit: Shutterstock

20. Minimalism

Scrolling through the photos, you may have already noticed that these homes look very bare. In Japan, minimalism is very popular. However, there are exceptions, of course. In small apartments, people have to cram their belongings into their tight living spaces. But once they get to their “forever home” as an adult, there is far more care taken to being minimalist and styling in traditional ways.

Floor cushions are very popular in Japan. Credit: Shutterstock

19. Low Seating and Floor Cushions

In Japan, most people sit on the floor, either cuddled up under their heated tables, or sitting around the fireplace, like you see in the photo above. They are also a big culture where people kneel for extended periods of time. Of course, in modern times, everyone has western style chairs and desks in their home. But you will often see this throwback to tradition. If you think it would be too uncomfortable to sit or kneel on the floor, consider buying low furniture, instead.

Paper lanterns are cheapt and popular. Credit: Shutterstock

18. Paper Lanterns

In both Chinese and Japanese decor, it is very common to see paper lantern lamps. Lucky for you, paper lanterns are cheap and easy to find at stores like Ikea or Amazon. However, if you buy a lantern that is actually made of paper, you run the risk of having it look really tacky. In the photos above, you can see those lanterns are actually very high quality. So, before you buy a lantern, ask yourself if it is elevated enough to match the rest of your decor.

Kotatsu tables are in almost every Japanese home. Credit: Shutterstock

17. Heated Tables

Many Japanese homes do not have central heating, or they opt to use space heaters that may not fill the entire room. So, in the winter, heated tables called Kotatsu are very popular. Some people even choose to sleep under these blankets in the winter time. If you want to buy a Kotatsu in the USA, expect to pay a few hundred dollars. They may also need to be imported, if you want to get the genuine article.

An adorable little Bonsai tree. Credit: Shutterstock

16. Bonsai Trees

Growing bonsai trees take years of patience and hard work. This is why a more intricate tree will cost a lot of money, and the younger, simple trees are more affordable. Sometimes, you can find these at your local garden center, but they are few and far between, since it is such a special skill. If you live near a city, check out your nearest China Town or Asian super market. There is almost always a shop that sells bonsai trees at varying price points.

Japanese style furniture is beautiful. Credit: Shutterstock

15. Japanese Furniture

One of the most obvious things you can do in designing a Japanese inspired home is to buy furniture that comes directly from that country. Check out Pinterest for Japanese furniture design, in order to get a good idea of what to look for. Even if the furniture is not actually manufactured in Japan, anything that looks like it belongs in the Wabi Sabi vibe will be perfect for your interior design.

Japanese people love drinking tea. Credit: Shutterstock

14. A Designated Tea Area

Drinking tea is very popular in Japan, and they have a tradition of attending tea ceremonies. It is not uncommon to have a tea pot and cups displayed out in the open at all times. This can be in your kitchen, or on the coffee table in the living room. It also works best if you purchase a beautiful tea pot, like the one shown above. Of course, it’s even better if you actually love to drink it!

A lot of Japanese furniture, including beds, are low to the floor. Credit: Shutterstock

13. Beds That Are Low to the Floor

Just like the seating and the furniture, beds in Japan are low to the floor. For years, people slept on tatami mats above the hardwood floors. While this may be good for straightening out your back, this is not very good for modern-day people who are used to comfort. Today, Japan usually has western style beds, but they still may be lower to the ground than what you are used to.

The inside of a Shinto shrine. Credit: Shutterstock

12. Prayer or Meditation Space

Earlier in this list, we mentioned how a lot of Japanese people are Buddhist, but there are Shinto shrines scattered all over the country. It is common to see small “shrine” spaces in a Japanese home that is dedicated to a loved one who has passed away. Larger homes may even have a full-fledged shrine, or they at least have space for yoga and reflection. If you are a spiritual person, you may want to consider creating one of these spaces in your own home. Of course, you can adjust it to match whatever religion you practice.

Bringing in natural light can really elevate any home. Credit: Shutterstock

11. Natural Light

When in doubt, bring in the natural light to your home. For the majority of its history, Japan did not have electricity, and many people had to rely on the sun to get anything done. Today, this is still very popular to use the sunlight until electricity is completely necessary. Utilizing natural light is good for any home, no matter what style you are going for. It will help brighten your mood, and it makes a room feel a whole lot bigger.

Many Japanese homes have a lot of clean lines and geometry. Credit: Shutterstock

10. Geometric Shapes

In most Japanese homes, you are going to see clean lines and geometric shapes. You will never, ever see floppy bean bag chairs or anything along those lines. However, the Wabi Sabi vibe allows some wiggle-room for imperfection. So if there is something that is a bit odd or out of place, it is actually more Japanese to do this. So don’t worry about being completely uniform all throughout.

Today, there is a blend of tradition and modern design. Credit: Shutterstock

9. Blending Traditional and Modern Elements

Nowadays, most Japanese people are not living in the traditional homes. New apartments are being built all the time. And while they are not identical to the types of apartments you will find in the United States, they are not going to have everything we mentioned on this list. However, even in the newest spaces, they do a good job of blending western influence, modernity, and still holding on to tradition. As you can see in the photo above, there is a western style couch, a Japanese paper door, a tea set, and a Scandinavian style chair. And yet blending all of those styles somehow works together perfectly.

Many Japanese homes do not hang art on the walls. Credit: Shutterstock

8. Plain Walls

Traditional Japanese homes have paper walls and sliding doors. So, it would be impossible to hang anything without completely damaging the wall. In modern times, there are plenty of houses and apartments that have drywall, so people can technically hang artwork if they wanted to. However, since it is tradition to keep walls plain, you will see this very often when you go to a home in Japan. As you can see in the photos, these plain walls actually draw your eyes to the objects, like the tea pot and the cherry blossom bonsai tree. In this way, it makes it feel as though artwork is actually unnecessary.

Pagoda and buddah statues. Credit: Shutterstock

7. Statues

Instead of displaying a large collection of knickknacks in a China cabinet, many Japanese homes will have just one statue on a table as a piece of home decor. There may also be statues in the garden. Think of it this way- Instead of spending a small amount of money on each small tchatchky, why not take all of that money and buy one really nice statue? The cost is usually the same, but the look makes a huge difference.

A collection of manga. Credit: Shutterstock

6. Otaku Collections

We have already mentioned that most Japanese homes are very minimalist, but that is not always the case. Young people who live in their first apartment will often have bookshelves filled with their collections- whether it’s manga (comics) or action figures. The word “Otaku” means “nerd”, but it’s a bit more than that. It is someone who is truly a huge fan of something, and they make it a huge part of their life. If you can take any style advice away from this, it may be that you can display something you feel passionate about. Whether that comes in the form of movie posters, books, or trophies, don’t be afraid to display things you love.

A simple and stylish Japanese room with swords on display. Credit: Shutterstock

5. Display Objects With Pride and Purpose

In a traditional Japanese home, everything is very minimal. So whenever an object is put on display, it suddenly holds so much importance. In the image above, you can see that there are two swords on display. Don’t you think that there is probably some kind of epic story behind those swords? Maybe they belonged to someone’s great-great-grandfather. It becomes a conversation piece, and it truly honors objects for their value.

A modern Japanese toilet. Credit: Shutterstock

4. Modernized Bathrooms

Japan has some of the fanciest toilets in the world. It comes with a bidet, heated seat, and a little noise box that helps cover up any embarrassing sounds. For whatever reason, this never really made a huge impact in the US, even though it’s so awesome. If you want one, it’s possible to buy them and have it imported. Most people who start using Japanese toilets will tell you that they truly can no longer live without them, once they grow accustom to the luxury.

Most rooms in Japan have perfect symmetry. Credit: Shutterstock

3. Perfect Symmetry

Our brains love symmetry. It’s just so satisfying. And in most Japanese homes, you are going to find it. There will always be matching end tables, lamps, and so much more. However, keep in mind that too much symmetry can be a bad thing, too. Try to have it as much as possible, but also remember that “wabi sabi” allows for some imperfection to be sprinkled in, too.

A lot of Japanese people burn incense to help scent their home. Credit: Shutterstock

2. Incense

In the western world, candles are very popular. But in most Asian countries, incense is often used for emitting pleasant aromas. You can but incense online, or at many gift shops. This is also used during times of prayer, and it is a staple in Shinto shrines. Incense come in all different kinds of scents. Aside from smelling good, many incense burners also look very fancy as a piece of decor, too.

The Konmari Method developed in Japan. Credit: Shutterstock

1. Efficient Storage

Have you seen the Netflix series Tidying Up With Marie Kondo? If not, you really should. In his series, Kondo teaches her “Konmari method”, which originated in Japan. She gives some amazing tips to fold and organize your belongings into tight spaces, and embrace minimalism. If you do not feel like paying for a Netflix subscription, search her name on YouTube, and you will be able to find some free content, as well.

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