Why Japanese Homes Are Better Than Ours

Shannon Quinn - January 29, 2022
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American homes are great, but they’re not the best. Once you see homes in Japan, you’ll quickly realize that they’re far superior. Not only are they gorgeous to look at, but they’re ingeniously designed to make life easier. From their ancient traditions to modern tech, here’s why Japanese homes are much better than ours.

Engawa walkways connect to the sidewalk. Credit: Shutterstock

40. The “Engawa” Walkway are Like Sidewalks But Better

In the western world, we have sidewalks in many neighborhoods, but it’s not guaranteed. The front yard of many homes will go straight into the street. This isn’t very safe for pedestrians who may need to use public transportation. In Japan, they have something called an “engawa” in front of every single home. These are like a front porch and walkway combined, and they all connect to the main sidewalk. So no matter where you live, everyone has a safe space to walk to work or school.

A beautiful private courtyard in Japan. Credit: Shutterstock

39. A “Tsubo-niwa” is a Private Courtyard to Bring Nature Into Japanese Homes

Older traditional Japanese homes were designed with a “tsubo-niwa”, which was a courtyard garden placed in the center of the home. Larger homes of the Japanese elite were designed with hallways moving around this open courtyard so that light and airflow could reach every single room. Many people attribute these gardens to the reason why Japan is known for its peace and tranquility. Today, many smaller modern Japanese homes will try to incorporate the spirit of a tsuboniwa, even if they don’t have the space. Even small townhouses in Kyoto have built-in garden spaces instead of a backyard.

Japanese toilets have a variety of features. Credit: Shutterstock

38. Japanese Toilets Are The Fanciest Tech You Will Ever Sit On 

Many of you may have already heard about the fact that Japanese toilets are super fancy. They’re so highly sought-after that some people will spend well over $1,000 importing them to their own countries. Every Japanese toilet comes with a control panel that allows you to heat the seat, as well as use a bidet to clean yourself off. There is even a wind setting to dry yourself off! Last but not least, the toilet has sound settings that will play music or noise to cover up any embarrassing sounds. 

These stairs have plenty of storage. Credit: Shutterstock

37. Stair Storage Just Makes So Much Sense

All around the world, everyone is looking for more storage in their homes. Most Americans stuff their belongings in their closet, garage, or attic space. In traditional Japanese homes, they may not have a garage or attic to store things in the first place. So they need to get creative with other solutions, like drawers under the stairs. (Also known as a “tansu chest).This is such a great idea, because it turns wasted space into a complete storage system. Here in the United States, we will sometimes have closets under the stairs, but not always. It usually ends up becoming yet another place to gather junk, rather than a cute aesthetic drawer system like this.

This room has hardwood floors under tatami mats. Credit: Shutterstock

36. Every Single Japanese Home Has Hardwood Floors

Here in the United States, hardwood floors are a feature that a lot of people lust after. If you can pull back an old carpet and find original hardwood floors, it’s like finding treasure. However, most people can’t afford real hardwood, and have to settle for fake laminate that eventually needs to be replaced. In Japan, everyone has hardwood floors, no matter where they live. The quality of these floors last a long time, because there is a strict rule in Japanese culture that you must take your shoes off at the door. Because of this, the floors may never need to be replaced, because they can be restored with a simple sand and polish.

The kotatsu is a heated table that is perfect for keeping warm in the winter. Credit: Shutterstock

35. We Should Be Jealous of Japan’s “Kotatsu” Tables

In larger traditional Japanese homes, heat and air conditioning might not have the best ventilation going throughout the house. This is why they need to find alternative ways to keep warm in the winter time, like the “kotatsu” table. These are heated tables with a built-in blanket. Japanese families will gather around the kotatsu in the evening to eat dinner, watch TV, and play games together. (Some people even fall asleep under the kotatsu if they get really comfortable.) There are even some people who will buy a kotatsu for their apartment, even if they have modern heat and electricity in their home. It’s just that cozy.

Japanese bathrooms are made to get wet. Credit: Shutterstock

34. Every Bathroom is a Fully Wet Room

Here in the United States, we step out of the shower onto a bathroom rug. If things get wet, we need to clean it up quickly in order to prevent water damage.  Japanese people love to take baths as a form of relaxation. So when we say “bathroom”, it really is the place for bathing, since toilets and vanities are in a separate room. Modern Japanese bathrooms are designed to get wet. Rooms are tiled from floor to ceiling, and the doors have an airtight seal. If the room gets wet after a shower or bath, all you need to do is turn on the dryer setting and shut the door. This is why a lot of people put their wet or wrinkled clothes in the bathroom, because they know the entire room will become bone-dry soon enough.

Sliding doors are an iconic part of Japanese homes. Credit: Shutterstock

 

33. Sliding Doors Transform The Size and Shape of a Home

In traditional Japanese homes, rooms are separated by sliding doors made of paper and wood. They’re lightweight and easy to slide out of place for additional privacy. Large older homes have walls called “Fusama”, which are meant to transform the size and shape of the house. When the fusama doors are open, you can make huge living spaces that are perfect for entertainment. Even in smaller apartments and homes, sliding doors are great because they help save space compared to doors that swing out. Here in the western world, it’s rare to find swinging doors, unless you visit an older Victorian home that was designed with “pocket doors”.

Fish grill ovens in Japan can help make fish perfectly. Credit: Shutterstock

32. Japanese Ovens Have Built In Fish Grills to Cook The Nation’s Favorite Food

Japan is a small island country in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Since it’s an island, it only makes sense that eating fish is a huge part of their culture. In fact, their traditional breakfast comes with fish, rice, and pickled vegetables. This is why most homes have a special fish grill built into the oven. These grills are designed to cook fish to perfection. Under the grill, there is a spot to pour water so that the fish is steamed, while cooking. This makes it moist, and tastes absolutely delicious once it comes out of the oven.

Leave shoes in the entryway. Credit: Shutterstock

31. Japanese Entryways are Designed to Keep The Rest of the House Clean 

Earlier on this list, we mentioned how Japanese people love their hardwood floors. Because of this, every single Japanese home comes with its own entryway called a “genkan”. This is a small tile floor landing right in front of the door. Most of the time, it’s separated from the rest of the house by a second door, or you need to step up in order to get into the house. Each entryway has racks for coats and shoes. This way, any mud or water from the outside. It also gives you a place to keep your shoes and change into slippers, which helps preserve the hardwood floor. Here in the United States, we would call this a “mud room”. But these are reserved for people who can actually afford to build one into their house.

Japan is famous for their huge soaking tubs. Credit: Shutterstock

30. Japan’s Large Soaking Tubs Help You Relax 

Here in the United States, it’s actually rare to find a home with a large tub. Even if you have a tub, it may be too small to sit in as a full-grown adult, which leaves us to take daily showers instead. In Japan, baths are a huge part of their culture. So it’s essential to have a deep soaker tub in every single home. And if you live in an apartment without a large tub, there are public hot springs and bath houses where people go to congregate. Maybe that sounds strange to westerners. But in Japan, baths are so important, it’s even worth soaking next to a naked stranger.

It’s great to grow old in Japan. Credit: Shutterstock

29. Japanese Homes Are Designed to Grow Old In

Whether we realize it or not, the western world caters to the young. And once we grow older, people have to sell their two-story homes to move to retirement communities that help cater to their needs. On the flip side, Japan takes health seriously in their society. It has the highest proportion of elderly people in the whole world. A lot of society has been designed to cater to the elderly, to make sure everyone is comfortable in their old age. Modern Japanese apartments now have emergency call buttons similar to Life Alert here in the United States. Because of these designs, someone would theoretically buy and live in the same house or apartment from the time they are young until their death.

Feng Shui can make your home feel more peaceful. Credit: Shutterstock

28. Many Japanese Homes Embrace the Practice of Feng Shui

Technically, Feng Shui is a Chinese tradition. However, much of the design in homes and gardens in Japan are strongly influenced by Chinese traditions. In Feng Shui, you’re improving the flow of “qi” or energy around your space. There needs to be a representation of the four elements- water, fire, air, and earth. Each of these elements need to be placed on the north, south, east, and western corners of the home. On top of that, the placement of mirrors, furniture, and even the kitchen sink all represent good or bad luck under the rules of Feng Shui. Sound complicated? Don’t worry. Here at Home Addict, we’ve already written a guide to getting started with Feng Shui in your own home. 

Many Japanese homes have a prayer garden. Credit: Shutterstock

27. Japanese Homes Have Designated Meditation and Prayer Space

If you’re a spiritual person, you’ll appreciate this next feature of a Japanese home. Most Japanese people are Buddhist or Atheist, but the traditional religion of the nation was Shinto. There are still many Shinto shrines around the country that people visit during holidays and festivals. In traditional Japanese homes, they will build a small shrine called a “Kamidana” that is meant specifically for honoring your loved ones who have passed away. Other homes will have space set aside for yoga or meditation.

These bins help to organize recycling by material. Credit: Shutterstock

26. Japan’s Recycling and Trash Program is On Another Level

In Japan, people must divide up their trash and recycling into several different bins. They separate the various colors of glass, plastic, PET bottles, cans, and paper.  Believe it or not, they will actually return garbage to your house if it was done incorrectly. Or, they will outright refuse to take it in the first place. For foreigners moving to Japan, this is actually one of the most difficult and embarrassing things to get used to for westerners. However, it’s actually far superior to the rest of the world, because it means that the materials are being recycled properly, which in turn creates a cleaner society. 

Air conditioners in Japan are controlled by a remote. Credit: Shutterstock

25. Japanese Air Conditioners Are on the Ceiling

Here in the United States, if a house doesn’t have a proper HVAC system installed, they will get a box air conditioning unit to put in a window. In Japan, you won’t find HVAC systems installed, either. This is why they install an Aircon, which is a window unit that goes into the ceiling. Unlike the air conditioners we see in America, the Aircon stays up all year long. You can control the temperature with a remote control. Traditionally, once a year, a professional will come over to clean and service your AirCon. This means that most people will have a machine that lasts for decades, rather than just a few years. Here in the United States, people who create tiny homes have begun to use these ceiling units, because it’s far more efficient to heat and cool small spaces.

This house blends into the landscape. Credit: Shutterstock

24. Traditional Japanese Buildings Are into more Natural Landscapes

For centuries, every home in Japan was built with the natural landscape in mind. Instead of taking away from what was already there, architects wanted buildings to look like they fit in with the landscape. This is why so many photographs of Japan are so stunning, with older traditional buildings looking like they belong in a painting. Obviously, not all houses and buildings are like this in Japan, especially in the city. However, Japan still puts a lot of thought into the aesthetic of the city, especially their skyline. They still want people to get a good view whenever possible. If you would like to learn more about how Japanese design incorporates buildings into nature, check out this video from Sada Uchiyama, who is the curator of the Portland Japanese Garden.

Japanese refrigerators open from both the left and right. Credit: Her Atlas

23. Refrigerator Doors Open From Both Sides

Anyone who is left handed knows the everyday annoyance of using objects designed for right-handed people. Refrigerators are one of those items that nearly every leftie has to deal with, since special-ordering a left handed fridge would cost a small fortune. (And reversing your fridge door isn’t exactly easy.) But in Japan, fridges are made to be ambidextrous on purpose. They open from both sides, which makes life so much easier. 

Japanese homes have neutral colors. Credit: Shutterstock

22. Neutral Colors Enhance the Design of Japanese Homes

Nearly every home in Japan is designed with a neutral color palette of cream and beige. It’s not very common for people to paint their walls a different color, especially if they’re made of paper or a special textured wall covering. Instead of relying on the walls for color, Japanese people get foliage from outside, and they let their beautiful objects take center stage. Some might argue that this isn’t “better” than American houses, but simply just a different style choice. But for those who enjoy minimalist design, Japan has many stunning examples of how to do it right.

Japanese homes have name plates. Credit: Shutterstock

21. Japanese Home Name Plates Make Life Easier For Guests

If you’re from the western world, you’ve probably encountered the nerve-wracking situation of showing up to someone’s house, but you’re not entirely sure if it’s the correct address. Here in the United States, mailboxes are often on the same side of the road, and it’s difficult to tell which house is which. Unless, of course, they have a number on the front of their house. In Japan, they never have this problem. Every home has a name plate as well as the number of their address. So you can never make the mistake of knocking on the wrong door.

Japandi blends together Japanese and Scandinavian design. Credit: Shutterstock

20. Homes Around The World Are Embracing “Japandi”

When some people think of Japanese style, they think of traditions that go back thousands of years. However, as time goes on, there has been a shift in the style in Japan, which is known as Japandi. This is a mixture of both Japanese and Scandinavian styles. Both of these styles are very similar, because they blend minimalism and functionality. Here in the United States, a lot of people are embracing the Japandi look. If you’re interested, check out our guide to Japandi here at Home Addict. 

Families can feel safe, because they’ll be in an earthquake proof home. Credit: Shutterstock

19. Modern Japanese Homes Are Earthquake Proof

In Japan, they have frequent earthquakes that sometimes develop into tsunamis. This can be very frightening, and it’s a definite drawback to living there. However, Japanese engineers and architects have done a great job in designing homes so that they don’t fall during an earthquake. That’s more than we can say here in the United States. Usually, construction standards aren’t changed until after a natural disaster has occurred. It’s always possible to check if you live in a flood zone or on top of a fault line. This way, you can make the necessary precautions if you choose to have renovations on your home.

Man hole covers are painted in beautiful pictures. Credit: Shutterstock

18. Even the Manhole Covers are Cute in Japan

One of the best things about Japan is that they have so many cute things. They take every opportunity to make a neighborhood just a little bit more happy and enjoyable to live there. An example of this is their manhole covers. Each and every one of their manhole covers has a different design, depending on the town. The covers will have something based on the local attractions and traditions. On top of that, many manhole covers are even painted by local artists who want to make it even more beautiful than before. 

The irori script is in the center of the Japanese home. Credit: Shutterstock

17. The “Irori” Hearth is Huge in Traditional Japanese Cooking

Older traditional Japanese homes did not have an HVAC system to heat the house in the winter time. So they have the “Irori”, which is a fireplace built into a sunken hearth area of the living room. This area is used for cooking, drying laundry, and heating the entire house. Nowadays, people don’t use their Irori for heating the home. They will most likely have an Aircon unit installed. However, they can still use it for sitting around to grill some fish and enjoy cooking. Here in the western world, we have a very similar system with our wood burning stoves, especially the famous Aga stoves from England.

Remote controls are used to dim or brighten the lights. Credit: Shutterstock

16. Lights Are On Dimmers, and Have Remote Controls

Technically, you can get light dimmers installed in any country. And if you live in the United States, you may already have them in your home. However, in Japan, it’s standard to have dimmer lights, as well as a remote control to help you turn the lights on and off. This is very useful if you’re lying in bed, and you don’t want to get up to turn the lights on or off.

This cooler is hidden underneath the floor of a modern Japanese kitchen. Credit: Her Atlas

15. Modern Floors Have Hidden Coolers

In some brand new Japanese homes, they will come with hidden trap doors on the floor. This could be perfect for hiding your snacks that you don’t want anyone else to find!  It is actually a secret cooler in the kitchen floor, which provides additional kitchen space. According to YouTuber Her Atlas, the container stays cool at all times because it’s under the house. But you can add additional ice to it in the summertime, because it has a hole for draining out onto the ground. 

Every modern Japanese apartment has a panic button to call security. Credit: Paolo from Tokyo

14. Japanese Apartments Have Panic Buttons

You’ve seen it in thrillers and horror movies: Someone breaks into your house, but you need to stay silent. You’re afraid to call 911 because the intruder might hear you. In Japan, they’ve come up with a solution to that problem. In modern apartments, every unit comes with a panic button. As soon as you hit the button, a member of the security team will quickly make their way towards your apartment.

You don’t need mitts when you have pan clips. Credit: Her Atlas

13. Pan Clips Eliminate The Need to Use Oven Mitts

In the western world, we all have large ovens to accommodate massive meals, especially around the holidays. But in Japan, their ovens are so small, you’d be forgiven if you mistook it for a microwave. It also comes with a metal plate that fits perfectly into the oven. Instead of using oven mitts, there is a pan clip that helps you pull it out.

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

12. Japanese Tubs Are Controlled To Be the Perfect Temperature at All Times

Have you ever taken a long bath, only for the water to turn cold? That would never happen in Japan, because every home comes with a control panel that controls the water temperature. It also has a feature that will automatically turn the water off once the bath is full. Some apartments even have a second bath control panel in the kitchen. This is perfect for busy parents who want to fill the bathtub while they’re having dinner, and send the kids to clean up after they’re done eating.

Modern apartments and houses have a key button to lock your door. Credit: Her Atlas

11. Doors Lock With the Touch of a Button

If you visit a brand new western style Japanese house, you may be surprised to find that some locks look just like a car fob. All you need to do is press a button, and you can come inside. If the battery ever runs out, the button opens up to the metal key. Even this on its own is super convenient, because you’re far less likely to search for your key when you’re arriving home from work.

Japanese appliance shelves hide away the clutter. Credit: Her Atlas

10. Appliance Shelves Hide Bulky Items Away From Sight

Here in the United States, appliances often clutter our counter space in the kitchen. But in Japan, they came up with a genius idea of hiding everything on an appliance shelf. This shelf pulls out when you’re ready to use something. And when you’re done, it’s simple and sliding the shelf back and closing the door.

Residents of Japanese apartments get large boxes for mail. Credit: Paolo From Tokyo

9. Apartments Have Boxes Big Enough For Packages

If you live in the United States, you already know that receiving packages can be an issue, especially with porch pirates. In most cases, apartment residents have to get their larger packages delivered to the main office. But in modern Japanese apartment complexes, people get their own mail boxes that are large enough to fit small packages. This makes the odds of having your package stolen slim-to-none.

The kitchen door from Her Atlas gives extra ventilation. Credit: Her Atlas

8. Kitchens Have Sliding Door Windows for Added Ventilation

When you’re cooking in the kitchen, ventilation is key. But not everyone has a ventilation hood. In Japan, every kitchen comes with a door with screens to slide open to provide you with more fresh air. This is perfect for releasing any smoke or smells that might stink up the room.

The flush buttons on a Japanese toilet. Credit: Shutterstock

7. Japanese Toilets Have Two Flush Settings

Here in the United States, we only have one type of flush. Because of this, our toilets use up over a gallon of water every time someone goes to the bathroom. We’re aware of how wasteful this is, which is why some people opt not to flush every time they go “number one” in their own home. In Japan, they have two flush buttons. One is for a light flush, while another is for heavy. Some businesses in the US are beginning to incorporate this feature in their bathrooms. It helps to save money, and it’s great for the environment.

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

6.  Japanese Homes Have Modernized Air Ventilation Systems

Back in 2003, Japan changed their building code so that every new home in the country needs to be built with an air filtration system. This helps to act as an air filter, but it also regulars the air pressure and moisture in the house. Because of this, you’ll never get mold, and it can potentially mean that you get sick less, since the air is constantly filtered.

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

5. Japanese Apartment Intercoms Have a Built-in-Security System

Earlier on this list, we already mentioned the panic button in Japanese apartments. However, it goes far beyond just a button. Every intercom system also has a small video camera. Anyone who comes to the door is being recorded, and the footage goes to an SD card. Here in the United States, we have products like the Ring doorbell that do something similar. However, it’s expensive, and it’s usually not something you can do for an apartment.

In Japan, ovens and stoves have popular food settings. Credit: Shutterstock

4. Japanese Stoves and Ovens Have Food Settings

In the western world, microwaves come with popular food settings like “popcorn”. But when it comes to the oven and stove, you’re on your own. In Japan, they decided to take the concept and put it on the oven and stove for some of the most popular dishes people cook on a daily basis, like rice.

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

3. Japanese Homes Have Tons of Storage Solutions

Since most Japanese homes are small, they have come up with ways to save space. In a video by a blogger called Taylor R, she shows how her laundry room comes with a sliding table top that slid inside of a storage shelf. Many kitchens also come with trash cans that slide in and out of the counter with ease.

In Japan, all they need is one machine to do the laundry. Credit: Her Atlas

2. Japanese Washers and Dryers Are All in One

In the United States, we have two machines for washing our clothes- a washer, and a dryer. But in Japan, they have an all-in-one unit that’s popular in European countries. This is far more convenient, because there is no need to switch the laundry. However, even with these machines, many Japanese people still hang-dry their laundry on a warm day.

Japanese sinks have a food filtration system. Credit: Her Atlas

1. Kitchen Sinks Have A Filtration System to Catch Food

No matter how careful you try to be, small particles of food will fall down your sink. Here in the United States, a lot of houses will have a garbage disposal to grind up the food. But in Japan, they have a filtration system that catches the food in a mesh bag that needs to be thrown away. This is much better than tending to an expensive machine that may eventually need repairs.

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