What's in a traditional Japanese house?

Ever wonder what's in a traditional Japanese house? In this article, we are going to see some classic features that you find only in Japanese houses. From architecture, interiors, objects and other things exclusive to Japan.

Many of the architectural and interior features of Japanese houses are unique, they are considered an important part of Japan's history and culture. Even though they are ancient, they are still present in many houses today.

Shoji, Fusuma and Ranma- Sliding doors

Let's start by talking about the sliding doors and walls present in many Japanese houses, including apartments and modern houses. At least the living room or room in the house has a door or wall that allows you to expand or divide a room into 2.


Shoji they are panels or sliding doors structured in wood and filled with translucent paper. They are used for both the interior and exterior walls of the home. Allowing natural light to enter the house.

Fusuma they are sliding panels that act as doors and walls that unlike shoji do not have a translucent role, they are just walls, which can be decorated and can even be used to create secret passages and rooms.


One of the advantages of sliding doors found in Japan is the transformation of a room into a private room. Many houses are modulated thanks to the walls and sliding doors.

Ranma are panels found above shoji or fusuma that are designed to let light into the rooms. Most of the times they are made of ornate wood or are equal to the shoji.


Genkan, Engawa and Tokonoma - Japanese balcony

Genkan it is the entrance to a traditional Japanese house where you usually take your shoes off. It can be a small hall, balcony or room, with a rug or space where you should remove your shoes. Also, avoid stepping on the genkan barefoot or in socks.

The main function of the genkan is to prevent dirt from the street that remained in the shoe from entering the house, or any building. So the genkan it is usually built on a slope with the floor of the house to contain dirt coming from the street.


O After removing, the shoes are usually arranged with the front facing the door, to be dressed more easily when going out, and another shoe is worn, uwabaki, or slipper, surippa, to walk inside the building.

While the Genkan is at the entrance to the house, outside on the balcony of old houses we have the engawa, an external corridor that involves a Japanese house. The engawa are traditionally used to protect doors and walls shoji against the sun, rain and storms. 


In some traditional and wealthy houses we also have the tokonoma, this is an area designed to receive guests. It’s a place that usually uses art like painting, shodo, parchments, bonsai, okimono or ikebana.

There are several rules of etiquette with respect to tokonoma. One of them is that when accommodating guests, you should keep your back facing the tokonoma. This is due to modesty, the host should not be seen showing the contents of the tokonoma to the guest, so he should avoid pointing to the tokonoma.


Wagoya - Roof without nails

Japanese carpenters have developed advanced joinery techniques, allowing the construction of large buildings without the use of nails. These nailless frames have their advantages, they are more suitable for earthquakes.

Some of these woods are embedded or tied with rope, and can be seen in old Japanese houses. Today, despite a different architecture, many houses are built with fitted roofs instead of being nailed.

Japanese houses

Tatami - Japanese Floor

Tatami are floors or mats traditionally made from rice straw. They have a standard size that varies by region. Tatami are so common in Japan that houses and apartments are usually measured using the size of a tatami as a unit.

They represent a traditional lifestyle that involves implantation and sleeping on the floor. Tatami have a soft, natural feel to their feet and have a pleasant smell when they are young. They are associated with a wide range of uses and customs, such as sitting in seiza (photo in the image).


Kotatsu, Chabudai and Zabuton

Kotatsu is a low table with a built-in electric heater covered by a heavy blanket called futon. People sit with their legs under kotatsu to relax, have a meal, study or watch television. 


Chabudai they are tables with short legs that are used when sitting on the floor, usually the same type of table as a kotatsu. They can have different sizes.

They are most typically used on tatami flooring, but can be placed on harder floors as well. It is common for families to have a meal or meeting in a chabudai while sitting in the zabuton.

Zabuton they are thin pillows that are used to sit on tatami floors. They are the equivalent of a chair. In sumo matches, crowds are known to play their zabuton into the ring to protest an unpopular outcome.


Ofuro - Japanese Bathtub

Ofuro is the Japanese word for bath, but it can refer to the bathtub that is present in most places. japan houses. In ancient Japan, houses do not have toilets and people visited public baths every night, known as sento.

To the it was Meiji, Ofuro started to become a more common feature in homes. Japanese baths they are usually in a separate room from the bathroom. So, basically almost every house in Japan has a bathtub and a small shower.

The Japanese use ofuro as a leisure activity and tend to take long baths. Wooden baths are a luxury feature of some homes and ryokan. It is customary and part of the culture to take a bath in Japan.


Irori - Japanese fireplace

An Irori is a fireplace used to heat the house and cook, it consists of a square hole in the floor covered by a hook or jizaikagi, which hangs from the ceiling above the well and can be used to suspend a pot over the fire.

Few modern houses include an irori and they are increasingly rare. Old restaurants in the Japanese countryside have one. Wherever they are found they are popular in the winter.


Sudare - Traditional curtains

Sudare are traditional window curtains that are made with horizontal strings of wood, bamboo or other natural materials. They are usually used in the spring and summer.

They allow a cool breeze and are effective in blocking the sun. Sudare are often created using ancient techniques and may have iron hooks that look large by today’s standards.

Although most have a basic design, some are created with silk, gold wire and other expensive materials.


Watch the main classic features of Japanese houses in the video below:

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