All the Tiny Spaces Belong to Japan!

Feb 2, 2020 | Culture, Escape, Japan

Japan has been taking architectural downsizing to the extreme. Let it be said that the Japanese are probably the first people to have found a way around almost all the difficulties of “living modern” while maintaining plenty of traditional values.

While the Japanese have been stereotyped as an overworked, falling-asleep-on-their-feet kind of people, what they’ve actually built is a way to coexist with each other while maintaining the efficiency of Japan’s modern cities.

Downsizing dwellings has been the name of the game and it is now becoming increasingly common in places like Tokyo for adults (and sometimes even small families) to live in residential units that measure just 9.46 square meters or even less. The miniaturized dwellings may not be for the claustrophobic, but they are cheaper to rent and they provide the essentials of what you need: a place to sleep, and a place for all your stuff.

The channel Living Big in a Tiny House sums up how you can “live big” despite having limited dwelling space. You organize your stuff well enough, you don’t buy stuff you don’t need, and you perfect creating just the right spaces for the things that you need to do. The resident in the episode above is from Australia and she’s still pretty happy despite the drastic shift from a regular-sized dwelling to a miniaturized one that just contains the essentials.

Japan has long practiced downsizing of houses because of the soaring cost of real estate, and as you may already know, not everyone can shell out millions of yen to buy a house. So tiny house living was a logical option, and the current trend now is for small rental units to be small, but compensating with height as many of them have lofts.

This tiny home in the heart of Tokyo is the size of a garage, and a couple lives in it. It has all of the modern amenities that one could ask for, albeit in a very downsized fashion. It was designed like a traditional Japanese home, with a shoe-changing area when you enter the vestibule.

A massive French window allows natural light to stream in, illuminating the central spaces of the house. The French window also gives the tiny home the illusion of additional space by “merging the outside” with what is inside.

By putting a large window that faces the street, the small house feels less claustrophobic. The owner states that the small plot of land where their tiny home stands is all they can afford to buy, which explains why they settled for the special, one-story house. The husband proudly presents their collection of full-sized vinyl records, which just shows that no matter how small your space is, there is always space for your passions in life.

Japanese master craftsman Tagami Haruhiko is well-known for his dream project: creating the very first full-sized house on wheels. While mobile campers and RVs have been common in the United States for decades, the concept of the crafted “small home” is a truly Japanese invention. Tagami’s creations are made of a variety of materials (but build predominantly with wood) and were initially intended to be upscale camping units.

Later on, the master craftsman decided to expand his vision and create true homes that can be hitched to cars and trucks and brought wherever the owner wishes to be. Tagami’s creations weigh an average of just 500 kilograms. The craftsman is proud that with his design, an owner of such a home can park in a regular parking slot and drive across narrow country roads with no problems at all.

Going vertical is the name of the game, and being able to fit more people into a limited space has been addressed by moving things up, literally. A 9.46 square meter rental unit costs around ¥66,500 ($607), excluding utilities and other fees. Ito, an IT engineer living in Tokyo, says that “so far it’s been comfortable. I keep my belongings to a bare minimum, and it’s easy to get around since everything is literally within arm’s reach. It gets cramped when friends visit, however. One person has to sit on the floor, while another goes up to the loft.”

The strategic shrinking of living spaces extends to hotels themselves. Capsule hotels abound in Japan, especially in busier cities like Tokyo, near airports. Capsule hotels offer an alternative means of accommodation to travelers who are just staying the night in a city, and plan to travel the next day. They’re more cost-effective, definitely no-frills, and they are extremely popular especially to backpackers and global tourists who want to see more of the country at lower cost.