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Small house living is in… in Japan

Living small is in… in Japan. A younger generation of Japanese with modest budgets are showing demand for ultra-compact homes, known as kyo-sho-jutaku in Japanese.

9 tsubo home variation based on design by Makoto Masuzawa circa 1952

9 tsubo home variation based on design by Makoto Masuzawa circa 1952


5 principles of designBased on a 1952 design by architect Makoto Masuzawa — modeled on his own residence — the tiny home was built to accommodate a family of five. Small homes became popular in Japan after WW II as loans were provided for houses no larger than 50 m2. The beauty of traditional Japanese design and architeture is that it focuses on anthropic principles.

In particular, the 5 principles adhered to are (illustrated at right):

  • A flat square (three X 3): Aesthetic and generic
  • A three-square-meter atrium: Continuity of space
  • A gable roof: Simple rationality
  • Use of round columns: Soft construction
  • Set up the opening (or connection): Ratio of domestic and shared integration

A renaissance of the style began in 1999 when a structural model of Masuzawa’s house was shown at an exhibition. Makoto Koizumi of commdesign, a Tokyo-based design firm, was commissioned to design a space based on the original blueprint. It was built in 2004 for a couple with two small children in Chiba, just outside Tokyo. The construction cost was approx. $115,000. commdesign sells custom-designed homes (not overseas… yet) that fit on the small plots of land available in Japan’s larger cities.

The home’s usable space is about nine tsubo (or 320 ft2 – one tsubo is equal to roughly 3.3 m2) in the Japanese measurement system. Features include a wall of windows, a compact and efficient kitchen, a tatami room, a spacious loft and post & beam construction. There are many variations on the 9 tsubo theme. You can read extensively about it in Space: Japanese Design Solutions by Michael Freeman. There is also a book featuring the designs available via the commdesign site.

Masuzawa’s original house was dubbed “the minimum house,” but Koizumi said “it should be called the maximum house. Despite its small space, Masuzawa-san’s creativity made the house seem open and spacious.”

9 tsubo home variation based on design by Makoto Masuzawa circa 1952

9 tsubo home variation based on design by Makoto Masuzawa circa 1952

In an architecture feature for BusinessWeek – Japan: Micro-Homes in the Big City – Hiroko Tashiro a Tokyo based correspondent wrote:

“Small has always been beautiful in Japan, whether you think of the mini-component audio systems the country pioneered in the 1970s, its cultural love affair with miniaturized potted plants known as bonsai, or the current rage for small-engine mini-cars. Now you can add to the list the current home-design craze: ultra-compact micro-homes on plots so small they could fit into the garage space of your typical, sprawling McMansion in the U.S.”

9 tsubo home variation based on design by Makoto Masuzawa circa 1952

9 tsubo home variation based on design by Makoto Masuzawa circa 1952

Availability beyond Japan doesn’t exist at this point though commdesign principal Okazaki expressed interest in selling the house and others in Asia, Europe and the Americas.

images courtesy of commdesign and boo-hoo-woo.com who furnishings are featured.

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2 Responses

  1. Great post! I found Space: Japanese Design Solutions at the LA Public Library. Looks like it’ll be a fun read. Thanks!

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