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Fascinating Japanese micro homes

April 8th, 2007 . by Matt

Business Week reports on a new trend of micro homes being built in Japan to deal with the lack of land in the Tokyo area.

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.

Living small is in, especially among younger Japanese with modest budgets who no longer want to cope with the grueling commutes by train from far-off suburbs outside Tokyo as their parents did. Demand for ultra-compact homes, known as kyo-sho-jutaku in Japanese, is likely a small portion right now of the $1.2 billion Japanese currently spend on homes designed by architects.

Staying Close to Top Schools

But architects, home design magazines, and even some major Japanese companies are starting to take notice of the trend. It is being driven by the surprising fact that, despite Japan’s already astronomical (by international standards) land prices, the four prefectures that comprise the Tokyo metropolitan area are among the fastest-growing nationally.

Suitable land for housing in Tokyo is incredibly scarce, however. So some families are hiring architects to build the tiniest homes imaginable to live closer to the cultural amenities and excellent school systems available in Tokyo. “Recently, an increasing number of people, especially in their 30s and early 40s, desire to live in central Tokyo,” says Shigeru Kimura, an independent real estate agent who specializes in micro-homes. “And more people are thinking of how to live on a small plot of land.”

Others are already based in Tokyo, clinging to a tiny patch of land, and want to replace decades-old wooden homes with new ones, but for the lowest cost possible. Take the case of Mayumi Takayanagi, an electronics company engineer who had lived with her parents for about 30 years in a two-story wooden house in the central Tokyo district of Sumida.

“This Was the Tiniest”

The thought of leaving her lively and thriving downtown neighborhood with her parents for cheaper and far more spacious housing in the soulless, strip-mall-festooned outlying suburbs of Tokyo just wasn’t an option. So she turned to architect Satoshi Kurosaki, 36, to design a new home for no more than $170,000 on a plot that measured only 32 square meters (or 344 sq. ft.). “I’d worked on compact houses before, but this was the tiniest,” says Kurosaki.

It wasn’t easy but he came up with a design for a three-level home, constructed with light-gauge steel, that was finished in 2004. It features a simple but sturdy spiral staircase that runs up the center of the home and has no dead space. Kurosaki managed to free up enough room to design a living space for Takayanagi’s father on the ground floor and a living room, kitchen, and bedroom on the second for her mother. The top floor is where she sleeps, and there is access to a wood deck.

Kurosaki also designed this tiny structure with big windows on the front of the home to maximize sunlight exposure. Make no mistake: The home is incredibly narrow and would seem claustrophobic to some. But for Takayanagi, the new digs are just fine. “We get sunshine all the time, which is great,” she says.

Here are a couple of pictures of the micro homes –


Read the rest of the article for yourself.

6 Responses to “Fascinating Japanese micro homes”

  1. comment number 1 by: tocchin

    Living in a small house is not the only way of “living small”. With genetic engineering progressing so fast, we will soon be able to make humans small enough to live in a rabbit hutch. With exploding human population and accelerating global warming, downsizing human beings seems to be the only pratical way to avoid catastrophe facing the planet.

  2. comment number 2 by: Ocebey

    Way to go Tocchin! That’s probably the funniest comment i heard this year yet.
    Let’s start by downsizing the people we don’t like 🙂

  3. comment number 3 by: mitaker

    Ocebey, he’s probably not joking. Many scientists have offered serious proposals to make the human body smaller to counter the growing human population. With smaller bodies, people would consume less and pollute less. It’s also a solution offered in doraemon!

  4. comment number 4 by: crypticlife

    So, the side effect of being made small will be also that we’re all blue cat marsupials?

  5. comment number 5 by: sayuri

    The concept of “Kyosho jutaku” is based on the plan which Makoto Masuzawa, an architect, designed 1952.

    There are some variation of Masuzawa’s plan.




    I am not sure whether it is good or not that people fill a town with tiny houses, but, from an ecological point of view, choosing small houses and not large houses should be a choice for the Japanese.

    Living in a large house and consuming a lot of electricity seems ridiculous — don’t you agree, Mr Ex-Vice President of USA?

  6. comment number 6 by: empraptor

    Neat. I’d live in one of those.

    First thing I thought about when I saw the staircase is whether it’d be useful if they were collapsable. Are there any houses like this that can collapse the staircases to make a partition to the other floors? It’d be cool if the house could be converted into separate units.

    Then again, I suppose you’d make a staircase and doors on the outside in the first place if you wanted it to function as an apartment.