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22 Styles and Interiors of Traditional Japanese Houses

In Japan, the concept of home is shaped by a rich tapestry of styles and influences. Each region of the country has its own unique style of housing, with variations influenced by climate and cultural...

In Japan, the concept of home is shaped by a rich tapestry of styles and influences. Each region of the country has its own unique style of housing, with variations influenced by climate and cultural factors. Traditional Japanese houses are not a one-size-fits-all affair, but rather a reflection of the diverse and vibrant nature of the country.

Styles of traditional Japanese houses Styles of traditional Japanese houses

Let's delve into the captivating world of 22 traditional Japanese houses and explore their distinctive styles.

Different Styles of Traditional Japanese Houses

There are three main styles of traditional Japanese houses: Minka, Sukiya, and Shoin. Most other styles are substyles of these three main categories, with the majority falling under the Minka style.

1. Minka 民家

Translated as "house of the people," Minka represents the quintessential Japanese house style. It was the common abode for farmers, skilled trade workers, merchants, and anyone outside the samurai class. These houses are characterized by their simple rectangular shape and roof type, and can be found throughout Japan.

Old Japanese house Old Japanese house

Minka houses are typically made of wood and feature a thatched roof. They offer spaciousness and ample natural light. The interiors of Minka houses vary across different regions of Japan, influenced by local building practices and cultural traditions. For example, nōka (農家) are farmhouses, gyoka (漁家) are fishermen's houses, sanka (山家) are mountain houses, and machiya (町屋) are traditional homes for tradespeople and merchants.

2. Sukiya 数寄屋

Sukiya represents a refined and elegant style of traditional Japanese houses. These houses were often used for tea ceremonies, showcasing a higher class and level of sophistication. Sukiya houses are characterized by cleanliness and minimalistic design.

Sukiya-style houses are typically small in size and feature a thatched roof. They often have an open floor plan, with the living area and kitchen sharing the same space. The interior of a Sukiya house is adorned with tatami mats and paper lanterns, adding to the serene and tranquil atmosphere.

3. Shoin 書院造

Shoin is a style of traditional Japanese house that was reserved for the military and samurai classes. The word "shoin" is derived from "shoku" (書), meaning "to write," and "in" (院), meaning "hall" or "room." Shoin houses were characterized by a writing room in a samurai's residence.

A Shoin residence consists of an omoya (母屋), or the core of the building, surrounded by aisles known as hisashi (廂庇). The presence of square support columns and a tatami-covered floor distinguishes a Shoin residence.

Support Styles of Traditional Japanese Houses

Traditional Japanese houses feature various post and beam support styles developed to withstand Japan's frequent earthquakes. These styles prioritize structural soundness and are diverse in their designs.

4. Inverted U

The "inverted U" style features two vertical posts connected by a horizontal beam at the top. This style usually includes two sets of supports, one at each end of the house.

5. Box

Similar to the inverted U style, the "box" style connects two U-shaped structures for additional support.

Japanese house style Japanese house style

6. Umbrella

The "umbrella" style features a central vertical post with four horizontal beams extending outward from it. The beams reach the corners of the house.

7. Cross

The "cross" style is suitable for smaller traditional Japanese houses, utilizing two beams connected in the middle to form an X shape. Each end of the beams is supported by a vertical post.

8. Double Cross

The "double cross" style doubles the number of beams and posts, providing additional support. Instead of a single X across the ceiling, there are two side by side, offering enhanced stability for longer rooms.

9. Rising Beam

The "rising beam" support method is one of the sturdiest styles. These supports are fixed to the tops of posts and vertical beams, rising towards the roof to provide added support. The triangular shapes of these supports offer more strength compared to traditional right-angle structures.

Floor Plan Styles of Traditional Japanese Houses

Floor plan spacing is another key aspect in categorizing traditional Japanese houses. Two common types of floor plan styles are kyoma and inakama.

10. Kyoma 京間

Kyoma style arranges rooms based on the size of a tatami mat. Tatami mats are twice as long as they are wide, measuring 3 feet by 6 feet. This design ensures that rooms are built to perfectly accommodate tatami mats when placed side by side, eliminating the need for cutting or altering them to fit the room.

Japanese house floor tatami Japanese house floor tatami

11. Inakama 田舎間

Inakama style is characterized by columns supporting the roof instead of walls. While it presents challenges in perfectly placing tatami mats, careful planning allows for a seamless integration. The distance between the center of one post and the next is typically three feet. Tatami mats are arranged in a way that the seam of two parallel mats aligns perfectly with the center of a post, requiring only minimal cutting around the corners.

Roof Styles on Traditional Japanese Houses

Given Japan's heavy rainfall during the summer, steeply sloped roofs became a necessity to keep homes dry. Rain chains, known as kusaridoi (鎖樋), help direct rainwater away from the structure.

Traditional Japanese houses exhibit four main roof styles:

12. Kirizuma 切妻

The Kirizuma style features a gabled roof with two sides sloping from a central ridge to cover the walls of the house. As the sides are protected by the roof's slope, the front and back remain exposed, requiring longer roof lengths to create a protective overhang. Due to its simple design, the Kirizuma roof is common among lower-class houses.

House Japan roof Kirizuma House Japan roof Kirizuma

13. Yosemune 寄棟

The Yosemune style features a hipped roof design, with four slopes forming a ridge at the top. The smaller sides of the house have triangular roof sections that meet at the edges of the ridge, while the longer sides are rectangular and meet at the top, forming a ridge. This style is often seen in Japanese farmhouses but can also be found in other architectural styles.

14. Irimoya 入母

Irimoya is a complex roof style that combines elements of Kirizuma and Yosemune, forming a hip-and-gable roof. The roof consists of two layers: the upper layer features gabled sections where two sides meet to form a ridge, while the lower layer incorporates hipped roof sections. This style was predominantly reserved for high-class families and temples due to its construction complexity and greater costs. However, the Irimoya roof provides increased support to withstand strong winds.

15. Hogyo 兵庫

The Hogyo style showcases a square pyramidal roof. Like the Yosemune style, the Hogyo roof consists of four slopes. However, the slopes meet at a point, making the roof much smaller in comparison. Each side of the roof forms a triangular shape, rendering them capable of joining at a single point. This roof style is ideal for regions without heavy snowfall, as the slope may not prevent snow accumulation.

Interior Elements in Traditional Japanese Houses

Traditional Japanese houses boast a range of common interior elements, from building materials to room dividers and unique features.

16. Wood

Wood is the primary material used in traditional Japanese houses. It is readily available and less prone to rot due to the humid climate. Three primary types of wood used include:

  • Kiri (桐): Paulownia wood, a lightweight and affordable option, was popularly used in traditional Japanese houses.
  • Kaya (茅): Thatched rice straw, the cheapest option, was often used in lower-class homes.
  • Sugi (杉): Cedar wood, the most expensive and durable option, was reserved for wealthier families.

17. Tatami 畳

Tatami mats, made of woven rush grass and covered with fabric, serve as flooring in traditional Japanese houses. Originally limited to upper-class homes, tatami mats became more common among lower-class households during the Edo period. Tatami mats are often used as room dividers due to their portability and can be stacked on top of each other.

18. Fusuma 襖 and Shōji 障子

Fusuma are wooden sliding doors that divide rooms in a traditional Japanese house. They feature wooden frames and paper screens. Shoji, thin translucent paper screens, are used as windows and can be placed in doorways or between rooms, offering flexibility and privacy.

19. Engawa 縁側

Engawa refers to verandas surrounding the perimeter of a traditional Japanese house. These narrow passages, usually around 30cm wide, serve as transition spaces between the exterior and interior. Engawa can also be utilized as storage areas or extra rooms for guests. In the summer, they offer a shaded place to cool off under the eaves of the roof.

20. Genkan 玄関

Genkan serves as the entryway to a traditional Japanese house. Typically located on the engawa, it acts as a transition space between the outside and inside. It is customary to remove shoes in the genkan to prevent dirt from entering the house. Genkan often includes a small shelf or closet for shoe storage.

21. Ranma 欄間

Ranma refers to wooden beams placed between the ceiling and floor. Besides providing structural support, they create a sense of separation between rooms. Ranma beams are often adorned with intricate carvings or paintings, and the choice of wood varies according to the house's style and design.

Japanese house interior style Japanese house interior style

22. Irori 囲炉裏

Irori are sunken hearths commonly found at the center of traditional Japanese houses. While they were originally used for cooking and heating, nowadays, they primarily serve as decorative elements. Irori comprise stone or clay structures surrounded by wooden frames. The frames are often adorned with carvings or paintings, adding an artistic touch to the house. Irori can still be used for cooking or heating purposes.

Final Thoughts

Traditional Japanese houses are captivating structures with deep historical roots. They continue to be an integral part of Japanese culture, attracting tourists with their unique designs and features. Exploring the diverse roof styles, floor plans, regional variations, and signature interior elements found in traditional Japanese houses unveils a wealth of history and craftsmanship.

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