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Thread: Japanese houses compared to European ones

  1. #1
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Japanese houses compared to European ones

    As a North-Western European, I can't help but notice numerous differences between the European houses I am used to and Japanese ones. Here is a list of them.

    Construction

    - Japanese houses don't have cellars or basements. It is apparently prohibited by laws. What a waste of space in crowded cities like Tokyo. No wine cellar, no additional place to store food, but since they don't normally have central heating, so they don't need a boiler.

    - Japanese houses have no attic or loft. That may also look like a waste of space, but actually, they are often built on 3 floors instead of 2, so the attic is just an additional floor right under the roof (which means freezing in winter and stifling in summer).

    - Many new Japanese houses have flat roofs with a terrace on the top. This is a creative gain of space - convenient to dry the laundry. As it rains much less in Tokyo than anywhere in Northern Europe, that's fine.

    - Walls are thin (about 10cm) and hollow. It's almsot possible to detroy them with a kick or a small hammer. That is because of earthquakes and gives a feeling of "paper house" to the habitations. This is in sharp contrast to the European stone or brick walls thickened by an additional layer of thermic insulation (glass fiber...) and plaster, which Japanese houses almost never have. I was personally used to 1m deep stone walls that would not be destroyed by a sledgehammer or a poweful gun. Double-glazing is also rare in private Japanese houses.

    - As I mentioned above, central heating is uncommon and so is floor heating (I suppose that this is because they have wooden floors everywhere instead of tiled floors, so cold on the feet in winter). Japanese heat themselves mostly with portable "gas heaters", not fixed electric or fuel radiators.

    - European houses don't usually have air conditioning, because summer aren't hot enough in the North and are very dry in the South, so that the shade and thick walls are enough to keep it cool inside. All Japanese houses (except in Hokkaido ?) have air conditioning in almsot every room, as it would be unbearable during the muggy summer without it.

    - Windows and doors normally open by sliding, especially in slighlty older (can't be very old in Japan) or traditional buildings. Window frames don't have partition in the the middle (just contours).

    Rooms and utilities

    - On top of the lack of cellar and loft, Japanese houses very rarely or never have pantry or larder (I admit it is getting unusual in Europe too), study room (probably only big houses anyway), utility room, garage or ball room (no I am kidding on this one ).

    - Japanese washing machines open from the top rather than from the side.

    - Japanese rarely have a dishwasher or tumble dryer (eventhough they make the 2 in 1 models with washing machines now, if space is an issue).

    - The bathroom is usually small because it is limited to the bath and shower space, without "dry ground", nor furnitures (for the towels, soap, cosmetics...) or sink to brush your teeth, make up or shave. Everything is outside the bathroom, sometimes on another floor (eg. on the landing beteen 2 rooms or next to the entrance hall).

    Outside

    - Japanese houses in big cities very rarely have a garden (AmE = yard), contrarily to houses even in London.

    - The architecture is very standardised, all in concrete, and only the colour of the fakes bricks or painting differentiate them. This is true from the Northern tip of Hokkaido all the way through the 3000km down the Southern reaches of Kyushu. Needless to say that European architecture vary not only by geographical region but equally inside a same city of village, due to the quick evolution of styles in time.
    Last edited by Maciamo; Apr 22, 2004 at 19:14.

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  2. #2
    Regular Member bossel's Avatar
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    Really interesting!
    I don't think, I would like the thin walls.
    These top loader washing machines you mentioned are nowadays also hip in Europe, although front loaders still are the vast majority.

    If there are no gardens, are there at least enough parks & such? Have my doubts about the big Japanese cities. Wouldn't like that either. I need some green stuff around me.

    "1m deep stone walls"?
    Did you live in some Belgian castle?
    Last edited by bossel; Apr 22, 2004 at 09:02.

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    Taicho mdchachi's Avatar
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    Don't forget the closets. Japanese homes usually have fairly large closets split by a single [shelf] and is designed for storing futon. They don't usually have vertically oriented clothes closets like in America. I don't know about Europe but I suspect they don't provide futon storage.

    edit: meant to say "single shelf"
    Last edited by mdchachi; Apr 23, 2004 at 22:34.

  4. #4
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mdchachi
    Don't forget the closets. Japanese homes usually have fairly large closets split by a single and is designed for storing futon. They don't usually have vertically oriented clothes closets like in America. I don't know about Europe but I suspect they don't provide futon storage.
    Actually I didn't mention the "oshi-ire" on pupose because I have been used to this system all my life. We just call them "cupboard" (or "placard" in French, but there is no equivalent in English) or even larder, if it's for storing food. It is nowadays more common to keep your clothes, books, TV, cd's or other accessories than old and bulky wardrobes or unsteady shelves. The advantage of the door (compared to the open shelves) is that it doesn't look so messy.

    As with the Japanese oshi-ire, these "placards" take all the wall. The main differences is that they are divided in "columns" (vertical separation, maybe 1m wide) have many rows of adjustable shelves, possibly drawers at the bottom, and each compartment has individuals doors. As they are all made on measure by a carpenter, they all vary in size, disposition and design, but in my experience they have nicely designed wooden doors, which contrast a lot with very simple Japanese oshi-ire, which are still often made of plain, white, paper sliding doors. In my house in Tokyo, the oshi-ire doors are the same as those that separate rooms and can even be interchanged.

    But there are also "closet" in Europe with sliding doors (maybe "mirror doors", to make the room look bigger ) and that act only as wardrobes, and could also be used very much in the same fashion as "oshi-ire".

  5. #5
    Dog Youkai playaa's Avatar
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    Nice write up Maciamo, I learned a few things... I definately like the Japanese styled houses better then European, except maybe a few contemporary styled homes. With the futon bed's and couches.
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    Where I'm Supposed to Be kirei_na_me's Avatar
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    larder=pantry?

    If so, I have a couple of those in my house. Just a closet with a few shelves used for storing canned or dried foods. Well, anything non-perishable can be stored in them. One I use for storing cleaning products.

    I think I prefer the old Western style houses. Heavy insulated walls, heavy doors, high ceilings. Not to mention central heating and central air. I do think it's nice having the toilet and bathtub/shower area separated. I wish ours were like that. I'd also love to have one of those really deeeeeeeep tubs for all the baths I take!
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  7. #7
    Omnipotence personified Mandylion's Avatar
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    I think one of the greatest crimes in Japan is modern housing. Aside from most of it not looking very good, they are horribly inefficient - drafty in the winter, moist in the summer and mold is a big problem all year round. JIS restricts most modern building supplies and most homes are made largely of plastic and paint. Add on to that the cost due to a protectivist construction industry and very little choice is left for the homeowner to make something they are really comfortable with. It is possible to make central heating and air work in Japanese homes, it is possible to make them much, much more energy efficient - but special builders groups don't want to.

    Looking around the older houses that have fallen into disrepair around where I live, the best made part of the house is the roof. Those tiles last for ages!

  8. #8
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kirei_na_me
    I think I prefer the old Western style houses. Heavy insulated walls, heavy doors, high ceilings.
    Not so fast ! Heavy doors are not so common nowadays, even in old houses.
    High ceilings are mostly in not so old houses (19th century) in the cities. Country houses or anything older than 200 years, in Northern Europe, rarely have high ceiling, but at the contrary even lower than in Japan (2m high ?). It also depends on the country. Ceilings tend to be much higher in Southern Europe (Italian Palazzi) because big rooms are cooler in summer. Northern European houses need to be heated in winter, so lower ceiling save on volume and heating cost.

    I'd also love to have one of those really deeeeeeeep tubs for all the baths I take!
    Why ? Are American tubs different ?

  9. #9
    Where I'm Supposed to Be kirei_na_me's Avatar
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    The ceilings in my house are 9 or maybe 10 feet/@300 cm tall. My house is older(100 years) and was very well made. The doors are solid wood and thick. You must remember, 'older' to Americans is 100-200 years old. Maybe I should've said older American houses...

    And I believe Japanese tubs are deeper. Maybe not as long, but they are definitely deeper. My bathtub is about 14 inches/36 cm deep. Aren't Japanese tubs quite a bit deeper than that?

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    Dog Youkai playaa's Avatar
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    Yeah, the standard American tubs are quite SMALL! Unless of course you got a Jacuzzi Tub or something of that sort.

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    Where I'm Supposed to Be kirei_na_me's Avatar
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    Yeah, true. I was going to say that. Unless you special order a jacuzzi or some other specialty tub, it won't be very spacious.

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    Dog Youkai playaa's Avatar
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    Mine is just long enough for me to sit in and stretch my legs out, once seated it rises about mid-bicep height. I efinately wish our tubs were deeper.

  13. #13
    Regular Member neko_girl22's Avatar
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    The baths are deeper, but not always bigger. In apartments where everything is cramped the baths can sometimes be only big enough for one person to sit in . (I stayed in a friends house where this was the case. The bath was square in shape and came up to about my shoulders) I guess modern houses would have larger family sized baths. Luckily for us, in our apartment we can fit two people.....

    I lived in a 150 year old Victorian style house in NZ. The ceilings were very high and some parts of the house were made with stone. and we had a large but shallow bath. I kinda miss that house!

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    Regular Member senseiman's Avatar
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    I agree with Mandylion's take on this. It is absolutely criminal the way the Japanese homebuyer is effectively held hostage by the cabal of contractors who dominate Japan's homebuilding industry. 99% of the new houses going up today are completely worthless and will have to be knocked down in 20 years because they are so shoddily built that the walls will simply have rotted away in that time. Yet this doesn't stop these companies from charging more than twice the amount their American and European counterparts charge to build these ****-boxes. It really is a crime too, because Japan's traditional architecture is so beatiful, yet it has been almost completely replaced by sterile plastic crap,.

    One encouraging trend I've read about though is the increased popularity of buying existing traditional style homes and renovating them to give them all the comforts of a modern home. In most cases this can be done for the same price or significantly less than the cost of building a new home from scratch. And the benefits are significant. The older houses are much more durable than the new ones and can thus be viewed as a long term investment. Plus they are MUCH more attractive, so people can actually enjoy living in them as opposed to simply tolerating living in them.

  15. #15
    Dog Youkai playaa's Avatar
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    Yeah, traditional Japanese homes are my fav, I really like the temples as well. But then again I could always go for a 10th story apartment looking over the shinjuku district of tokyo.

  16. #16
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by playaa
    Yeah, traditional Japanese homes are my fav, I really like the temples as well.
    You might change mind once you have to live in one.

    Nice traditional houses are few and far between in cities, but there are some nice ones in the remote suburbs (in China, for instance) or in the country. Still, they lack all the comfort of European/Western houses, except for the air conditioning and heated toilet seat.

  17. #17
    Omnipotence personified Mandylion's Avatar
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    Yes, living in older buildings take a degree of toughness. I wasn't tryng to say older houses are better in terms of creature comforts, but that newer ones are worse because they fail to address problems or improve the environment of the homeowner (plus all the reasons seneiman listed).

    At least if you are an old home freak you have a sense of owning something with charater and history and this might helps you put up with the drafts, mold, insects, etc. You expect old homes to be a bit rough.

  18. #18
    Regular Member neko_girl22's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    Still, they lack all the comfort of European/Western houses, except for the air conditioning and heated toilet seat.
    Dh and I want to move into the country. I love the older style houses in Japan, the only thing that puts me off would be that they all have boton (long drop) toilets. urrgh. That and the huge insects and snakes.....

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    Cute and Furry Ewok85's Avatar
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    OMG, the wind in winter in a japanese house, it just goes THROUGH the house. Cmon people, stick some insulation in the walls!

    I read an article last year about a Canadian carpenter who was working in japan (and had been for a while) slogging his way through a rather close environment and eventually starting his own business. He would be the kind of person I'd see about getting a house in Japan.

    This is a great topic Maciamo. The house im in at the moment is a 40ish mudbrick home in Adelaide, Australia. We have cold wet winters (avg 0-20 celc) and hot dry summers (avg 30-45 celcius).This house is a typical brick, insulation, fibro (plasterboard) construct, attics and basements are rare and we dont have one. We do have some space uner the roof (tiled, though metal corrugated iron sheeting is equally popular and more often used now) in which the air conditioning vents and central heating vents are. Pantries are not common or rare, some people have them some don't.

    Bathrooms are an interesting topic though. Like in Japan the toilet and bath/shower are in different rooms over here. I think its the same in Europe but not America. Cant see why you'd want them together anyhow.

    Most washing machines here are top-loading, we have the space The tumbledryers tend to be front loading though.

    Ceilings are higher. Windows are 2 parts, generally half is fixed and the other half can slide behind it. Double glazed helps keep the heat in.

    Built in wardrobes are becoming popular now. Similar to what you have in japan only with drawers at the bottom, shelves above. Single long shelf at the top. Maybe a bit of long hanging space. Very very useful (and mirrored doors to make the room look huge! )

  20. #20
    Regular Member senseiman's Avatar
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    The point people seem to be missing is that old homes are only uncomfortable because few people ever bother to take care of them. By renovating them you can give them all the comforts of a modern home while preserving their traditional appearance and durability. You get the best of both worlds and at the same time save money by not building a worthless new home at inflated prices. I'm hoping that this trend towards ressurecting old homes is going to catch on and become quite mainstream within a few years.

  21. #21
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ewok85
    Bathrooms are an interesting topic though. Like in Japan the toilet and bath/shower are in different rooms over here. I think its the same in Europe but not America. Cant see why you'd want them together anyhow.
    What I meant was not just that the toilet were in a different room, but that the bathroom itself in Japan is the shower. It's just a big shower with a bath inside. After taking a shower, there is no space left dry on the floor, so you can possibly enter with socks in the bathroom. In Europe, Australia or America, there is a tiled floor with a sink, mirror, some furnitures, with or without toilet, then the shower in a corner with "plastic walls" and a door to avoid water spilling on the floor. If there is no such shower, then it is in the bathtub and there is usually a plastic curtain, also to prevent the water from reaching the bathroom's floor. No such thing exist in Japan. In other words, there are no bathrooms in Japan, just an "ofuro" with a door that gives on a corridor.

    NB : In Europe, the toilet is more often than not in the bathroom, but with possibly some additional ones outside too.

    Most washing machines here are top-loading, we have the space The tumbledryers tend to be front loading though.
    Actually I hate those top-loaders and wonder why bossel said they were "hip". IMO, they don't wash well. I have used one in Japan during 2 years and always complained about the white fluffs accumulating on the clothes because they are justly not "tumbled" but stay at the bottom and turn in horizontal circles. They are also less convenient to unload (you have to lean into the machine and pull everything 1m up), and you can't put anything on the top of the machine (like the laundry basket). I had to look for a new front-loading one and it is much better now.

  22. #22
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by senseiman
    The point people seem to be missing is that old homes are only uncomfortable because few people ever bother to take care of them. By renovating them you can give them all the comforts of a modern home while preserving their traditional appearance and durability.
    If that would be true in Western countries for brick or stone houses, it doesn't work that well with wooden traditional Japanese houses, as wood can't be insulated that well (can't imagine double-glazing on a wooden house ), and I question how one could install central or floor heating in such a house.

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    Where I'm Supposed to Be kirei_na_me's Avatar
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    In the U.S., most washing machines are top loaders. They've only recently started making a lot of washers front loading. It's just now becoming more popular. I would love to have a front loader instead of a top loading one. Also, I wouldn't like not having a dryer. I hang some things out on the line here, when it's good weather, but as far as towels and sheets, I love having a dryer to make them soft.

    I still think having the shower as a room is the best thing ever. Just go in there and shower in a large space and not have to worry about the water because it's tiled and has a drain in the floor! That would just be so great. At my house, we have to worry about the wood trim and wallpaper in the bathrooms getting damp, so we have to have exhaust fans and all that.

  24. #24
    Cute and Furry Ewok85's Avatar
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    I'm with kireina-me, japanese bathrooms are great. You can get in there and just get the water everywhere, and more often than not (ive only showered in 6 different japanese homes) there is a small room outside the bathroom for drying off, changing clothes etc etc. Alot better to use than the all-in-one bathroom we have here, especially when everyone is getting ready in the morning

  25. #25
    Kongming jeisan's Avatar
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    lots of american houses have central heating and air without a basement or attic. ones without attics use floor vents and the house has a crawl space under it. then some like my old house have a crawl space between the ceiling and the roof. not really an attic as theres beams crossing everywhich way and theres not really a floor to speak of, have to walk on the 2x4s otherwise youll go right through the ceiling. most furnaces i've seen are inside the house, set in a wall somewhere, while air con units are outside or on the roof.

    the strangest bathtub/shower setup i've seen was in australia though. I don't think it was common, maybe someone can let me know. heres a picture because i dont know if i could describe it well enough, like your standing there facing the wall its on. also the shower curtain ran on a curved bar in the corner so its only covered half of the bathtub, the shower part.
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