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22 Styles and Interiors of Traditional Japanese Houses

CEO Khai Intela
Intriguing Insights into the Unique Designs and Features of Traditional Japanese Houses In Japan, the concept of what makes a house a home is far from one-size-fits-all. Each region of the country boasts its own...

Intriguing Insights into the Unique Designs and Features of Traditional Japanese Houses

In Japan, the concept of what makes a house a home is far from one-size-fits-all. Each region of the country boasts its own distinctive style of housing, influenced by climate and cultural factors. From the simplicity of the Minka style to the refined elegance of Sukiya and the exclusivity of Shoin, traditional Japanese houses offer a fascinating glimpse into the country's rich architectural heritage.

Styles of traditional Japanese houses Styles of traditional Japanese houses

Let's delve into the 22 different styles of traditional Japanese houses and explore their unique characteristics.

Different Styles of Traditional Japanese Houses

There are three main styles of traditional Japanese houses:

1. Minka 民家

Translating to "house of the people," Minka represents the quintessential traditional Japanese house style. It was typically inhabited by farmers, skilled trade workers, merchants, and those outside the samurai class. These houses are known for their simple rectangular shape and thatched roofs, providing a spacious and naturally lit living environment.

Old Japanese house Old Japanese house

Minka houses, predominantly constructed with wood, serve as an epitome of Japanese architectural ingenuity. They form the basis for many substyles found throughout Japan, influenced by regional differences and specific trades.

Key Takeaway - Nōka (農家) denotes houses for farmers, gyoka (漁家) for fishermen, sanka (山家) for mountain dwellings, and machiya (町屋) for traditional homes occupied by tradespeople and merchants.

2. Sukiya 数寄屋

Sukiya represents a refined and tasteful style of traditional Japanese houses. These houses were often associated with tea ceremonies, symbolizing sophistication and a higher social status. Clean and elegant, Sukiya houses feature a minimalistic approach and a harmonious blend of natural materials.

Sukiya-style houses are usually small in size and characterized by thatched roofs. Their open floor plans combine living areas and kitchens, adorned with tatami mats and paper lanterns to create an atmosphere of serene tranquility.

3. Shoin 書院造

Reserved exclusively for the military and samurai classes, Shoin houses hold a prestigious status in traditional Japanese architecture. The term "Shoin" refers to the writing room within a samurai's residence. These houses feature an omoya (母屋) or core building surrounded by aisles called hisashi (廂庇). The interior design includes square support columns and tatami-covered floors.

Support Styles of Traditional Japanese Houses

To withstand Japan's frequent earthquakes, various support styles emerged in traditional Japanese houses, prioritizing structural soundness. Let's explore some of these support methods:

4. Inverted U

The "inverted U" style consists of two vertical posts connected by a horizontal beam at the top. Typically, there are two sets of supports, one at each end of the house.

5. Box

Similar to the "inverted U," the "box" style features interconnected U shapes for enhanced support and stability.

Japanese house style Japanese house style

6. Umbrella

The "umbrella" style incorporates a central vertical post with four horizontal beams extending outward, reaching the corners of the house.

7. Cross

Perfect for smaller traditional Japanese houses, the "cross" support method employs two beams intersecting in the middle, forming an X shape, with a vertical post at each end.

8. Double Cross

This method doubles the number of beams and posts, resulting in four beams and eight posts. Instead of a single X across the ceiling, there are two Xs side by side, offering maximum support for longer rooms.

9. Rising Beam

Considered one of the sturdiest support methods, the "rising beam" technique involves fixed supports rising towards the roof, providing greater strength due to the triangular shapes formed by the supports.

As a Result - These support styles, with their triangular shapes, offer superior strength compared to the right angles typically used in support structures.

Floor Plan Styles of Traditional Japanese Houses

Traditional Japanese houses are also distinguished by their floor plan spacing. The two most common types are kyoma and inakama.

10. Kyoma 京間

Kyoma represents a style where rooms are designed based on the size of a tatami mat. Tatami mats, measuring 3 feet by 6 feet and twice as long as they are wide, allow rooms to be constructed without any cutting or alteration of the mats. This style ensures a perfect fit when the mats are arranged side by side and end to end.

Japanese house floor design Japanese house floor tatami

11. Inakama 田舎間

Inakama is characterized by the use of columns instead of walls to support the roof. While this style presents some challenges in ensuring a perfect fit for tatami mats, careful planning allows for the alignment of parallel mats with the center of a column. Only the corners of the mats need to be cut to accommodate the presence of columns.

Roof Styles on Traditional Japanese Houses

Given Japan's heavy rainfall during summers, steeply sloped roofs became a necessity to protect houses from rain. Rain chains, or kusaridoi (鎖樋), further assisted in diverting rainwater away from the structures. Traditional Japanese houses feature four common roof styles:

12. Kirizuma 切妻

Kirizuma refers to a gabled roof style. This type of roof has two sides sloping outward from a central ridge, covering the walls of the house. To provide additional protection to the walls left exposed, this roof style is extended to create a shelf-like structure. Known for its simplicity and cost-effectiveness, the Kirizuma roof style was commonly used in lower-class houses.

13. Yosemune 寄棟

The yosemune style features a hipped roof, characterized by four slopes that converge at the top to form a ridge. The smaller sides of the house have triangular roof sections, while the longer sides consist of rectangular sections. While commonly seen in Japanese farmhouses, this roof style can also be found in other architectural styles.

14. Irimoya 入母

Irimoya is a complex roof style that combines elements of both the Kirizuma and Yosemune styles, resulting in a hip-and-gable roof. The topmost layer features the Kirizuma, with two slopes meeting at a ridge. The second layer introduces the Yosemune style, with additional slopes added to create a visually appealing and structurally sound roof. This style was primarily reserved for high-class families and temples.

Keep In Mind - The construction of an Irimoya-style roof requires more labor and materials than other styles, but it provides superior support against strong winds.

15. Hogyo 兵庫

Hogyo represents a square pyramidal roof style. Similar to the Yosemune style, it features four slopes meeting at a single point. However, the slopes in the Hogyo roof style are shorter in height, making it more suitable for regions with less snowfall.

Interior Elements in Traditional Japanese Houses

Traditional Japanese houses feature several elements that contribute to their distinct interior design, from building materials to room dividers and special areas within the house.

16. Wood

Wood is the predominant material used in the construction of traditional Japanese houses. Due to its abundance and resistance to rot in the humid climate, wood is the ideal choice. Three main types of wood are commonly used:

  • Kiri (桐): Paulownia wood is the most popular choice due to its lightness and affordability.
  • Kaya (茅): Thatched rice straw is preferred in lower-class homes for its cost-effectiveness.
  • Sugi (杉): Cedar wood, the most expensive option, is reserved for the houses of wealthier families. Its durability compensates for its heavier weight.

17. Tatami 畳

Traditional Japanese houses are characterized by the presence of tatami, straw mats used as flooring. Tatami mats are made by weaving rush grass and covering it with fabric. Initially associated with upper-class homes, tatami mats became more common in lower-class households during the Edo period. Each tatami mat measures approximately 180cm by 90cm and has a thickness of about 5-6cm. These mats are often used as room dividers, offering flexibility and easy reconfiguration.

18. Fusuma 襖 and Shōji 障子

Fusuma and Shōji are sliding doors commonly found in traditional Japanese houses. Fusuma doors separate different rooms and are constructed with wooden frames and paper screens. Shōji screens, also made with wooden frames and translucent paper, serve as windows. These doors and screens can be moved to adjust privacy levels between rooms.

19. Engawa 縁側

Engawa refers to the verandas that surround traditional Japanese houses. Typically 30cm wide, these verandas act as transition spaces between the exterior and interior of the house. Engawa may also serve as storage areas or extra rooms for guests. During the summer, they provide shaded areas for relaxation.

In the Summer - Engawa verandas offer a cool retreat as they are shaded by the eaves of the roof.

20. Genkan 玄関

Genkan serves as the entryway to traditional Japanese houses, usually located on the engawa. It acts as a transition space between the outside and inside, and it is customary to remove shoes before entering the house to maintain cleanliness. Genkan often features a small shelf or closet for storing shoes.

21. Ranma 欄間

Ranma refers to wooden beams placed between the ceiling and the floor. Apart from providing structural support, ranma beams also create a sense of separation between rooms. They are often adorned with intricate carvings or paintings and can be made from various types of wood, depending on the style of the house.

Japanese house interior style Japanese house interior style

22. Irori 囲炉裏

Irori represents sunken hearths commonly found at the center of traditional Japanese houses. Originally used for cooking and heating, irori now predominantly serve as decorative features. These hearths are typically made of stone or clay and are surrounded by wooden frames adorned with carvings or paintings. Their presence adds a touch of traditional charm to the interior.

Final Thoughts

Traditional Japanese houses serve as captivating time capsules, preserving centuries of architectural history. These unique structures continue to be an integral part of Japanese culture and remain popular tourist attractions. Exploring the different roof styles, floor plans, regional variations, and interior elements found in traditional Japanese houses brings a deeper understanding of Japan's rich heritage.

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