Modern Japanese houses inspiring minimalism and avant-garde living
From inventive interiors in central Tokyo to clever constructions in Kyoto, here we define the best modern residential Japanese architecture designed by international and local architects. The Japanese house has gained a reputation for being smart with space – in the face of Japan’s tricky planning regulations – opening up possibilities for all types of lifestyle from minimalist to communal.
House in Kyoto, by 07BEACH
This timber-clad family home was designed for a couple and their three young children in northern Kyoto. The clients opted for an open-plan design informed by their passion for its simplicity, as well as the need to keep an eye on their children at all times. 07BEACH placed a young tree at the centre of the double-height living room, which will sentimentally grow alongside the children over the years. Meanwhile, on the first floor, a tatami mat room and the chlidrens’ bedroom both feature large overhead windows that compliment the tactile surfaces with natural light.
Sakaushi House in Tokyo, by Taku Sakaushi
This house, which completed in 2019, was designed by architect Taku Sakaushi for himself and his wife. He bought the 50 sq m site in Shinjuku on a bit of a whim, and then considered the planning regulations – which restricted the structure to three levels, one below ground. He mulled over the design, and was influenced by a host of architectural experiences from the book he published in 2010 titled Architecture as Frame (Sankeisha) and the House in Uehara designed by Kazuo Shinohara, his respected teacher. With the limit of two levels above ground, he shifted the living space to the upper floor, and a work space – a study and a calligraphy room for his wife – to the middle. Casting interesting sightlines and layers of stairs through the space, Sakaushi only half jokes that the house is also a tool for exercise.
House in Toyonaka, by FujiwaraMuro Architects
Privacy was at the core of the client’s design brief for this concrete home in Toyonaka. To bring in ample lighting levels without generating intrusive window views, FujiwaraMuro Architects introduced a central ‘light court’ that runs from the roof to the ground level garage, via the first-floor kitchen/living space. An additional vertical cut between the two street-facing volumes and a horizontal cut above the garage provide striking glimpses of the sky and street, all the while ensuring adequate natural light. Sunlight drapes over a material palette of concrete and wood inside, creating quiet scenes of calm across the communal first floor spaces and private ground floor rooms. Photography: Katsuya Taira
Stone House, by Hiroshi Sambuichi
Located at the junction of three prefectures (Hiroshima, Yamaguchi and Shimane), this house treads lightly on the earth with his architecture. Architect Hiroshi Sambuichi takes pride in designing with natural and re-used materials. Stone House is a minimal masterpiece that had to be able to withstand the cold months, when the area is buffeted by harsh winds and blanketed in snow, but it also had to serve as a cool retreat during the hot summer months. Sambuichi took the fairly radical decision of burying the house in a bed of stones, which come from a nearby river. In winter, these stones protect the house from icy blasts, while in summer, they keep the temperature and humidity down. Photography: Shinkenchu-sha
Elevated on a hillside, Rokko house designed by Yo Shimada is located in Kobe, southern Japan
Tato Architects designed this elevated house on a hillside in the town of Kobe in southern Japan. Found in a mountainous area, the two-storey house has a steel frame with glazed walls. At ground floor, transparent walls contain the kitchen, dining room. The first floor is used for entertaining, creating music or working, while upstairs again on the second floor, there is a bedroom and storage space. Japanese architect Yo Shimada set up his office, Tato, in 1997 and his work involves a plethora of residential design, including this house in Rokko.
Yuji Tanabe Architects collaborates with a local wood craftsman on Pettanco House
With the client’s budget constraints in mind, architect Yuji Tanabe and his team envisioned Pettanco House as a modern, open space with low ceilings and simple, minimalist detailing. Located in the mountainous region of Matsumoto, the area often referred to as the Japanese Alps, the house’s many wooden elements feature locally grown species, such as the Japanese Larch used for the structural frame. The two-storey construction was calculated using the Japanese module of ken – this is a commonly used unit in Japanese architecture (1 Ken corresponds to 1.82m). The multi-functional space covers many needs. It is a practical and spacious family home, with two bedrooms and a bathroom on the ground level at the rear of the property. It is also a workshop, with studio space located above, on the first floor. Photography: Yuji Tanabe
Muji’s pre-fabricated prototype Window House in Kamakura
Located in the seaside city of Kamakura, about 30 miles southwest of Tokyo, the design for the Window House was adapted from architect Kengo Kuma’s 2008 edition of a Muji house. The Window House has a footprint of 80 sq m and is spread over two levels with the flexibility to reconfigure the design as per plot requirements. Featuring an open-plan layout and minimal white interiors, the form is inspired, says Muji, by a traditional English country house. The outer walls are wrapped with openings on all sides. Eliminating the noticeable frame, the windows are detailed in line with Muji’s no clutter design sensibility, strategically placed to invite light and ventilation, and to frame exterior garden views. Photography: Muji / Ryohin Keikaku
House on the secluded island of Ikema by 1100 Architects
Located on the island of Ikema, part of the Okinawan archipelago in the East China Sea, 1100 Architect has completed a cliff-top home looking out to sea. Built of concrete to withstand extreme weather, the architects detailed the home with traditional Japanese materials to soften its edges. The couple who commissioned the house, an art dealer who is originally from Ikema and her husband, an engineering entrepreneur, reside permanently in Naha, Okinawa island, and had always dreamed of having a retreat in Ikema. The architects had previously completed another commission for the couple in Naha City, so they were familiar both with native construction methods, materials available and the traditional, yet contemporary tastes of their clients. Photography: Shinichi Sato
Ryuji Najamura’s concrete M House on the east coast of Japan
A pupil of renowned Japanese architect Jun Aoki, Nakamura set up his independent practice in 2004 and went on to create delicate temporary installations and imaginative retail interiors in Japan, to great acclaim. Sandwiched in-between two roads, M House is a balance between disciplines. Nakamura took a modest approach, feeling it as the architect’s duty to design a mere ‘neutral background for the interior and the plants yet to come’. The structure is a bare reinforced concrete framework clad in white-painted brick tiles that help the exterior withstand the salty ocean air. Together they make the house look as if ‘awaiting a renovation’, according to the architect, who mentions the white-washed panel placed halfway up the concrete interior wall as an example of the kind of ‘unfinished atmosphere’ that ‘helps residents relax’. Photography: Ryuji Nakamura & Associates
John Pawson Architects’ minimalist vacation house on Okinawa island
Developed by Taishi Kanemura, an architect from Pawson’s London office, the execution of the interior programme and external shape of this house was led by the site’s catenary curve. ‘The design traces the diagonal footprint of the plot, combining single and double-height spaces within a form that is closed and tapered to the rear, but to the front flares and opens like an eye over the headland, with the ground floor level raised to optimise sightlines to the ocean,’ explains the architect. The Okinawa house is a bright and open family home that showcases Pawson’s signature simple, uncluttered and natural style. Its clean and tranquil atmosphere and far-reaching ocean views provide a calming and meditative residential escape away from the buzz of the metropole. Photography: Nacasa & Partners
House NA by Sou Fujimoto Architects in Tokyo, Japan, completed in 2011
Located in a quiet neighbourhood of Tokyo, this 914 sq ft house is a transparent contruction of white steel frame, a light and bright contrast to the concrete blocks in the dense residential areas of the city. Inspired by the concept of living in a tree, the house’s interior is created with 21 individual floor plates that all sit at different levels following the desire of the clients to live like nomads in their own home. Photography: Iwan Baan
Nerima house by Stockholm-based architects Elding Oscarson in Tokyo
Nerima house is located on a fairly compact 100 sq m, 35-year-old garden plot in the leafy outskirts of the Japanese capital. The home’s entrance floor lies semi-submerged below ground level, offering an extra element of privacy for the owners, as well as enhancing the visual connection to the surrounding foliage. The majority of the 99 sq m house, which spans two levels, is designed in an open plan, as the architects wanted to avoid dividing the property into many smaller spaces, in order to secure a more generous and airy feel inside. One of the timber-clad structure’s most defining features is its glass strip window, which sits on the top floor and goes around the building. This 360-degree panoramic window adds to the interior’s sense of space and floods the floor with light. The large opening is supported by a series of understated, thin white solid steel columns, which don’t detract from the horizontal band’s strong visual effect. Photography: Kenichi Suzuki
Sou Fujimoto’s House N in Oita
Designed between 2006 and 2008, this house is designed for two people and a dog. Its design festures three nested compartments that define the inhabitants activities. The innermost shell is a private interior space, the middle space contains a sheltered zone within the outer space which features a covered garden creating a subtle transition between indoor and out. Photography: Iwan Baan
Nishinoyama House in Kyoto by Kazuyo Sejima
Built between 2010 and 2014, this housing complex designed by SANAA’s Kazuyo Sejima is located in a suburban area of Kyoto. The scheme contains ten properties that are connected by a unifying structure and multiple gardens and passageways. Varying in scale and shape, the rooms of the residences open out onto courtyards and have numerous sources of light and ventilation. The design of the scheme was created to encourage communal living.
Leek House by Terunobu Fujimori, completed in 1997
Japanese architect Terunobi Fujimori, known for his work with natural materials, often incorporates green roofs into his architectural designs. Here at Leek House, a wooden grid with circular openings is places to allow leeks to grow through towards the sun, an ideal environment for growth. Photography: Akihisa Masuda
D House in Shibuya-ku in central Tokyo designed by London based designer Ron Arad
Designed by Ron Arad and created with the help of local firm Issho who were the project’s collaborating architects, and located on a densely built street of two- and three-storey detached homes, the new-build D House spans 180 sq m and three above ground levels. The building’s relatively narrow profile is maximised by an expressive front façade made of a stack of patinated (on site) steel ribbons, which were fabricated locally, in a workshop just outside Tokyo. This adds dynamism to the house’s main concrete frame and creates a strong sense of movement and a play with light and shadow in the house. Photography: Anatole Papafilippou
The box-shaped raw concrete Grigio house
An ode to concrete, this house in Tokyo is designed by Japanese practice Apollo Architects & Associates, headed by Satoshi Kurosaki. One cut-out volume makes way for the ground floor entrance and garage (which provides shelter for two cars). Carefully placed windows punctuate the facades, while terraces and a central courtyard at the one side of the building allow for plenty of light into the interior. It may appear closed off but the architect has cleverly carved out parts to make it light and open inside. Photography: Masao Nishikawa
Japanese family home in Fujisawa, Kanagawa by Apollo Architects & Associates
Shaped around the idea of a resort hotel, this Japanese family home in Fujisawa, Kanagawa is a restful haven for any sea-lover, positioned a mere two kilometres from the ocean. The client, an avid surfer with family in-tow, acquired the land to build a home, which would be functional and robust enough to serve everyday life activity whilst maintaining a relaxed ‘holiday’ feel.
Koyasan Guest House by Alphaville Architects, Wakayama, Japan, built in 2012
A guest house designed for young people, at Koya-san, the headquarters of the Shinngon sect founded 1200 years ago. The house’s role is between a dormitory and a hotel, where privacy is protected, yet communal activity is also prioritised for its inhabitants. The thin wooden structure that is based on a simple construction technique, was designed with the ability to be expanded. Th structure consists only of two by four inch wooden beams, set at intervals of 455mm which are then wrapped by the exterior wall and insulation. The architects used traditional Japanese architecture techniques across the structure, finish and furniture.
House With Plants, a home for a young couple in Tokyo
Japanese architect Junya Ishigami, an alumnus of Kazuyo Sejima & Associates who set up his own firm in 2004, built the House with Plant between 2010 and 2012. Bridging the space between landscape and architecture, this house has a garden space in the double-height interior and glazing that reveals the planting inside the house, to the outside. The cuboid shape of the house that combines open and closed panels is abstract and minimal.
Pony Garden by Atelier Bow-Wow
Built in 2008, this house is located in Sagamihara, Kanagawa, Japan. Its timber structure compiled compartments, spaces and mezzanines in its interior, and also provides space in its plan for sheltering a pony. The house overlooks a wide space for the pony to roam, and allows it to venture right up to the sheltered terrace. Photography courtesy of Atelier Bow-Wow
Rainy Sunny house in Tokyo by Mount Fuji Architects
Located in a suburban neighbourhood of Tokyo, west of the Kanto plain, this house was designed in consideration of its humid climate. Due to the humidity, the architect designed to use bare reinforced concrete for the walls with creasing, a technique that would keep the alkali in and stain off. The mould was larch plywood that would transfer its grain onto the surface of the concrete to create a textured effect. Photography: Ryota Atarashi
Moriyama House by Office of Ryue Nishizawa, completed in 2005
Designed by Ryue Nishizawa, this house is a flexible-format minimalist steel prefab house designed to merge private and community living, designed for Yasuo Moriyama. Found in the suburbs of Tokyo, the house is a multi-building residence with ten separate buildings ranging from one to three storeys – each room as a separate building. Steel plating allows the walls to be as thin as possible as a way to maximise on interior space. Photography: Takeshi Homma
Roof House by Tezuka Architects (Takaharu + Yui Tezuka) completed in 2001
This house humorously holds a table, chairs a kitchen, a shower and a stove on its rooftop, inverting the interior with the exterior and exposing its inhabitants to the sky, the view and the neighbours. Inside, the house has multiple skylights that bring each family member up to the roof through their provate portal, designed to lean a ladded up to reach. The total floor area of the house is 97 sq m. Photography: Katsuhisa Kida/FOTOTECA
Oshikamo house in Toyota designed by Katsutoshi Sasaki
This house designed by Katsutoshi Sasaki has a metal facade, yet inside, the interior walls and partitions are all constructed of exposed timber. There is an open-plan living room at the heart of the house, flooded by natural light from a skylight above, as well as two sheltered courtyards. Photography: Toshiyuki Yano