Monday, June 18, 2007

Living with limits

Japan has one of the richest and most powerful economies in the world, but the density of the population means the average Japanese lives in extremely cramped conditions. In Tokyo particularly, home to one in every four of the population of Japan, the demand for housing far exceeds supply. As a result, accommodation tends to be small - 90 per cent of the houses have less than 100 sq m (1075 sq ft) floor space.
Traditionally, the internal walls of Japanese houses are made of paper mounted on wooden frames. While the houses are cool in summer, they can be very cold in winter. They are not designed to last for more than about 40 years, but have one major advantage: they are quick and easy to rebuild if damaged in an earthquake.
Today many Japanese houses have Western-style interiors, but in virtually all homes one or two rooms have traditional tatami mats on the floors. The mats measure 1.8 m (6 ft) by 1 m (3 ft 3 in) and are 750 mm (3 in) thick. They are made of straw and reed, edged with cotton or silk. Rooms are measured by the number of mats they can hold: a room measuring six or eight mats, for instance, would serve as the living room by day, and the bedroom for a family of six (often including grandparents) by night.
When someone builds a new house it is quite usual to call in a Shinto priest to purify the ground before work begins. Owners often pray to the god of the land to allow the building to go ahead without mishap. It is also customary to place little cones of salt around the site, each containing a lighted stick of incense.
More than one in three of the homes in the Tokyo area never receive any direct sunlight. And many have sanitation that is primitive by Western standards.


sfgirl said...

Hey, Zahid, I really enjoyed your piece on Mata Hari...oh, and by the way, you're tagged :) check out my post to find out at

Sofcore said...

Since I am in Japan and in particular the Tokyo area quite often, I agree with most of what was in your post.

By the way, I just discovered your blog and I like it.

I'll be back.