10 Key Features of a Zen Japanese House


Japanese-inspired house design has drawn global attention for decades thanks to the ways it brings tranquility of the Zen philosophy. For those who seek out the meditative, simplistic feature in house architecture amidst the fast-paced life, this might be the answer you’ve been searching for. Be inspired with several common elements in Japanese house design that you can imitate for your residence.

Less is More

Home in Hiroshima by Suppose Design Office | source: suppose.jp

First thing first, it’s not a Japanese house if it’s not modest and minimalist. This style eliminates any unnecessary materials and furniture in the interior so there's never too much going on, and ultimately that's what's charming about it. The 'less is more' adage is echoed across all elements of the house —size, dimension, amount of shapes, and colours.

Yasu House by Hearth Architects | source: hearth-a.com

Sliding Doors

Iconic element of <em>shoji </em>in Japanese house | source: decorsnob.com

Shoji or sliding door is common in any Japanese interior design. It’s typically made of translucent rice paper framed by wood. As time goes by, more modern version is created using glass panels for the sake of easier maintenance. What matters is shoji does not block the natural light and could allow vibrant sensation to your home. On a side note, sliding door might save space in tiny homes since it slides back and forth.

Nature Connectedness

Green plants and expansive windows to embrace the nature | source: home-designing.com

Japanese folks are in love and live in harmony with the natural world. The Japanese house demonstrates the strong bond to the wonders of nature by bringing it indoors. You can start with adding traditional Japanese plants, like bamboo or bonsai, to provide the sense of calm from greenery. You could also opt for wide windows and let the boundless beauty of natural view into your room.

InBetween House by Koji Tsutsui Architect &amp; Associates | source: kt-aa.com

Wooden Material

Traditional Kominka Renovation in Jonan by Takashi Okuno &amp; Associates | source: okunotakashi.jp

It goes without saying that most traditional Japanese houses predominantly use wood as the main material, from walls, floors, to furniture pieces. One of the main reason why wood is used in the main structure is to increase resilience during earthquakes and to help with the humidity during summer months. More interestingly, timber is preferred in natural colour to maintain the organic appeal instead of covering it with paints or wallpapers.

Tiny Office Pavilion Vught by studio PROTOTYPE in the Netherlands <strong>| </strong>source: studioprototype.nl&nbsp;


Inari House of TOKMOTO architectures | source: dezeen.com

Unquestionably, tatami is part of traditional Japanese way of living. Tatamis are straw mats that are usually used for flooring. They help regulate interior humidity during the hot summer and cold winter that Japanese must face. The tatamis also work with the Japanese culture of being barefoot in the house, and are used to sit and sleep on.

You can now roll out tatamis on one of your rooms to easily add that Japanese flair. Perhaps consider finishing the room with low tables with short legs and some cushions so you can sit on the floor comfortably. It's worth remembering that tatami mats could be difficult to clean, and that's why there have been modern renditions using wood chip boards or polystyrene foam.

Edge of the House

Japanese porch surrounding the house | source: smallhousebliss.com

If you enjoy watching anime or are in-tune with Japanese design, you might have heard of engawa. It’s the so-called veranda that runs around the outer edge of the house, which serves to distinguish the interior and the outside. This typical element of a traditional Japanese house is usually made of hardwood. Feel free to design an engawa in your lovely home and reconnect with the outdoor environment as it also provides chit-chat or tea time space. You can even bring engawa indoors to serve as a transition space.

Newtown House by Kohei Yukawa + Hiroto Kawaguchi | source: divisare.com
Engawa House by Tezuka Architects | source : tezuka-arch.com/

Simple Colour Palette

Melt House by SAI Architectural Design Office | source: saito-ao.com

When we talk about popular colours in Japanese house design, they're a nod to minimalist and natural principles. It is obvious that most houses are dominated by simple colours that are ubiquitous in nature, such as the browns of wooden material and the greens of plants. Apart from those tones, white or light grey is also considerably popular as they are neutral and help brighten the space.

Re-Slope House by Tomohiro Hata | source: hata-archi.co<span class="-mobiledoc-kit__atom">‌‌</span>

Lower Entrance

While Western homes have what they call foyer, Japanese houses have genkan, or the area directly connected to the entrance. Similar to engawa, genkan features a slight split in levels, where the entrance area is lower than the rest of the house. This is a transition space where the house occupants or guests take off their outside shoes.

It's often said to be the dirtiest part of the house albeit an important one, as this is where guests are welcomed into the house.

Genkan | source: Joe Fletcher Photography
Genkan, the Japanese entry way | source: yonemoku.co

Zen Meditation Space

Meditation room with dominant white decor and green plants | source: decoist.com

If space allows, incorporate a space you can use to medidate or do yoga exercises and fully live the zen philosophy. Decor the room with plush pillows or rugs and hung over soundproof curtains. As a final touch, add a small fountain or waterworks that could produce the restful sound of trickling water, and the perfect meditation chamber is ready to use for your well-being.


Last but not the least, a Japanese garden would be a nice cherry on top for your abode. As with other Japanese house features, Japanese gardens aim to bring peace through simplistic design principles.

Most Japanese gardens are miniature landscape with greens like trees, perennials and shrubs, colours from different flowers, and flowing water, which could be a water feature or a koi pond. There are also dry gardens that feature arrangements of rocks and clean sand or gravel raked to imitate the shape of water ripples.

These gardens are often seen at shrines in Japan, but you can have a small rendition of that at home with the help of a professional.

Japanese garden | source: onekindesign.com
Japanese rock garden | source: japanobjects.com
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Awal Hidayat