Inside the most minimalist homes in Japan

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The Zen-like interiors featured in a new book offer a glimpse inside the Japanese mindset, as they are close to nature and beautifully minimalist.

“Before it is a place of beauty, the home is a place of safety, and its alignment with its natural surroundings is assessed,” says Mihoko Iida, whose new book Japanese Interiors takes a look inside some of Japan’s most interesting private homes. From city apartments to mountain and seaside retreats, the spaces featured in the book all share a common understanding of what home interiors mean in Japan, and how they are influenced by a sense of harmony and balance with their surroundings.

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Along with the homes’ proximity to nature, Japanese design is known for its pared-back simplicity. “Minimalism has a long history in Japan,” author Iida explains, “rooted in Zen Buddhism teachings that came to our country via China and found a foothold beginning around the 12th Century.”

Iida explains in the book how these ideas aligned with Shintoism, “a nature religion that does not worship a central figure but rather considers all things – man-made and natural – to possess a spiritual essence.” She explains that different people interpret this differently. “A simplified explanation is that nothing should be treated poorly, so having nothing is preferable. Or, as Buddha put it, ‘The less you have to worry about, the less you have to worry about.’ As a result, shrines and temples have influenced many modern minimalist homes in Japan. Here are some of the most lovely and intriguing.

Peninsula House is a monolithic structure that appears to rise up from its surroundings, set among the rocks, sea, wind, and sky of the Kanto region. Mount Fuji Architects Studio created it, and it has an arresting, Brutalist simplicity. On the ocean side, the structure’s spaces are flooded with light, with double-height windows offering panoramic views of sea and sky. “The scene evokes a contemporary take on shakkei, the Japanese concept of scenery borrowed from nature, as is often seen in traditional garden design,” Iida elaborates, “with the seascape surrounding the residence, stealing the show as its most defining interior feature.”

Kengo Kuma, an award-winning architect, designed the striking Lotus House, which features innovative, bold checkboard-style walls. Nonetheless, it blends in with its surroundings. The light-filled home in Eastern Japan overlooks a lotus-filled pond and is surrounded by dense forest. The house has “an unusual sense of structural lightness, as if every stone panel… is hovering in the air,” according to Iida. As a result of this innovative structure, shafts of sunlight, light breezes, and forest aromas permeate the property.–2022–quick-preparation-tips-740638

Lotus House has a floating staircase on the back wall and a living room that overlooks the lotus pond. “The lightness of the stone is an expression of the gentle lotus petals,” says architect Kuma. The term “interiors” is defined differently in Japan, according to Iida. “When Japanese people talk about interiors, they’re more concerned with where the sunlight enters a room and how the wind moves through the entrance,” she explains. “Or creating a space in the mountains or along the coast to withstand the natural elements.”

Another distinguishing feature of Japanese interiors is “how limited space is used efficiently within the urban confines of a thriving city such as Tokyo,” according to Iida. Stairway House in Tokyo, designed by nendo, combines function, playfulness, and quiet minimalism to accommodate an extended family of various generations. A vast stairway-like structure starting in the gravel garden and cutting through the entire interior, rising up to the skylight on the ceiling, is central to its structure. “As functional as it is surrealistically playful, the staircase’s role is clear,” writes Iida, “to connect family members within a single yet private series of spaces.” The interior is simple and monochromatic, with plants placed across the steps to provide greenery. Architects nendo describe the end result as “a space where all three generations could take comfort in each other’s subtle presence.”

Polygon House, designed by Makoto Yamaguchi, sits on a hillside surrounded by forests in Karuizawa, just outside Tokyo. “Borders between inside and outside are nearly invisible,” Iida explains. “Large south-facing glass windows invite charismatic vistas of the changing seasons inside – from blazing autumnal leaves and leafy summer greens to serene wintertime snowfall.” The atmosphere is “imbued with an almost Zen-like minimalist serenity,” she says.–quick-tips-to-pass-6357c1539bf0b2749364d274

Despite its central Tokyo location, House S feels close to nature, with glass walls framing lush garden views. Keiji Ashizawa designed the spacious family residence. All three floors are connected by a bold open staircase, and a long wall of glass spans an entire side of the building. The entire structure is designed to take advantage of its proximity to nature.

Along with House A, the owners recently added a garden house, a modern tea-house-style structure surrounded by trees. It is a simple one-room structure with a steel tiled roof underlined with cedar, reflecting its closeness to nature and providing textured warmth to the interior. Inside, there is a mix of traditional and sleek modernism. Among the classic touches is an iconic white paper lantern by master designer Isamu Noguchi. It is “the perfect natural escape in the midst of the city,” says Iida, surrounded by the stunning garden.