Everything in Japan becomes more interesting when we observe it and come to know the details. The traditional Japanese houses are really interesting in construction and look very beautiful. The construction and architecture of these houses surely provide an environment in which life is very much linked to the nature.
There are a lot of peculiarities we can observe once we enter a Japanese house.
Genkan is the entrance of the house. As we cross the entrance of a Japanese house, we can see a place where shoes are kept and a rack for the shoes to be arranged on. This area is called the doma which can always be seen at the same level of the ground while the rest of the house is always lifted a bit from the ground level.
In ancient Japan, the doma was a much more extended area. In addition to keeping your shoes and footwear, this doma is used as a place where housewives sit for making food burning the fire and doing other household work. In those days, the doma area was not at all concreted, but was the bare ground itself. When we enter inside a Japanese house, we should remove our shoes in this area and wear special slippers before stepping inside.
Once we enter inside the house, we can see a Japanese style room or washitsu, with wooden pillars, doors and roofs.
Tatami is a rush-covered straw mat used inside a Washitsu to cover the floor and is one of the most important peculiarities and attractions of every Japanese-style house. These mats do not only provide beauty to the houses, but also help to keep them warm during the cold winter days in Japan. All the rooms of a Japanese-style house have tatami flooring. So you can’t use chairs inside the rooms, but you can use special cushions called zabuton for sitting. The size of Japanese-style rooms are measured in the number of tatami mats used to cover the floor area of a room. The normal size of a Japanese style house is said to be ‘hatchijo ma’ meaning the four rooms each being the size of eight tatami mats. Kitchen and the inside pathways of the houses have wooden flooring.
Another important and notable peculiarity of the houses of Japan is the sliding doors. Usually, the sliding doors are installed on connecting walls, and they are made of wooden borders and plywood body with rice paper. Sometimes the paper has beautiful paintings done on it.
There is another kind of sliding door, which is made with wooden skeleton and glass body. Such doors can mostly be seen at the outer walls of a house, with clear glass at the upper side and wooden or rough glass at the lower portion. This arrangement helps the sunlight to come inside and keep the edges of the room warmer during the winter. Also, it always allows the sunlight to light up the room, providing natural light inside.
Another type of sliding walls with paper body and wooden borders is called the shoji. Some of these walls have an arrangement that allows paper portion to be lifted up to open the door. During snow, these paper windows could be opened to watch the snow outside. Inside the room, these windows allow the light to pass from one room to other so that the presence of people in the nearby room is felt by those staying aside.
Since all these sliding doors can slide over one another, they are placed in special grooves. They can all be removed to extend the room width during special occassions and family gatherings.
In front of the windows, commonly outside, you can find a wooden strip of flooring. The sunlight will be always falling in this portion of the house to keep the floor warmer.
These are the clay wall portions between the sliding doors and the roof. The aim is to keep the house cool during the humid summer in Japan. Ancient Japan had entire walls made of clay on all sides of the house to keep a cooler environment inside.
Japanese style houses have tiled roofs with extended edges and slopes outwards. This arrangement helps to protect the inside of the house from getting hotter during the hot summer days. During winter, as the sun will be rising and setting at a lower height, this arrangement brings the sun rays inside to keep the room warm. Also, the sloped roof allows rain water and melted snow to fall off easily.
These are special shelves inside most ancient Japanese houses which are installed in a dedicated worship area. Kamidana means the shelf of gods. It might have some Kanji written on big boards and hung in a place called “fuda”. People will light the candles or “osenko”, set flowers here and pray. Some houses have Buddhist worship corners, too.