What is a Japanese House?

What is a Japanese House?

The house of the people.  It is the traditional home of the working class giving shelter to artisans, farmers and merchants in medieval Japan.  Using natural materials surrounding the homes, they mainly consisted of local wood from the mountains.

An abundance in this resource and need for homes allowed carpenters hone their skills building from town to town, passing skills down generations.  The diversity of minka is exemplified by the broad typography it covers and the climatic settings across Japan.  The varying architectural styles arose  from the demand to meet local climatic and geographic conditions.

These climatic conditions are reflected by the fact that Japan covers over 20 degrees of latitude.  Looking at the far south western part of the Japanese archipelago in Nagasaki, the minka have a roof with a u-shaped plan and thick walls to withstand typhoons in the port city.  In central Japan, in the prefecture of Gifu, the minka have steeped roofs resembling hands held in prayer [Figure 4].  They helped prevent heavy snow gathering in the winter months.[1]


Although the lowest in class in the Edo social order, merchants accumulated much wealth in the latter part of the Era.  Wealthy merchants started to invest in the construction multi-functional, complex machiya based on the principles of Sukiya and Shoin styles.  Architect and Professor Mira Locker explains how this form of housing was not common until the Muromachi period (1334-1573 ). Narrow land plots in the city, led to the development of terraced machiya housing the shop face at the front and residential backyard areas directly connected together.[2]   More luxurious machiya used courtyards to separate living spaces from sanitary facilities and store houses with the use of longer earthen floored corridors.

Surrounding the exposed post and beam wooden structure of the traditional house are a number of common features which have been modified over a long history to create a style characterized by refined elegance.  Some of these distinctive elements are as follows:



[1] Nishi, K., Hozumi, K., & Horton, M. H. (2012). What is Japanese architecture? A survey of traditional Japanese architecture.
[2]  Locher, M., Kuma, K., & Simmons, B. (2010).


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