- A Japanese couple spent over two years building a cluster of round, wooden houses in the countryside.
- Kodawari Mizuno and his wife lived in one house and rented the rest to locals and Airbnb travelers.
- After 19 years, they’re putting the entire property on the market for $1.58 million.
When Kodawari Mizuno returned to his childhood home in the city of Ena, in Gifu, Japan, after living in the US for eight years, he realized that the buildings on his family’s land were deteriorating with age.
“This is the land that I inherited from my parents. The house where I grew up before was here, but it was old and not well-maintained,” Mizuno told Insider.
When he saw how different the place looked compared to when he was growing up, Mizuno — who works in the apartment-rental industry — realized the importance of having a comfortable place to live.
“That was when my desire to provide a place where people can live healthy and safe lives grew stronger,” Mizuno said. “I began to think about land and buildings that would allow us to achieve that.”
They started with a model of the property
Inspired by traditional Japanese architecture, Mizuno decided that he wanted to build a cluster of round, wooden houses on the property instead.
There are a total of 12 buildings: one main house for Mizuno and his family, and 11 smaller, dome-shaped structures meant to be leased out.
Not only are wooden buildings a big part of Japan’s architectural heritage, but some of the country’s longest-surviving buildings are made from wood, Mizuno said.
“For example, in Japan, there are buildings like the Horyuji Temple that was built in the sixth century and has existed for 1,500 years,” Mizuno said. “In the past, the Japanese had a culture of using things with great care. But now, even houses are demolished after 30 to 40 years.”
Mizuno wanted to use a resilient material that could last for centuries and withstand natural disasters
Mizuno’s decision to use wood in his construction was driven by the desire to create buildings that could be used for a long time, as long as they were properly maintained.
With help from an architect, he managed to bring his ideas to life.
“I did a rough sketch, and spoke about it with my architect — he made it happen,” Mizuno said. “I had some idea of what I wanted, but I couldn’t do it alone since I’m not a professional.”
There’s a functional reason why Mizuno chose to make his buildings round — they’re better at withstanding earthquakes.
The buildings aren’t perfect circles, though; they’re dodecagons, so they have 12 sides.
“It is difficult to find a square shape in the natural world — the natural world is a collection of geometric patterns,” Mizuno said. “I wanted to create a building using a universal shape in the natural world.”
Aesthetics aside, a circular floor plan can help improve air ventilation within the structure as well as withstand freak weather and seismic shocks, he said.
“Even against strong winds such as typhoons, the nearly round shape makes it easy to shed the wind. It feels like a safe shelter in the event of a disaster,” Mizuno added.
The property took over 2 years to build
Mizuno says that it took about a year and a half to complete building his family home, and another nine months to complete the other smaller structures.
“Preparations were made in advance at a factory capable of processing wood, such as bending and cutting the stacks of structural materials,” Mizuno said.
Due to the scale of the project, Mizuno hired a local construction company to oversee the build.
“At the actual construction site, the work of assembling these structures could be completed in a short period of time because it was divided into teams,” Mizuno said.
However, more time was required to lay the concrete foundations and for the carpentry work, he added: “Especially the foundation concrete of the main house — that took about half a year because we avoided winter.”
The entire property was built in two parts: The main house that Mizuno shares with his wife, Kero, was built in fall 2004, while the other buildings were completed in spring 2010.
The structures are arranged in an unconventional manner
Mizuno’s home sits in one corner of the property while the 11 smaller domes are in a spiral that resembles a nautilus shell.
Of the 11 smaller buildings, one is used as an Airbnb and meditation space, while the other 10 domes form eight long-term apartment rentals that Mizuno leases out to locals.
Each of those 10 structures has a different configuration: Some are purely shared spaces, while others are divided into multiple bedrooms.
“Each room layout is different. Some of them are good for families, some are good for singles. I didn’t want to cater to just one demographic but to all of society,” Mizuno said.
One of the domes is available on Airbnb
Unlike the rest, the dome that Mizuno uses as an Airbnb and a meditation space is shaped like a lotus bud.
Mizuno and his wife chose to become Airbnb hosts because they were interested in meeting new people from around the world and wanted to share their Japanese culture with travelers.
“We have a lot of fun as Airbnb hosts,” Mizuno said. “For our guests, it’s not just a place to stay, but it’s interesting because it feels like they’re visiting a friend’s house in a way through interacting with the local community, people, and culture.”
On days when there are no Airbnb bookings, Mizuno uses the lotus-shaped dome as a quiet space where he can meditate.
An unexpected obstacle: finding someone to build a round home
The sloped land made it even more difficult to construct the foundations.
“Most builders refused to build a circular house or a large dodecagonal complex because it is very difficult to make,” Mizuno said. “But once it’s built, it’s easy to maintain.”
The builders were only able to proceed with the construction after they conducted a comprehensive GPS survey of the land, which has varying elevations, he said.
“When the carpenters built my circular house, they laughed and told me that this would be the first and the very last round home they’ll ever build,” he added.
Mizuno and his wife are now ready to sell the property
However, after 19 years of living here, Mizuno and his wife are planning to relocate. They’re listing the entire 0.74-acre compound for $1.58 million.
As a landlord, Mizuno feels responsible for taking care of everyone who stays with him, but he says the time is right for the place to have a new steward.
“We are going to move to the Nagano area,” Mizuno said. “We are now busy with other things ourselves and have decided to put this whole property for sale.”
The sale includes Mizuno’s own home, as well as the 11 smaller wooden structures, per the listing.
For now, the property is still available on Airbnb
Although Mizuno and his wife are putting the property on the market, they’re still open to taking Airbnb bookings on a case-by-case basis, depending on their schedule.
The lotus-shaped dome is available for rent for $72 per night, for a minimum of two nights, per the Airbnb listing. It has a rating of 4.92 stars based on 195 reviews.
It’s also located near a popular hiking route that stretches between the old towns of Magome-juku and Tsumago-juku on the Nakasendo trail, Mizuno said.
Mizuno believes that his entire property is a wooden structure that can be used for years if properly maintained.
While the buildings can be used in different ways depending on the next owner’s preference, Mizuno and his wife hope that it’ll continue to be an accommodation facility for travelers visiting this part of Japan.
“In Japan, the Horyuji Temple is a famous wooden structure that is over 1,300 years old. We think that this is a property that can be like Horyuji in this area,” Mizuno said.