Here we tour the best modern residential Japanese houses designed by international and local architects, from inventive interiors in central Tokyo to clever constructions in Kyoto. The Japanese house has gained a reputation for being smart with space – in the face of Japan’s tricky planning regulations and tight urban plots – opening up possibilities for all types of lifestyle from minimalist to communal in Japanese architecture.

Table of Contents


Not a Hotel hero exterior of one of the first two properties to complete in Japan

(Image credit: Kozo Takayama)

Not A Hotel in Japan, by Shinji Hamauzu and Suppose Design Office

When Shinji Hamauzu quit working for Zozo Group, one of Japan’s leading fashion retailers, in early 2020, he told his friends he wanted to go into the hotel business. Everyone advised him against it. ‘This was in the middle of Tokyo’s Covid lockdown and everyone thought I was crazy,’ he says. Hamauzu persevered. He wasn’t planning on ‘just’ building and running yet another hotel. He wanted to do things differently, and to highlight this, and partly in jest, he named his new venture ‘Not A Hotel’. ‘It was important to signify that we were completely different from your regular hotel,’ Hamauzu explains. ‘The usual route to building a hotel is to secure funding, build, and then start selling rooms by the day and hope for a good occupancy rate.’ But instead, Hamauzu intended to treat each ‘room’ as a timeshare, selling it to 12 people, each getting 30 days’ worth of use. He also planned to first find a great location and get a well-known architect to design the property, and then sell the timeshares online off the back of renderings and drawings. Only when the capital had been secured would construction begin.

fishmarket brutalist artist's studio in kanazawa, nighttime interior view

(Image credit: Takumi Ota)

Fishmarket for Hiraki Sawa by Ab Rogers

The origins of this brutalist artist’s studio can be found in a Thai festival. The designer Ab Rogers and the artist Hiraki Sawa met at the annual Wonderfruit cultural gathering in Thailand in 2018 and bonded over fish, particularly yellowfin tuna. Both are keen cooks and it got them thinking about cooking, eating and creativity, creative time and space. Sawa, who studied at Slade School of Art under British artist Phyllida Barlow and is best known for short films and collage-base animation, splits his time between London and Kanazawa, where he grew up. In 2019 he took over a raw, empty office space in the Japanese city, initially planning to establish a small co-working space with a business partner. He then changed tack and set on creating something more adventurous and typology-busting, what he calls a ‘co-being’ space.

The space has plenty of natural light 

(Image credit: Press)

Wave House by Apollo Architects & Associates

Shaped around the idea of a resort hotel, this Japanese family home in Fujisawa, Kanagawa is a restful haven for any sea-lover, positioned a mere two kilometres from the ocean. The client, an avid surfer with family in-tow, acquired the land to build a home, which would be functional and robust enough to serve everyday life activity whilst maintaining a relaxed ‘holiday’ feel. The commission for Wave House went to Apollo Architects & Associates (opens in new tab)(opens in new tab), headed by Satoshi Kurosaki. The team began with a U-shaped plan built around a ground floor open-air courtyard. A family memorial tree stands regally at its heart; a symbolic growing process to be observed from both ground and first floor levels. The void also separates visually the living and kitchen/dining spaces on the first floor; these are internally connected by a couple of steps. The glass walls reflect the blue sky above, referring to the blue ocean nearby. A wide corner window ensures the open-plan kitchen and dining area gets natural light from both sides.

tiny house in japan, inside looking out towards blue skies

(Image credit: Kenta Hasegawa )

Tiny house by Schemata Architects

This tiny house, perched on a slope overlooking the Seto Inland Sea, is the perfect lookout point to take in the idyllic surroundings, comprising green nature and blue waters. Situated on one of the many small islands of the Japanese archipelago, the compact structure is a guest house – part of the grounds of a larger property, K Residence. The new building, along with a smaller dining pavilion next to it, are the latest additions to a universe of structures that compose K Residence, and have been designed by Tokyo-based Schemata Architects, headed by the studio’s founder Jo Nagasaka. Conceived as a miniature house to host family members and friends, when visiting the main house’s residents, the guest house offers spartan accommodation and welcome isolation, within minimalist architecture surrounds. 

dark interior with bright doors beyond

(Image credit: Koji Fujii / TOREAL)

The Circus by Hitoshi Saruta of Cubo Design Architect

The typical circus tent structure, with its round shape, discrete, repeating facets, and tensile nature, served as the inspiration for this new holiday home in Japan’s Chiba prefecture. Designed by architect Hitoshi Saruta of Tokyo-based studio Cubo Design Architect, the house, aptly titled The Circus, was a commission for a car-loving client, conceived as a space where they can ‘spend time with cars’. The Circus’ shape was chosen for the flexibility it offers and its ability to provide generous interiors where the client’s cars can sit on proud display. At the same time, from the outside, it remains discreet – if rather mysterious – in its dark-coloured, opaque shell reminiscent of the circus tent structure form. ‘In contrast to a typical house with a built-in garage, the aim here was to blur the boundaries between people, cars, and rooms in a relaxed environment,’ the architect writes. 

concrete japanese house called esprit by apollo architects

(Image credit: Masao Nishikawa)

Esprit by APOLLO Architects & Associates 

This sleek home in a quiet residential corner of Tokyo’s Shibuya district is defined by its blocky concrete volume, which appears opaque and mysterious on the lower levels, but becomes light and transparent as guests move upwards. Titled Esprit, and designed by architect Satoshi Kurosaki, who heads the local studio APOLLO Architects & Associates, the structure also features an airy two-car piloti garage that marks its entrance. The client – a family with children – can now enjoy a minimalist space that feels generous and open, however protects their privacy through tricks of the trade, such as one-way glass and semi-open in-between areas filled with plants. Tasked to create a home where from the owners can also comfortably work if needed, the architects ensured Esprit features all mod cons, such as a separate gym, a library, a concealed rooftop garden, and a chef’s kitchen. 

Maison Aki-Shima Akishima, Tokyo

(Image credit: Jérémie Souteyrat)

Maison Aki-Shima by Taira Nishizawa

Maison Aki-Shima was built in 2004 in Akishima, Tokyo, by architect Taira Nishizawa. Unlike homes in many Western nations, Japanese residences depreciate rapidly in value over time. As argued by economists Richard Koo and Masaya Sasaki in a 2008 report, a typical home loses all economic value within 15 years of being built. Houses, too, have a limited physical lifespan – an estimated average of twenty years for wooden buildings, and thirty for concrete structures. 

The region sees a drastic temperature swing of 60°C between summer and winter

(Image credit: Jérémie Souteyrat)

Repository by Jun Igarashi Architects

Repository, built in 2012 and conceived by Jun Igarashi Architects, sits on the outskirts of Asahikawa, on northern Japan’s Hokkaido island. The region sees a drastic temperature swing of 60°C between summer and winter, and so the house has been designed with this mind, featuring only small openings and plenty of insulation.

A wide hallway with floor to ceiling wood slats, leading to a step up into a lounge area with wide panoramic windows and large grey sofas and chair.

(Image credit: Michinori Aoki)

Opus Arisugawa Terrace & Residence by OEO Studio

Copenhagen-based OEO Studio brings a Scandinavian sensibility to Japanese design codes with the completion of a Tokyo apartment at Opus Arisugawa Terrace & Residence. Marrying a clean aesthetic with locally sourced materials, the result intertwines references in a nod to both cultures. The luxury apartment is a collaboration between OEO Studio and Japanese property developer ReBita, with the former drawing on its design heritage for key elements throughout. The kitchen, designed by OEO Studio, was crafted in Denmark by Danish brand Garde Hvalsøe and comes complete with its distinctive handcrafted cabinetry. In the living room, furniture by Gubi, Stellar Works and Brdr Krüger makes an elegant foil for wall art by Finnish artist Jaakko Mattila and Danish photographer Søren Rønholt. Read more

japanese houses example, the entrance to Shiguchi house

(Image credit: Shouya Grigg)

Shiguchi by artist and collector Shouya Grigg

Shiguchi was born out of the vision of one man – artist and collector Shouya Grigg, who transformed a group of centuries-old farmhouses into a cultural haven that bridges Japanese heritage and hospitality, and modern luxury in an unspoiled secluded valley in Hokkaido, the country’s northernmost island. Fascinated by the monumental architecture of the A-frame-shaped, thatched, pitch-roofed rural farmhouses (kominka) that dot the Japanese countryside, in 2015, Grigg found an abandoned dwelling of this typology in Tochigi, and had it carefully dismantled, beam by beam, by a team of master craftsmen. It was relocated and reassembled near his home (and a previous creative hospitality project he spearheaded), the contemporary ryokan Zaborin, in the ski resort of Niseko. Read more

Wash basin within cave-like house and restaurant by Junya Ishigami in Japan

(Image credit: junya.ishigami+associates)

Home/Restaurant by Junya Ishigami 

When we first heard about Junya Ishigami’s idea for an unusual, cave-like house and restaurant design in Yamaguchi back in 2018, we knew we had to come back when the project was completed. This is one of those designs that push the envelope for what architecture can be. Even though relatively small in size, the project has been nine years in the making; three for the design phase, and six for the actual construction. The result is a unique piece of Japanese architecture, and the product of a visionary mind, some hefty poured concrete and a painstaking, archeology-like excavation. Ishigami’s client wanted a distinctive, earth-inspired space that would serve both as an intimate restaurant and a home for his family. Ishigami’s proposal included a radical construction method. A carefully thought-out moon-like landscape of holes was dug out of the 914 sq m site, then filled with reinforced concrete. The cavities surrounding the concrete were excavated to reveal a seemingly random, but actually carefully designed, configuration of interconnecting ‘caves’ making up the structure’s almost 200 sq m floor plan. Read more

concrete japanese house called torus house perched on a hill


Torus House by Noriaki Hanaoka Architecture

Its challenging, steeply angled plot helped define the identity of this new Japanese house in Chiba prefecture. Torus House, designed by Tomi City, Nagano-based Noriaki Hanaoka Architecture, is perched boldly on its hillside site, gazing towards north-facing views of buildings and nature, and the sea beyond. Made largely out of concrete, the house feels sturdy and solid, yet sits lightly on the slope, wrapped in swathes of glazing and glistening in the summer sun. Dramatic on the inside, as it is on the outside, Torus House is composed internally of one, big flowing space. This open plan arrangement contains living, kitchen, dining and bedroom areas. The openness and the lightness rendered from the glass walls and expansive views, combined with the plot’s incline, make the interior feel like it’s floating above the landscape. At the same time, the strong concrete pillars, braces and slabs anchor it firmly to the ground. Read more

hero aerial showing the bungalows of KAI Yufuin by Kengo Kuma

(Image credit: Kengo Kuma)

Kai Yufuin by Kengo Kuma

Built around a cascading valley of rice terraces that reflect the horizon’s endless play of colours, the Kai Yufuin hot spring ryokan by Hoshino Resorts, is one of Kengo Kuma & Associates’ latest works. Composed of a public building, a bathhouse, guest rooms and separate villa suites, the project is defined by elements of traditional Japanese architecture and the region’s farmhouse vernacular that form the basis of the design. Located on the island of Kyushu in the Ōita Prefecture, famous for its hot springs especially in and around the city of Beppu, the Yufuin valley basin has an abundant resource of mineral-rich water. Both these elements unite in this project to form the identity of Kengo Kuma’s newest Japanese hospitality offering. Read more

interior of Umbrella House by Kazuo Shinohara

(Image credit: Julien Lanoo)

The Umbrella House by Kazuo Shinohara

Visitors to Vitra’s Weil am Rhein campus this year will find a new arrival among the furniture brand’s park of architectural treasures. Standing temple-like in a greenfield site next to buildings by Jean Prouvé and Buckminster Fuller, the Umbrella House by Japanese architect Kazuo Shinohara has a quiet but compelling presence. The wooden design, built in 1961 in Nerima, a residential neighbourhood of Tokyo, is the smallest and one of the last remaining residences from the first of Shinohara’s four self-titled ‘styles’. Its arrival in Germany is the result of a rescue mission that began when the Japanese architectural firm SANAA contacted Vitra. It had been informed by the Japanese organisation Heritage Houses Trust that the house was at risk of being demolished to make way for a new road. Recognising the building’s significance – Shinohara is considered one of the most important Japanese architects from the latter half of the 20th century, but is still little known internationally – Vitra worked with the Tokyo Institute of Technology to dismantle, ship and rebuild the house on its campus, where it will serve as a venue for small gatherings. Read more

timber clad dramatic pitched roof in japanese house

(Image credit: Masao Nishikawa )

Espace by Satoshi Kurosaki / APOLLO Architects & Associates 

This relatively boutique, two-story, wood-frame house sits nestled in the Shinagawa ward of Tokyo. Designed by Satoshi Kurosaki and his studio, APOLLO Architects & Associates, it combines drama and minimalist architecture. The architecture team emphasised a sense of space, creating clean surfaces and working with an imposing double height living space where a timber-clad ceiling follows the roof’s pitch and becomes the room’s main architectural centrepiece. This Japanese house is also awash with natural light, which floods in from a courtyard and clerestory windows. Clean, flat, vertical and angled surfaces throughout ensure daylight bounces off to help illuminate every corner of the property. ‘By treating the entire building as a reflector, we succeeded in creating a separate universe of diffuse light that makes the rooms feel spacious and echoes the uniquely tranquil character of the residents,’ the architects explained. 

sunked living area in Japanese house

(Image credit: Katsuhiro Aoki.)

House in Hasami by Momoko Kudo/MMA

This small family home in the southern Japanese city of Hasami is the second in what Momoko Kudo calls the ‘Box series’ (the first was completed in 2018). ‘Boxes’ of four different sizes have been placed slightly askew in plan to form the footprint of the house. The client likes to entertain, and the more public areas such as the kitchen, dining and lounge are kept on the expansive ground floor, while bedrooms for the family of four are on a more compact and compartmentalised upper level. The off-centre placement of the ‘boxes’ creates various outdoor spaces, and a large roof (divided into two parts) brings everything together harmoniously. Inside, a slightly sunken lounge area lowers the sightlines towards the surrounding greenery to almost ground level. This, combined with the floor-to-ceiling windows, creates an impression of spaciousness. Outside, small but important details, such as a slight rounding of corners on the otherwise simple vertical cedar boards, matching the rounded foundation and the pressed soil around the house’s perimeter, help to keep the house neat and add a contemporary feel, while using simple, unpretentious materials. The roof’s thin, round, vertical steel support beams add another modern touch, contrasting beautifully with the vernacular cedar siding. Additional writing: Jens H Jensen

minimalist blocks in japanese housing complex

(Image credit: Takumi Ota)

Ideareave Ikegami, by Ryuichi Sasaki Architecture with Takayuki Yagi

Anew mixed-use scheme has just been completed in Tokyo’s Ikegami district – so far, so normal. But this project, Ideareave Ikegami, by Ryuichi Sasaki Architecture in collaboration with architect Takayuki Yagi for client Yasunori Kamata / K-M-T ingeniously blends a music hall and residential units within a single building, ensuring its residents, and the wider neighbourhood, can benefit from direct access to arts and culture from the comfort of their own home. The award-winning, internationally acclaimed architecture studio specialises in cultural experiences, and has commercial, music, leisure and hospitality projects under its belt. In this design, a reinforced concrete structure combines performance space, practice rooms, soundproofed residential rental units, as well as a luxurious penthouse at the very top. The architects drew on the area’s vibrant character and cultural identity to develop their design solution.

Interior of Aoyama House by Hitotomori Architects

(Image credit: Hiroki Kawata)

Aoyama House by Hitotomori Architects

The open plan of this home in Aoyama gives a bright and spacious feel to a compact 92 sq m flat. The exposed concrete ceiling adds height, while a small alcove for reading creates cosiness. Materials are simple (plywood, mortar, pile carpet) but complement each other well in terms of colour and texture. Lighting design features work by New Light Pottery. Additional writing: Jens H Jensen. Photography: Hiroki Kawata

dining and living space at House in Hayama

(Image credit: Daisuke Shima)

Hayama House by Case-Real

When escaping the urban sprawl of Tokyo becomes a priority, many Tokyoites look to the seaside town of Hayama. Facing the Sagami bay and within a fairly easy commute of the big city, but with a much slower pace, it’s easy to see this beachfront little town’s attraction. It is also the setting for this new Hayama house, commissioned by a family who approached Japanese architecture studio Case-Real for the design. While the client, a family of four, had been living in the area for some time, they jumped at the opportunity to buy the neighbouring plot to their current home in order to expand their footprint. With most residential plots in Japan being modest in size, the norm is to build in two or three storeys to allow for the necessary square footage. Having secured a second plot, however, the client could afford to ask Case-Real’s Koichi Futatsumata to design a single-story home to fulfil their needs – a move seen as something of a luxury in Japan. Additional writing: Jens H Jensen

red hues in japanese house

(Image credit: Kenji Goto )

Kidera Row Houses by Naoko Fujioka + Fujioka Architectural Laboratory

The latest residential project of this Fujioka family practice is a beautiful renovation of a Nagaya row house containing two residencies and one small shop. The studio’s signature careful attention to detail and materials enhances the cultural significance of these traditional homes, while suggesting a new direction for Nara’s many old houses, which are waiting to be given the Fujioka treatment. Additional writing: Jens H Jensen

neutral colours in Japanese apartment

(Image credit: Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen)

Kinuta Terrace by Keiji Ashizawa and Norm Architects 

Designed by a dynamic duo – Tokyo’s Keiji Ashizawa and Norm Architects from Denmark – Kinuta Terrace is an all-encompassing renovation of 36 maisonette homes originally built in 1991. All the furniture for each house unit is custom designed and made by Karimoku. The work has been the beginning of a whole new line of furniture from the Japanese maker, branded as Karimoku Case Study. Additional writing: Jens H Jensen

exterior of japanese house with asymmetrical windows and pitched roof

(Image credit: Kenji Muto)

Uedayama House by Écrit Architects 

Established six years ago by Nobuyoshi Hayashi, Hiroshi Kaito and Eri Yabushita, Écrit Architects already has an impressive portfolio of completed projects, with a strong focus on single-family houses. Yabushita was the lead architect on Uedayama House and has designed a simple, yet generous home for a young couple and their two kids in Nagoya. The narrow, but tall upper floor dining and kitchen area in particular stands out with its exposed beams and feature triangle windows at both ends. Additional writing: Jens H Jensen

House in Sasuke by Koichi Futatsumata & Yuki Onita (Case-Real) 

(Image credit: Daisuke Shima)

House in Sasuke by Koichi Futatsumata & Yuki Onita (Case-Real) 

This minimalist house by Case-Real is divided vertically, with a design office and piano room on the ground floor, and living quarters for a family of four on the upper level. Interiors are kept simple and white, but ample natural light and the shade of the large mulberry tree in the front garden create warmth through shadow play, in particular in the upper living spaces. Additional writing: Jens H Jensen. Photography: Daisuke Shima

Sakaragicho Residence by Key Operation Inc

(Image credit: Noriyuki Yano)

Sakaragicho Residence by Key Operation Inc

This boutique Yokohama apartment building may be multi-family housing, but it offers the attention to detail and serene design of a single family project. An outer skin and geometric external grid rhythm creates a unified facade that brings neatly together the upper level residential floors with the ground floor commercial units. The result is a calming, minimalist appearance in what is in fact a fairly large scale urban building. Photography: Noriyuki Yano

The Scoop Landscape House opens up to Tokyo’s views

(Image credit: Yasuhiro Takagi)

Scoop Landscape House by Not Architects Studio


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