With the lowest infant mortality rate and the highest life expectancy, Japanese citizens are among the healthiest in the world. An estimated 127.3 million people live in a mere 144,689 square miles – just a little smaller than the state of California. The high population density has resided in a limited living space, leading to the clean and uncluttered interior of Japanese homes.
The rooms are designed for multiple uses to make the most of every square foot. Shoji screens, made of shoji paper and carved wood in intricate lattice patterns, can be folded during the day and used as room dividers at night, changing the layout of the living space as needed.
The furniture, too, is structured for flexibility, so that it does not take up permanent space. For example, traditional Japanese beds – futons – are basically a mattress and a quilt (called kake-buton) that can be stowed in the morning to allow the sleeping area to be used for other purposes during the waking hours.
Japanese furniture is kept to a minimum and the few selections are carefully chosen for their functionality. The beauty lies in the carefully detailed craftsmanship of each piece, usually made of natural materials. Popular establishments for furniture include high quality wood, rice straw, bamboo and silk. Tansu reflects to Japanese style desks, which are a favorite of collectors of antiques around the world. These are usually made of exceptional woods, including Japanese cypress (Hinoki), elm (Keyaki), chestnut (Kuri) and cedar (Sugi). Wooden coffee tables, kotatsu, are often the center of Japanese family life, as an integrated heating element makes them ideal for sharing a meal or staying warm during a cool evening.
The interiors are subtly colored with neutrals, in discreet shades of brown, black, cream and grains. Brilliant Western accents in blues and reds bring attention to the details of the particular note. The light is much appreciated and directed in homes through diffusers such as screens of paper and silk.
Clean, uncluttered lines are a hallmark of Japanese decor, with a very small number of exquisite objects on display for maximum impact. Typically, works of art and seasonal decorations are displayed alone, so that there is no distraction to interrupt the admission of a visitor. Some examples may include traditional ikebana, beautifully arranged flowers and leaves in precious vases, hanging scrolls of calligraphy, or bonsais. Small alcoves, known as tokonoma, offer perfect places for the exhibition of individual objects.
Carpets are rarely seen in Japanese homes, but rather on tatami mats. These are made of rice straw and come in standard sizes, allowing to describe rooms like 6 or 8 tatami areas.
Japanese design and tradition are popular in the United States. The combination of beauty and functionality, not to mention minimalism, bringing a sense of order to the confusion of everyday life.