Other peoples’ homes fascinate me. They always have — it was part of why I was so excited to apply to become Offbeat Home’s editor. If windows are open when I walk by, I’ll be looking in your house. When I go to a friend’s house, I love to see how they’ve solved problems in ways I’d never think of, or what crazy way they’ve found to store their towels, or what habit is completely verboten in their space.
As an extension, I loooove to virtually explore homes around the globe. I walk the street view of Google Maps, collect photos of foreign houses, and read no end of Wikipedia entries. It’s especially fun to think about, well, just about any country not in the Americas — their cultures are so much older than most of ours!
This week, I revisted Japanese homes to find three things we could adopt to streamline life in the Western world. Ready? Let’s go.
Take off your shoes
People in Japan have been removing their shoes prior to entering a home for over a thousand years to leave dirt outside, figuratively and literally. This isn’t just a casual house habit; it’s sometimes written into rental contracts that shoes will not be worn in the apartment. This is a culturally ingrained mores.
Now, I grew up in a strictly no-shoe household. My mom was militant about her floors: only in the case of emergencies was I allowed to leave the mud room for the rest of the house with shoes still on my feet. I abandoned this in an act of rebellion when I got my own place (“Take that, mom! I’ll show YOU who can’t wear shoes!”) But now we’re in a house with very pretty wood floors and now I am the person responsible for sweeping those floors and now I make everyone take their shoes off.
It’s nice to keep the dirt out, but I’m going to try to keep the figurative dirt in mind when I come in, as well. And at our house? Shoes are usually discarded, willy-nilly. I’ll be focusing on a peaceful placement of shoes that are ready to be slipped back into, quickly and easily.
Traditionally, Japanese homes haven’t had permanent living or bedrooms. Instead, rooms have been arranged as-needed around the kitchen, bath, and toilet rooms using sliding panels. For this reason, furniture in other rooms is often portable — and pieces like futon mats can be stored in house closets, as needed.
I dig this principal, and I realllly wish our house was set up like this. HOWEVER! Even though I’ve got drywall and brick in all my rooms, I can put this idea into effect in a really interesting way: if you want your rooms to be a bit more multi-purpose, avoid buying furniture in the sets often offered by furniture stores. Put together pieces that look nice together and don’t sweat it if they aren’t all the same microfiber brown. That way it’s a little easier to put together a living room for your Festivus party out of mixes and matches.
Ditch the major appliances
Modern Japanese kitchens usually have a fridge, stove, and microwave — and if there is an oven it’s not usually full size. Some homes have just a single gas stove burner. In America, we’re usually going for the bigger and the badder. Have you seen the size of those fridges Kelly Rippa pitches?
We cook a lot. Almost every night. But I could totally replace the stove/oven with a two burner stovetop… and maybe a small convection microwave oven, as many homes in Japan have. When was the last time I used the oven, anyway? Mama don’t bake.
Clearly, this is just a start. It’s gleaned from my stalking of Japanese homeowners via Flickr, readings of Haruki Murakami books, and Wikipedia. Japan experts! What have you seen in Japanese homes you thought would be a good idea for other cultures to take on?