Stand-up routine

showerLast week we were looking at a new house that had recently been completed. The owner allowed the builder to show the property to the public as a model prior to his moving in. The builder represents a new trend in housing that is quickly catching on, and for good reason. They offer a number of standard designs that can be constructed cheaply using kits and materials bought in bulk, and the purchaser can customize the designs in various ways with options and slight floor plan changes. The basic structures range from a mere ¥9 million to about ¥13 million, not including land, of course. The builder also deals in land sales, but only insofar as a means of selling new homes. They look for stray plots for people like us who are looking to build their own home but haven’t found land yet. It’s the reverse of the usual process. Since the house is the main sales point, the company doesn’t charge a fee when brokering a land deal.

For us, however, the visit was purely for research purposes. The house was well-made but the basic design and overall aesthetic was dully conventional: boxy rooms, white walls, nondescript fixtures. Of course, the buyer could pay more and make the improvements he liked, which is the whole point, but given what there was to begin with we weren’t inspired. Moreover, the company seemed to limit its land selection to cramped housing developments, specifically orphan lots that hadn’t been sold after a particular development had been opened for sale.

In fact, the visit wouldn’t be worth mentioning if not for one feature that stood out so prominently it seemed to define the house. The owner, whom the agent told us was a “foreigner,” had exercised his design option by installing a separate shower stall on the second floor, in addition to the usual unit bath on the first floor. Stand-alone showers aren’t very common in Japan, certainly not as common as they are in the U.S. or Europe, but you do occasionally see them. What made this one odd was that it was built off the second floor hallway. It was designed almost like a closet: there was a folding door, beyond which was a capsule-style unit shower. There was no space for changing clothes, you just stepped directly from the hallway into the shower. There was also a toilet on the second floor, but as is the Japanese custom it had its own separate room, and was down the hall from the shower. The second floor also had two bedrooms. Japanese houses usually don’t provide a distinctive “master bedroom” in the sense of a room with its own attached bathroom, but the larger bedroom in this house had a huge walk-in closet that was positioned adjacent to the shower stall but didn’t connect to it.

We asked the agent why the owner didn’t put the shower stall in the bedroom or made an entrance to the shower from the walk-in closet. She said that they had another customer who did just that, but such a design change was very expensive and didn’t fit within the overall budget of the person who ordered this house; which is a reasonable explanation but all we could imagine is family members and weekend guests dripping water everywhere as they walked naked around the house (there was a third bedroom on the first floor) after taking a shower. The agent, noting our bemusement, remarked, “Yes, it is strange, isn’t it?”


  1. bome mary · March 29, 2013

    After having finished taking a shower, the shower user can dry himself/herself inside the shower room, so there is no need to worry about dripping water everywhere.


    • Sen Heng (@theredsen) · April 1, 2013

      I’ve lived in a few shared houses using this kind of stand alone units, I would much prefer to dry myself outside, it’s cooler, less moisture in the air and much lower chance of slipping and falling.


  2. kansai · April 6, 2013

    We went through exactly the same process of buying a house in Japan as you are and your blog has been very interesting and useful. We finally went for a *free plan* house of a developer selling the plot and the house. The only way to have a nice house in Japan according to your needs and lifestyle is to design it your self. And I mean it literally – drawing your own floor plans, visiting all the showrooms of the biggest makers – not house makers, but house features makers such as Totto, Tostem, Panasonic and so on – looking at countless catalogs, researching the Internet for what is not available (and it is surprising how little IS available, so much that it is no wonder all the Japanese houses look the same). And then arguing with your builder. Cause the first thing they would say is “not possible”. Or “it will be very expensive”. Not if you are insistent and resourceful! All this was just to say that my house has a bathroom on the second floor with easy access from the master bedroom and a shower box on the first floor accessible from the toilet, with a small washbowl making a nice tiny second guest bathroom, all within our budget. But boy it was difficult!!! I had to search for an inexpensive shower box, a compact toilet seat that would fit leaving some space to dry yourself when you get out of the shower and not cost an arm and a leg, and the hardest part – a nice small bowl to wash your hands and face! Now how hard can that be? Well incredibly hard in Japan, as it turned out!


  3. Chris · May 1, 2013

    Although not a house, one of my first apartments in Japan actually had a stand-alone shower in the kitchen. By stand-alone, I mean it was a Porta-Potty with a hose jammed in at head height. Oh, those wonderful student days. Japan really does have a different relationship with the bath functions “mizu mawari” than the West does.


  4. Meredith · May 7, 2013

    I can think of a very specific reason for having a shower stall in close proximity to the bedrooms… 😉


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