Last 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?”