With half of all homes being demolished within 38 years, new house building in Japan represents almost 80% of annual domestic property transactions. The industry has developed due to Japan’s ‘disposable housing’ culture, meaning the need for new housing to be constructed quickly is constant. In answer to this, the Japanese have adopted a mass production approach for housing construction, where prefabricated houses are assembled on the factory line, like the production we would associate with cars.
However, these prefabricated homes in Japan are far from being carbon copies of each other. Instead, construction companies may offer over 300 different floor-plan designs, which can then be customised further to meet the client’s needs, termed as ‘mass customisation’. There even seems to be a preference for mass produced houses in Japan, which although usually more expensive for the customer than a conventional house, are deemed better quality.
Japan’s industry is dominated by close to 80,000 local firms, who are responsible for over 50% of all housing construction with 150 regional firms and a few national firms accounting for the rest. In stark contrast to the UK, with an industry dominated by 5 national companies, offering little variation in floor plan designs and virtually no room for adjustment.
The only real restrictions to new house builders come in the way of the size and shape of the plot of land and their income, which in-part are the main reasons for the Micro-House craze: tiny houses or apartments with often little more than 30 square metres of floor space. The craze developed in cities where land is scarce and extremely pricey, so Micro-Houses are seen to be making use of leftover narrow strips and unused corners of land. Despite their size, they are cleverly designed with high ceilings and open-plan floor spaces to make the interior feel light and open. Smart storage ideas minimise clutter and large well placed windows maximise the natural light.
Micro-Housing may be the answer to the increasing housing demand, without having to increase the peripheries of a city, as well as also being the answer to the affordability problem, for those with a small income, wanting to live in a city.
Modular housing production may well be the approach that makes housing more affordable and available in the UK. With our recent success of winning the self-build on a shoestring competition and the subsequent interest that has generated, it does suggest people in England do have an appetite for alternative options than what the current new housing market offers. To find out more on this topic and to keep up to date with Jackson’s exploration of Japan and its housing culture, check out his travel blog at actionjaxzen.tumblr.com.