Top Ten Ways Japanese Live Small

Leave it to the Japanese, the same folks who invented** the transistor radio, to come up with a multitude of ways to miniaturize their lives and save valuable space. "Livin' Large"? Not here, buster!

Japan isn't quite as tiny as it looks on the world map, snuggled up right beside big ol' China, but this nearly California-sized country is home to over 125 million people: that's three & a half times Cali's population! What's more, quite a lot of the country is mountainous, forested and so on, yet the place (well, most of it) hasn't been paved over into some kind of oriental New Jersey. How do the Japanese preserve the natural beauty of their land while managing to live prosperous lives packed shoulder to shoulder on subway trains, in ramen restaurants and just about anywhere in overstuffed Tokyo? By taking a page from Steve Martin's book... Let's get small!!!

Here are 10 of the most ingenious ways the Japanese have gotten with the program and gotten small:


10) Tiny Houses Only Mouses Could Love


Tiny Japanese HouseTiny Japanese House

OK, "Mice", but then shouldn't the plural of House be "Hice"? English can be very strange... but I digress. Japanese homes (happy now?) have often been likened to overgrown rabbit hutches, albeit rabbit hutches equipped with an abundance of neato high tech devices. Tiny homes are no surprise, really, considering the legendary land prices in some Japanese cities - especially Tokyo. Rooms are measured by how many straw mats (tatami) will fit inside them. Usually, it doesn't take too many - unfortunately for those in the tatami biz.



9) Tiny Bathrooms with Multifunctional Toilets

Space-saving Toilet with FaucetSpace-saving Toilet with Faucet

I stayed with friends in Japan once and when the time came to use the facilities, was I ever shocked... the bathroom, while spotlessly clean, offered barely enough room to hold the toilet and a small standing space in front of it. I thought that if the house had a Ladies Room, it would be even smaller. Anyway, although the room was barely the size of an average American broom closet, it did have one redeeming feature: the toilet tank had a concave top upon which perched a gooseneck faucet. Upon flushing, the tank would refill itself through said faucet, giving you about a minute to wash up before the tank filled and the water stopped. I left the tiny washroom greatly impressed - not to mention, relieved. (image via Hangzhou Lovin' )



8) Tiny Home Appliances to Fit Tiny Homes


Tiny HumidifierTiny Humidifier

So you live in a tiny house - you can't fill it up with regular-size appliances, now can you? Through the miracle of proportional sizing, even a really small Japanese house can feel, well, not so terribly tiny if you stock it with equally tiny appliances. Most Japanese air conditioners, for instance, are designed to cool only the room they're installed in. And take this tiny home humidifier... though anyone who's suffered through a stiflingly sticky Japanese summer would say a humidifier is the LAST thing one needs. Winter is a different story, however, as tiny, thin-walled Japanese houses can get mighty dry. Simply fill an average 2-litre soda bottle with water and invert it onto a teeny tiny humidifier (an adventure in itself, I'm sure), and you'll soon be singing "Turning Japanese" by The (moist) Vapors! (via Weird Asia News )



7) Tiny TVs... I Mean, REALLY Tiny TVs!


Miniature Japanese TVMiniature Japanese TV

Miniaturization may not have been invented by the Japanese, but it's arguable that they've perfected the concept. I mentioned the transistor radio, and there's no need to mention the Sony Walkman - oops, just did. This, however, takes miniaturization to a higher - make that lower - level: actual functioning TVs for dollhouses. Sure, go ahead and laugh if you must. Yes, I know dolls can't watch TV, but that's beside the point. A dollhouse is a house, for dolls, and it must be furnished. To meet this requirement, Japanese toy company Takara is selling 1.5 inch screen TVs made for them by Sharp Corporation.

Tiny Dollhouse TVTiny Dollhouse TVThe tiny LCD TVs are controlled from a panel installed outside the dollhouse. You can adjust the volume and even change the channel... turn on "Tiny Toons", please! No way, Barbie, I'm watching "Valley of the Dolls!" (via ).




6) Good Things Come in VERY Small Packages


Tiny ToothpasteTiny Toothpaste

Tiny is as tiny does, as Forrest Gump might say, and the best way to save space is to (duh) just make things smaller. Witness a prime example: what may be the world's tiniest tube of toothpaste. There's barely enough in the miniscule tube to brush your teeth once (unless you're a hillbilly, I suppose...). It's the ideal choice for those considering a stay in one of Japan's tiny capsule hotels. (via John Labovitz's "travels & ponderings" )


Jul 2, 2007
by Anonymous Tiny Tim (not verified)

Little Products, Big Waste

I see waste in these products!  Wouldn't individual serving packages use more materials than multi-serving packages?  The tiny tube of toothpaste could have been placed inside the toothbrush to save on packaging; no ant needs an indoor home; no doll house needs a functional mini-TV, etc.  The multi-functional chomode could have included a pull-out daybed (no more pissing the bed!), and the mini hotel room isn't even big enough for a dream--especially a wet one!

 Did all of this start with little condoms?

Jul 2, 2007
by Anonymous Tinier Tim (not verified)


If the Japanese made "Godzilla 2000" (?), it was soooo bad, it should have been given a little number in its title:  "Godzilla 0.0002"

Jul 2, 2007
by Steve Levenstein
Steve Levenstein's picture

Tiny condom-iniums

You'd better believe i'm not touching that one!

Jul 2, 2007
by cykotek (not verified)


You think the houses in Japan are small in the floorplan... they are pretty low, too. Their height is all too often much less than a European one. I'm constantly having to duck to go through doorways, or suffer the consequences of head-butting a cross-beam. And it's not just houses - most doorways in other buildings are only 180 cm high.

Of course, the average height of the Japanese person is less than that of a European, so it's understandable.

 As for why there is so much forested mountainside still around, it's primarily because the terrain is far too steep and rugged to even think of building on. Short of levelling the entire mountain (a mammoth engineering feat that would make the Chunnel look like a mole's front passage) there is no way to build in those areas. So, what they do is make the most of the land they have, and take some back from the sea. Land reclamation is quite commonplace in Japan, and has been going on for centuries.

Jul 3, 2007
by Watch TV Online (not verified)


Those are only a sampling, they also buy fruits and food individually - as in individually wrapped apples, individually wrapped crackers (crackers come in a box but each cracker is wrapped independent of each other). Fruits are smaller, a Subway sub is smaller and sold in the regular foot longs, but also smaller sizes like quarter of a foot, etc in Osaka at least.

Jul 3, 2007
by Anonymous (not verified)

I agree

When I went to Japan, I saw a fixation with packaging, all kinds everywhere. Beautiful packaging. Products at times were double and triple packaged. In this sense, the Japanese are very wasteful. Give them time and they'd probably package M&M's separately in little wrappers if M&M's were sold there. Every culture has super-human strengths and insane weaknesses. In travelling, we can learn much about how to better ourselves, by doing what others do, or by NOT doing what others do. I think that little dollhouse TV was just as wasteful as someone here buying a 42" TV screen. But I liked the toilet concept. We could learn a lot from the Japanese on how to make spaces that are pretty and yet simple. Japanese room sizes may be too small for us, but they have a simple crisp appearance that is inspiring. Their use of wood and stone is genius.

Jul 3, 2007
by 2008 Planner (not verified)


I thought it was all rather funny

Jul 3, 2007
by wang (not verified)


having lived here for nearly a year now i can certainly attest to the tiny tiny places. i used to live in a "1 room" apartment. essentially it was the entrance with a 2 meter hallway (about 1.3 meters wide) leading into a room of at best 8m^2. in the hallway happened to be a sink, an electric element and a college sized fridge with ice frozen at least 6 inches thick.

the bathroom was also small with about a 1/3rd size tub, with the sink overlapping both the tub and the toilet (which was on an angle because it was installed in the corner) god i hated that place.

now i've moved into a bigger place but the bathroom looks exactly like the toilet the guy shows here. my toilet self cleans, has the faucet up top (which i never use) and comes complete with bidet.

as for small things, many things fold, are made of cloth and work essentially like all those space saving ikea things you have all seen, bought, and loved.

Jul 3, 2007
by Bentcorner (not verified)

The Japanese didn't invent

The Japanese didn't invent the transistor radio. Bell Labs did in 1948. The same American company that invented the transistor.

Jul 3, 2007
by Anonymous (not verified)

Only out of necessity

I think that a lot of foods are wrapped individually because of a poisoning scare a few years back with "pocky" confectionery. They had to make the packaging more tamper proof and other companies followed suit. But it can get a little wasteful.

I think I have a smaller version of just about everything in my home inTokyo, but nothing to the extent that it is unusable.

Jul 3, 2007
by Web Development (not verified)

Web Development

This is really a good information.

Jul 3, 2007
by empress (not verified)

mini hotel rooms

i just suddenly remembered bruce willis movie, fifth element. i remember they also slept in "rooms" similar to what was said in this article. i guess the japanese are really out of our time.

Jul 3, 2007
by Brent Lyons (not verified)

He signs his name with a capital G

Funnily enough, Godzilla's image has changed radically over the years. He started out as an allegory for the atom bomb, and the original movie really emphasized the destruction and horror he left in his wake. One of the protagonists actually witnesses a doctor at a hospital running a geiger counter over a little girl, and realizing that the girl has no chance. But then in the 60s and 70s Toho was targeting kids' audiences, so Godzilla became a protector of Japan and an unambiguous hero (and he had a son, Minilla). And due to budget cuts he wound up having lots of fights on islands. They've since tried to take him back to his roots somewhat (starting with the 1984 incarnation), but the series has never really gone back to emphasizing the casualties caused by a rampaging giant monster.

While he took a couple of breaks here and there, Godzilla's 28 movies span the 50 years from 1954 to 2004. And the last one, Godzilla: Final Wars is an immensely fun cheesefest from director Ryuhei Kitamura.

Jul 3, 2007
by Anonymous (not verified)

Sound Barrier

How do they engage in intimate activities without their neighbors hearing every stroke?

Jul 3, 2007
by Angus (not verified)

Little Products, Big Waste??? Big Products Big Waste???

Well, all products in Japan are in a beautiful presentational. Many foods are separated packing in a tiny bag. I’m HongKonger. I can understand why this is so common in Japan coz we also live in a very crowd and small place too. I also understand in western countries, many things come in larger size. But for us, we would think that’s amazing big for us. For example, our ladies would buy western children clothes and shoes coz the adult’s XS size one is not fit for them.


U may think the tiny packing for the food is so waste. I agree partially. But what is the point for a large pack of food for us??? Our living place is so small (comparing for urs). I think about 90% Hong Kong people living in apartment. Normally, a floor in a building lives 10 families. With a 50 floors building, there would be about 2000 people. (Considering a family with 4 members). And these buildings are all over the places. So we see a tiny sky too. For many’s apartment, (u may think this is crazy too) they could enjoy their labor’s TV show with a 21” screen through the window. (We call this apartment is “window to window”) they can almost shake hands with their labor though the windows. This is absolutely a disadvantage. But there are advantages; our transport is so convince that every 10-20 steps is a bus stop. “There is always a 7-11 nearby.” (<- this is the original 7-11 commercial slogan) Supermarkets are so closed that we only walk 5mins from our home. So we go to supermarket everyday (or twice everyday). So why do u need a big pack of food, when u can reach them so easy. We have no space for storing so many of food. We buy things when things went out. We don’t store!

And other reason for small packing foods is that many small packing foods are snacks. Considering eating snacks as a bad habit, we were taught to try to eat these foods less and in many times.


For the reason why tiny packing products are so popular in Japan; Japanese considering dainty product is an art. As the tiny TV set, I don’t think there is a Japanese would buy it for replacing their original “big” TV. It is treated as a beautiful master piece. Many Japan products are sold behind this concept as to attract their customers.

Jul 3, 2007
by Anonymous (not verified)

one sided

Smaller than US does not mean small.  Come to UK, house are similar size in London.  whole things you said are in Tokyo, not represent whole Japan.  Do you compare New York City with Dallas?

Fortunately for most people, world is not all America.

Jul 3, 2007
by Anonymous (not verified)

No substance, humour,

No substance, humour, interest nor entertainment. Only insulting thru the use of oriental (New Jersey). WTF - it's the 21st century - get your head out of your ass and maybe you'll write more interesting and less insulting articles.

Jul 3, 2007
by Anonymous Tiniest Tim (not verified)

This Wasn't Meant to be Insulting!

I would think that this article was meant to be informative and "amusing", but not intentionally insulting.  An article such as this is only "insulting" if one interprets it this way--and that is more of a reflection upon the interpreter and his/her attitudes/beliefs than of the writer's intent. 

There are many items in the U.S. that are available in ridiculously small packages.  For example, we have individually wrapped Life Savers, Tic Tacs, pieces of bubble gum,  etc.  We also have single doses of aspirin,  individually-wrapped 1" square (?)  alcohol pads, and 4 or 6 ounce cans of soda, single-serving drink mixes "to go" (e.g., Propel or Crystal Light) to name a few.  If someone from another country wrote about these, I wouldn't be offended.  Being objective, I would have to agree that these are wasteful and unnecessary.  At the same time, I would acknowledge that it is a growing trend--which some have dubbed "The McDonaldization of Society". 

Even if people find another society's practices unusual, odd, or "silly", it doesn't mean these people are making fun of the culture--they just find these things amusing and interesting to read and write about.  America is supposed to embrace cultural diversity, and I think an article like this is useful in informing people around the world of various practices.  Some wll laugh, some will be offended, some will be amused, and others will wonder "what's the big deal?" 

I learned a little about Japanese culture, and therefore believe that the article has value.  If I had to pick something that was on the offensive side, it would clearly come from some of the comments made about the author--they were INTENTIONALLY insulting when his article was NOT.

Jul 3, 2007
by Anonymous (not verified)

Fact Check

The Japanese did not invent the transistor radio.

Jul 3, 2007
by Anonymous Mike Crocosm (not verified)

When In Rome, Do What The Romans Do!

I had to look twice yesterday to make sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing:  A Japanese man walking along a road near a U.S. college campus and chugging down a QUART carton of "Soy Milk".  Skeptics might assert that he just LOOKED Japanese or that I am exaggerating the size of the carton, but I am still wondering where he was going to put all that milk.

Jul 3, 2007
by Anonymous (not verified)

"Fact Check" below

Gee, we never read that before......

Jul 3, 2007
by doujin (not verified)

Oriental? Who cares

Get your head out of YOUR ass, and quit being so sensitive.  I'm Japanese too and I'm not offended by "oriental" or anything else except maybe "jap."  And even that seems laughably archaic.   What's the difference, precisely, between oriental and asian?  "oriental" seems quaint now, if anything.

 Thicken your skin, bud.  Seriously, don't you have anything better to do than be offended?

Jul 3, 2007
by Anonymous A. Mary Cann (not verified)

Doujin-- Well Said

I think you get the picture, and I would have to agree that use of a word like "jap" is meant to be derogatory and thereby something that decent Americans wouldn't use, condone or tolerate. 

Jul 4, 2007
by Anonymous (not verified)

My Refrigerator is Rather Large

but I still have a hard time fitting in  even one of those small seedless watermelons.  Someone needs to come up with a "Side-by-Side Watermelon".....

Jan 9, 2008
by dotacje unijne (not verified)


Everything is going to be tiny ;) our world gone crazy! :-)

Jul 19, 2008
by Anonymous

sound barrier

To aviod invading of privacy.the japanese go outside to a place called a love hotel.many japanese can purchase a room for a period oftime to have an intimate time.