Building a house in Tokyo

Three plans proposed by three architects. After lengthy interview we chose the one with a dark triangular mark as the basis for further planning.
Japanese people seem to have a unanimous understanding or a shared inferiority complex that our houses are much too small compared with other advanced countries. It was certainly not until our grandparents or parents saw Hollywood films or American TV home dramas for the first time that we realized our houses were so small and shabby. Maybe due to general poverty and frequent natural catastrophes, people used to believe that we needed only a small place to lay down our body to take a rest.

When we were informed that a leaked EC working paper described "the Japanese are workaholics living in rabbit hutches" in 1979, it gave us an indelible shock, though we vaguely felt that European and American people generally had better housing conditions. Later on, some people insisted that the description "rabbit hutches" did not necessarily mean very tiny houses, because it was translated from the original French words "cage a lapins" and this only meant typical urban condominiums in France. However, this argument seemed to be misguiding either, because "cage a lapins" did in reality mean "small and uniform condominiums in urban areas", so far as I understand it.

However, statistics say that the average size of Japanese houses is NOT so small as we imagine. The average size of Japanese houses (96 m²) is not not substantially smaller than European houses, though US (148m²) is substantially bigger. However, in case of Japan, while the average size of one's own house is relatively big (125m²), the size of the rented house is miserably small (48m²) and they concentrate in urban areas. Therefore, the average size of houses is in Tokyo only 55m², while Paris is 90m², Rom 85m², New York 80m² and Berlin 68m².
Houses in the UK (87m²), France (99m²) and Germany (85m²) are not much larger than Japanese houses. (Source: Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport 2003)
It is a goal of ordinary people in Japan to build their own detached houses and while they are saving money they tend to live in small rent, mostly apartment style houses and try not to spend too much money on rent. In addition to that the high level of the real estate price in Tokyo does not allow lower rent for spacious houses.

I had a dream to have a small vaulted ceiling for my study and paint stars and trees on it and a part of the wall. This is my sketch.

I planned to paint by myself, but later asked Rie-san (an art student - here standing in front of her work) to fulfill my dream. And this is the result.

I decided to build my own house in a resident area in Tokyo, Hamadayama, a year ago so as to enjoy the rest of my life in a little bit more comfortable manner. It was usual, or still it is the usual way, to ask a carpenter - in most cases carpenters have private building companies - to make a plan and execute all necessary construction works including power, water and gas which go to sub-contractors.

My great grand father of the maternal side was one of those small scale general contractors and my parents did not have difficulty to select reliable carpenters or owners of private building companies. However, I now live in an area far from my home town and I find it difficult to find capable and reliable carpenters. In addition to this, I want to have a good design for the house and designing is the weak point of carpenters and small construction companies, if they are requested to build modern houses.

I have to mention that grave forgery cases concerning structural calculation of buildings were brought to light in 2005. This issue is directly related to the safety of people living and working in the buildings and became a large scandal. Especially because Japan is a country with heavy earthquakes, this was really a serious problem and many buildings including condominiums had to be demolished. Thereafter, the governmental control over the building structure became tighter. But, building own houses is a huge investment for individuals and we still suspect whether the people in the building industries are reliable and trustworthy. They made a big profit in the bubble economy period and we still believe that many companies are related to mafia business and make dirty money. Even though they are not criminals, it is understandable that they try to profit from the innocence of the clients.

Then, we found a good possibility. A consultant company offers advisory service for private house building. Living Design Center OZONE is a 100% subsidiary company of Tokyo Gas, the city gas monopoly for the Tokyo area. OZONE has a large space in Shinjuku and offers various information and service related to housing. What was interesting for us was that it mediates clients who want to have their houses with architects and building companies.

We made a consultant contract with OZONE and OZONE summed up our requests and first organized a public bidding of architects. Three architects participated in the interview with their idea and house model. We chose an architect office Alcove-U and then through Alcove-U we had a bidding of construction companies. After checking their cost planning, we chose Homma Construction Company. The construction started at the beginning of August and a house with 120 square meter floor space was ready by mid December. OZONE not only monitors the whole process, but also has special conditions for construction which are more favorable for clients than usual including payment condition.

I had a special idea for my working room. I wanted to have a small vault and paint it and a part of the wall with stars and trees at night. As I had a fixed idea how to paint a night landscape and therefore originally planned to paint myself. However, the owner of Alcove-U, Mr. Jumonji, introduced me a young art student, Rie-san and I asked her to fulfill my dream. Here is the result. It is different from my image, but adds a special romantic atmosphere to my room where I am now making this page.

Also a moon is there.