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Why are Japanese houses made of paper?


Japanese houses have always been fascinating due to their unique design and materials used. One of the most interesting aspects of Japanese houses is that they are often made of paper. While many people may find this surprising, there are several reasons why this has become a tradition in Japan.

History of Japanese Houses

The history of Japanese houses dates back to over a thousand years ago, during the Heian period. During this time, the aristocrats lived in large mansions made of wood and paper. These mansions were built with movable walls made of paper, known as shoji screens. This allowed residents to adapt their living spaces according to their needs.

Japanese Snack Box

Benefits of Paper Walls

Paper walls offer several benefits. They allow natural light to permeate through the house, creating a warm and inviting atmosphere. Additionally, they are lightweight and easy to install or remove. They also provide insulation, which helps keep the house warm during winter and cool during summer.

Paper Used in Japanese Houses

The paper used in Japanese houses is not the same as regular paper used for printing or writing. The paper used is called washi, which is made from mulberry trees. It is strong and durable, yet thin and lightweight.

Traditional Japanese House Design

Traditional Japanese houses are designed with specific principles in mind. They must be in tune with nature and balance. They also prioritize function over form, meaning that every element in the house has a purpose.

Minimalism in Japanese Houses

Japanese houses are known for their minimalist design. They have only what is necessary and nothing more. This allows for easy maintenance and cleaning.

Flexibility of Japanese Houses

Japanese houses are designed to be flexible and adaptable. Walls can be moved or removed to create more space or privacy. This allows residents to change their living spaces according to their needs and preferences.

Earthquakes and Japanese Houses

Japan is known for its frequent earthquakes, and Japanese houses are designed to withstand them. The lightweight paper walls absorb shock and prevent the house from collapsing. Additionally, the flexibility of Japanese houses allows them to move with the earth’s movements, preventing damage.

Paper Doors in Japanese Houses

In addition to paper walls, Japanese houses often have paper doors, known as fusuma. These doors are made of washi paper and a wooden frame. They are used as room dividers and can be easily slid open or closed.

Privacy in Japanese Houses

Despite the use of paper walls and doors, privacy is still a priority in Japanese houses. The shoji screens and fusuma doors can be reinforced with thicker paper or fabric to provide more privacy.

Modern Japanese Houses

While traditional Japanese houses are still being built today, modern Japanese houses have also emerged. These houses often combine traditional elements with modern technology and design.


Japanese houses made of paper may seem unusual to outsiders, but they offer several benefits, including flexibility, adaptability, and earthquake resistance. They also provide a warm and inviting atmosphere due to the use of natural light. With its minimalist design and focus on function over form, traditional Japanese house design continues to inspire architects around the world.

Why are houses in Japan made of wood and paper?

Professor Nobuaki Furuya, from Waseda University’s Faculty of Science and Engineering, explains that traditional Japanese houses are constructed with wood due to the abundance of forests in the country and wood being a familiar building material.

Why do Japanese use paper for walls?

Shoji screens function as effective room dividers or paper walls, providing privacy without completely blocking out light and sound due to their thin and lightweight construction. They are more durable than curtains and less intrusive than solid walls or doors. Additionally, if a shoji screen is damaged, it is easy and affordable to replace.

How do Japanese homes stay warm with paper walls?

The blanket helps retain heat, allowing families to sit comfortably on the floor or a pillow with their legs under it and remain warm even when there are winds blowing through the living room. In the past, people relied on indoor hearths called irori or heated themselves with hibachis to stay warm.

Why do Japanese still use paper?

Japan has a multitude of enduring traditions and cultures, many of which involve the use of paper or washi, a type of paper made from scratch. In the past, washi was utilized in all aspects of Japanese life, but today, the practice of handmaking paper is less common.

Why do houses in Japan only last 30 years?

Japan has a short lifespan for its houses due to natural reasons, such as the constant threat of earthquakes and tsunamis. To mitigate this risk, Japan has adopted a culture of building homes quickly and cheaply using wood as a primary material.

Why is a Japanese house not built of stone or brick?

Wood is a building material that offers both strength and a cushioning effect because of its flexibility and elasticity, making it superior to bricks, stone, and cement. Additionally, wood is a cost-effective and widely available material that is easy to construct with, making it a popular choice for building houses.

In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in traditional Japanese house design, both in Japan and around the world. Many architects and designers are fascinated by the simplicity and elegance of these houses, as well as their emphasis on sustainability and harmony with nature.

One of the most interesting aspects of Japanese house design is the way it integrates indoor and outdoor spaces. Traditional houses often feature gardens, courtyards, and other outdoor areas that are seamlessly connected to the interior living spaces. This creates a sense of openness and flow that is uncommon in Western architecture.

Another important feature of Japanese house design is the use of natural materials. In addition to paper, traditional Japanese houses are often made of wood, bamboo, stone, and other natural materials. These materials are chosen for their beauty, durability, and sustainability.

In many ways, traditional Japanese house design embodies the principles of wabi-sabi, a Japanese aesthetic philosophy that emphasizes simplicity, imperfection, and impermanence. Wabi-sabi celebrates the beauty of things that are humble, natural, and unpretentious, and encourages us to appreciate the fleeting moments of life.

Whether you are building a new home or simply looking for design inspiration, traditional Japanese house design offers many valuable lessons. By embracing simplicity, sustainability, and harmony with nature, we can create homes that are both beautiful and functional.

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