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Most Japanese houses are 2 story and made from concrete and wood. However, because Japan is highly populated, there are now many apartments, high-rise housing and larger, private apartments. The average floor space of a Japanese home is 100 square metres although living in Tokyo is so expensive that apartments tend to be very tiny and very efficiently used.

House numbering, particularly in older areas is often erratic with houses being numbered according to the order in which they were built instead of being sequential. Blocks are named instead of streets so finding your way around can often be a real challenge. This is why most businesses include maps with their promotions. Some newer areas or big city centres have street names but on the whole they are rare.

Inside the house
The first part of the home that you walk into in Japan is the "genkan" or entrance area. This is where shoes are removed and it usually has little cupboards for shoes and a step that you need to go up to get into the house. Slippers are left at the top of the step for guests to use. The practice of removing your shoes began as a way to facilitate cleaning and to not damage tatami mats which were once the floor covering throughout the house. Although most modern houses only now have one room with tatami mats, the tradition continues as a way of separating the outside life from the inside life and also of being relaxed.

As the living area in Japan is usually small, many rooms have a dual or triple purpose. Large cupboards along the wall hide futon mattresses, blankets and pillows. Each evening, these are pulled out and made up into beds. In the morning, they are returned to the cupboards and the room can be used for study or dinner and so on. Futons are aired every day or so by being hung over balconies or window ledges and are often beaten with a specially shaped bamboo stick to get out the dust. This is very like the way we beat carpets.

Japanese houses of today tend to be more of a mix of Western and Japanese with tables and chairs just as common as low tables and cushions. Similarly, futons are as common as Western beds. The kitchen is a little different as it normally only has gas rings, a rice cooker, a fridge and a microwave because ovens are very uncommon.

Bathrooms consist of two parts, one which is similar to a Western bathroom with vanity and sink, and one where you wash and take a bath. You should always clean yourself BEFORE getting into the bath.

The smallest room in the house
Traditional Japanese toilets are ceramic oval-shaped bowls which you squat over and are still found in schools, department stores and older houses. While most modern houses now have a toilet that most of us would recognise, the features that it can incorporate are mind boggling. From heated seats to music which plays when you are in there to built-in bidets and automatic flushers. You can see them all! The only thing you have to remember is that, when you go into the toilet, you need to put on slippers that are provided. And, more importantly, you need to remember to take them off again afterwards!

Visiting a Japanese house can be a fascinating experience, particularly when looking at the combinations of old and new. I hope you get the chance to visit one!