S-Space Graduate School of International Studies (국제대학원) Institute for Japanese Studies(일본연구소) Seoul Journal of Japanese Studies (SJJS) Seoul Journal of Japanese Studies vol.5 no.1(2019)
Smallness in Japanese Houses: From Postwar to Post-postwar Architecture
- Cho, Hyunjung
- Issue Date
- Seoul Journal of Japanese Studies, Vol.5 No.1, pp. 1-22
- Interest in small houses has been one of the most striking features of Japanese architecture since the 1990s. Widely considered a uniquely Japanese phenomenon, small houses have proved to be a successful brand of contemporary Japanese architecture. Their radically small size, particularly when compared with houses in the West, affirms the image of small Japan, a stereotype mutually produced by Japan and the West. In this article, I interpret this smallness neither as essential to Japanese culture nor an optimal strategy, considering Japans limited urban spaces, but a strategically produced and reproduced discursive system. Japanese architects have never taken smallness for granted; they actively produce discourses of smallness in order to pursue the kind of architecture that might fulfill roles and identities at historical junctures in Japanese society. Comparing the early postwar trend toward minimal houses with the more recent small-house syndrome, I uncover the distinct characteristics of postwar and post-postwar Japanese architecture. Following the Asia- Pacific War, experimentation with small houses idealized an American-style, modern life distinct from outdated feudal customs. The 1990s saw a shift from postwar to postpostwar architectural theory and practice that triggered the production of diverse, ecological, and community-oriented small houses. Following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, architects reimagined the implications of smallness in a context of strengthened nationalism in a post-disaster society; rather than its physical size, smallness came to signify a superior and moral Japanese value for overcoming Westerncentric modernism. In other words, architects now emphasize smallness as a bulwark against the tide of globalization, preserving the identity of Japanese architecture, a form of leverage granting Japanese architecture international competitiveness, and a kind of wisdom Japan might offer the rest of humanity.