Better Than Air Conditioning: Japanese Homes

by Tim Fulton on June 8, 2009

Japanese air conditioning

For the last three weeks I have been hunkered down in Western Japan in a city called Kumamoto. It gets hot down here. Really really hot, some days, and it is still the spring.

However, the air conditioning has never been turned on. Why? The home was designed before air conditioning existed to keep people cool without it.

Here are a few of the more obvious ways in which this works:

  • The low roof and lack of attic space does not accumulate rising heat,
  • The roof overhang extends several feet beyond the exterior walls, giving lots of shade,
  • Bamboo bundles are cheap, easily purchased, and can be propped up to keep the sun off of the house,
  • The exterior walls completely open to airflow when you slide open the doors. Much better than a few windows for natural airflow,
  • Tatami floors always seem to feel cool.

Unlike most home in the U.S. these days, which are designed to seal up air-tight and keep everything out, the Japanese home is open and breezy. It probably doesn’t do a very good job with the air conditioning on, but it it isn’t even on then that doesn’t seem to matter as much.

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Japanese homes: Perfect to relieve you from the sweltering heat : Green Resouces
June 29, 2009 at 11:18 am


1 Doug Jessee June 28, 2009 at 9:40 pm

I think that this place gets a good or steady breeze or winds.

More land locked or less windy places would not fair well from these design, but where it does work, it should be used.

2 Copylight April 19, 2010 at 10:18 pm

I’ve lived in Japan for 4 years and disagree with most of this. For instance the building materials here in japan are quite simply not meant to last – built of shoddy materials and with workmanship not lasting past twenty years -meaning you have to rebuild all over again. I am sick to the back teeth of people writing about Japan but ignoring the obvious – especially the crappy, overpriced, corrupt housing sector.

Japan has an extremely high proportion of ‘off the shelf’ type house building companies specializing in clone-like industrialized construction. I dearly wish that this plethora of ‘House Makers’ would quietly self-combust and disappear, and of course they would if their seemingly inexhaustible supply of mediocrity focused clientele would just look up.

Just to go through some of your points here –

Every house I’ve lived in here have all had a waste of loft-space that wasn’t used, trapping the rising heat in winter time.

The roof overhang you laud, extending several feet beyond the exterior walls, giving lots of shade. Wow, shading – who would’ve thought of that eh!

”bamboo bundles” you mention are not cheap when you consider they barely last a year of intense winter cold and searing summer heat. The sudare pictured in the above photo would set you about 5,000 – 6,000 yen (50-60 USD).

Yes, tatamai feel cool, and are beautiful in the first year or so. They also harbor dust mites and other parasitic bugs as much as carpet does – problem is, you can’t fumigate the inside of a tatami like you can a shag pile, it must be destroyed and replaced with a new one every couple of years.

More here –

3 Roni August 2, 2010 at 7:49 pm

I would imagine security would be a problem in these open homes. Probably why we don’t have them in the US. Roni

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