If you listen to the architect Kengo Kuma, the craze for kyosho jutaku, that distinctly Japanese variant of the micro home, started in the thirteenth century, when the poet Kamo no Chomei penned an essay about the joys of living in a shack called An Account of My Hut. Contemporaneously speaking, though, micro homes became a thing in the 1990s, when rising real estate prices and a nagging recession spurred many young Tokyo residents to reconsider suburbia.
Since then, kyosho jutaku have exploded in popularity. Unlike more ubiquitous micro-apartments, micro houses are built for single families. Often, they're designed by younger architects, on unused, “leftover” land created from the collision of old and new in Tokyo proper—urban infill, in the truest sense of the term. It’s not atypical for a kyosho jutaku to be built on a lot slightly larger than a parking spot—or smaller, in the case of one thirtysomething—though most of the homes in this post fall on the larger end of the micro home spectrum.
There are tons of ways to explain kyosho jutaku, ranging from the socioeconomic (real estate prices and the recession), the pop-cultural (the craze for micro-everything) or the historical (Kamo no Chomei’s poem). Kuma, in a foreword to The Very Small Home: Japanese Ideas for Living Well in Limited Space, offers an explanation that verges on esoteric:
For me personally, as an architect, designing small homes suggests new directions in the relationship between people and the environment, and, on a wider scale, the future of the home. In many Western countries, nature and the manmade object are treated as opposing forces; nature is viewed as a harsh, overpowering entity to be fought... The small house is, in a sense, an experimental laboratory that permits us to pursue the creation of a complementary relationship with our surroundings.
One thing is certain, though. As a strategy for sustainable growth, kyosho jutaku make a whole lot of sense. Dozens of cities beyond Tokyo are trying to densify their cores without expanding on their peripheries—New York, for example, recently announced a plan to lease the parkland around public housing to developers. Small, energy-efficient single family homes could be just the thing for cities attempting to make the most out of every square inch of space.
It'll be interesting to see if the micro home craze catches on elsewhere. In the meantime, check out ten micro homes, all hailing from the past ten years, below.