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Visiting Japan's housing "parks." (Tokyo Housing Fair)

Visiting Japan's housing "parks'

Few travelers are fortunate enough to be invited into a Japanese home; the Japanese customarily entertain friends in restaurants or other public places. But now tourists in Japan can sample contemporary house design by visiting one of the many model-home parks scattered throughout the country.

The parks are showcases for the burgeoning manufactured housing industry. They consist of 6 to 20 furnished and landscaped model homes, open daily, each designed by a different company.

Aimed at middle- and upper-income buyers, the houses cost $50,000 to $125,000 and up, excluding land costs (which can be astronomical--small urban lots can cost three to four times as much as the house). They aren't widespread, but in some areas they're slowly replacing older, smaller homes built after World War II.

In the last few years, model-home parks have been developed in all of Japan's major cities. Tokyo alone has more than 250 such parks. In whatever city you find yourself, ask at the hotel desk for directions to the nearest one--it may be just a short walk or quick taxi ride away. You're welcome to stroll through, poking and peering into every corner; we looked closely at a handful in a couple of hours.

Western influences and Eastern traditions under one roof

The new designs depart greatly from the carefully crafted, single-story, engawa-wrapped dwelling that Westerners often visualize as the typical Japanese house. Instead, they're often prebuilt of wood or concrete panels; they may even be made of prefab rooms shipped to the site and hoisted into place by cranes. The manufacturer does the shipping, building, and sometimes the financing.

From the outside, some look like houses common in Western suburbs. Because land is so precious, the houses are two stories tall, providing 1,500 or more square feet of floor space.

Inside, the visitor pauses in a spacious entry hall to remove shoes, place them neatly in a cabinet, and step into slippers. Stairs rise directly ahead to bedrooms.

Living and dining rooms are often combined and adjoin the kitchen, as they do here. By our standards, the kitchens are compact, with small but energy-efficient appliances. Common to nearly every kitchen, a "food safe' in the floor in front of the sink holds a supply of canned and bottled goods.

In the fully tiled family bath, usually near the kitchen, the porcelain tub is square and deep instead of long and shallow. A faucet, hand-held shower hose, and a low stool are convenient for soaping and rinsing before getting into the tub. A toilet occupies its own small room. Wash basins and mirrors may share another space with laundry equipment.

Although much about these contemporary Japanese homes is familiar to Westerners, each retains as its traditional heart a precisely arranged tatami-matted room. It may be furnished with a low table in the center, surrounded by floor cushions. Shoji screens, wood ceiling beams, and the tokonoma (display alcove) with fresh flowers make this the most peaceful room of all. Traditionally the family slept here on futons, but today the room more commonly serves as a ceremonial center for the family.

Photo: Bilingual sign locates 19 model homes in this park in Tokyo and identifies their manufacturers

Photo: Each house is by a different builder; high cost of land dictates two-story design
COPYRIGHT 1986 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Dec 1, 1986
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