Unique Modern Architecture in Japan’s Larger Cities

In recent years, urban architectural architecture in Japan has taken a very unusual and fascinating turn and has become very popular in the country’s most heavily populated areas of living. Japan has produced some of the most fascinating new residential architecture in the world. Japan is a rapidly developing economy, with many cities expanding at some of the world’s fastest rates. With the city’s exponential growth, property prices are skyrocketing, and housing space is in short supply. Frearson (2014) defines formalized formalized formalized formalized formalized formalized formalized formalized The influx of very interesting and unique modern architecture in Japanese larger cities is the product of the small properties created by inheritance tax laws in the country as well as and the culture’s emphasis on modesty.

Through exposure of some very interesting Japanese residential architecture through images that I have seen looking for project inspiration for studio projects so, I decided to study a Japanese house when I took a class on the program Revit recently. After studying a single unique house, I am interested to know more about the reasons why such architecture is being constructed frequently in the area.

Japanese Modern Architecture has been influenced heavily by high inheritance taxes on property.

Inheritance tax rates in the country Japan is grounded on the residence position of its citizens. Recipients are subjected to inheritance tax income on a structure they get in case they are reside in Japan. Conversely, in case recipients are not domiciled in the country, they are still affected in case the property is located within Japan. However, a non-domiciled individual still stand a chance to be considered for inheritance tax if he/she poses Japanese citizenship or he/she has stayed in Japan for more than 5 years before he/she was deceased. To register, a tax rate of 0.4% on the properties appraised value is applied.

Japan has a progressive inheritance tax rate that requires up to 55 percent of the value of inheritance is paid in taxes (Global Property 2017).

Some areas of major Japanese cities are experiencing property value increases as high as 10 percent in the last three years (Japan Property Central 2017) . Some of the areas experiencing the most growth in property value have current average prices per square meter at 3’680’000 Yen which is more than 32’700 US Dollars. (Japan Property Central). The table below gives the overview of the inheritance tax rate for the period of the year 2014. The data are obtained from the global property guide website


TAX BASE, Japanese Yen , JPY (US$)


Up to 10 million (US$90,090)


10 million – 30 million (US$270,270)


30 million – 50 million (US$450,450)


50 million – 100million (US$900,901)


100 million – 300 million (US$2,702,703)


Over 300 million (US$2,702,703)


Common sense dictates that the combination of tremendous property values and high inheritance tax rates result in very large amounts of money are owed in the form of inheritance taxes on property inheritance in the major cities.

“Narrow homes have become increasingly popular in Japan,” There is so much pressure on land that there is more incentive to make interesting use of less conventional sites many of which will be long and thin”. (Frearson 2014).

The major reason for having narrow and more undesirable sites is because often times the value of inherited property is so high that the inheritors are forced to sell off portions of the property inherited to pay the incredible taxes that come along with it. This results into a narrow and strangely shaped lot in places where the land is still so desirable that interesting architecture is used to develop it. The source for division of property argument is under inheritance law. The main laws that are used in inheritance matters, more particularly inheritance by aliens, are outlined in the Act on Governing Law of formalities of Wills, Domestic relation Trial Act, Act on Rules on Application of Laws, codes of civil procedures and civil codes.

Japan currently has the highest tax rate of all developed countries in the world. (Aramaki Yoshihiro, 2015). This loosely applies to the amount of property that must be sold in order to keep any of an inheritance in Japan, because of how high land value can be as much as half of a property can sometimes need to be sold to pay the tax, resulting in strange and small parcels.

This is an example of that sort of strange parcel with a 6-foot wide house. (Jukatu)

Looking at OECD Data for development reveals that Japan is the top of almost all metrics indicating development. Japan leads Distribution of net ODA Grants by private agencies and NGO’s, Private Flows, and Total official and private flows, with the only development metric. Japan not topping being the Net ODA chart (OECD 2017). It is important to understand the rapid rate of Japan’s development in order to realize why the area can be as valuable as this argument claims it is.

Linking with previous argument “Japan is building homes more and more on smaller spaces using interesting architecture to make small parcels livable.”

The tenacious predisposition for home possessors in Japan to choose fundamental houses would recommend a thriving economy that has permitted families to spend on their home environment façade particularly as soon as Japan has the highest composition of architects per head in the universe. Nevertheless, young-mind, middle-class families without low income constructs quite a number of these peculiar houses. This disposition appears to manage the circumstance that Japan facades extraordinary amounts of housing opportunities with small demand to modernize old households. Moreover, Japan’s economy since 1980 has been on famous sluggish trend. This creates a perception that constructing of new houses and homes inadvisable.

Referring to these especially difficult to build sites Amy Frearson says that according to architect Jack Wooley “The narrowness is often what makes these sites so special, The most difficult issue is circulation” (Amy Frearson Dezeen). “Often functional layouts are created by removing corridors and using rooms in sequence” (Amy Dezeen). A key house in this narrow application is Tadao Ando’s Row House, it is just more than three meters wide (Dezeen).

Successful architects working in Japan’s special residential cases are looking at the narrowness not as a negative factor but as an opportunity for simplicity and modernist layouts. (Dezeen)

The photo of the six-foot wide house taken from “Jutaku” is a six-foot wide house designed by TUUA, Architects in Tokyo. According to Asad Syrkett who wrote about this house and the phenomenon of recent Japanese Architecture: The Japanese seem to be a secret race able to make narrow and awkward plots into surprisingly livable homes. (A. Syrkett 2015). Other houses of extremely narrow or awkward shapes from Jutaku.

Cultural factors are influencing the unique facades of modernist Japanese architecture.

Some elements of Japanese culture is known to be governing ideal sight lines between houses and windows in the fronts of facades that result in some expansive facades that make a statement through consistent materiality and a lack of transparency.

“Japanese Culture has the utmost respect for humility” (Makihara 2010)) This level of humility comes through in architecture where it is founded upon to create homes that invite neighbors and outsiders to view the resident and owner of some home inside. Thus, the simple material based facades that create a sense of anonymity and break from a key element to new modernist architecture.

According to Japanese culture, there is low need for old-aged homes. Unlike their counterparts in such Western countries such USA and England where older buildings like Victorian homes and brownstones have cherished for decades, due to their charm sentiment, and attractiveness for historical architecture; Japanese residence look more contented with leasing of old-aged houses. However, this luxury has a profound link with the country’s recurrent need to reconstruct its housing facility. During the time Hiroshima and Nagasaki cities were attacked by atomic bomb at the time of World War II, the cities were really cleared, and Japan had to move in speed to build homes and shelter facilities for the victims who survived. The highest number of homes and houses constructed after World War II was rather hurriedly built, with inexpensive construction resources and without following codes of practices. The occurrence of earthquakes and natural calamities has confronted the building of long lasting houses in the Japan too. The following house from Jutaku is the best example of architecture for the sake of humble-ness or humility.

It is important to note that this structure from Jutaku does not have any windows on its facade on any of its sides. That is for the sake of humble-ness and humility. With a structure such as this one, the owner does not want to be seen apparent with the association with what is his (Syrkett n.d.). Instead, this structure generates plenty of natural light through the inside with an internal courtyard to create natural light and remain humble on the outside. (Syrkett, Could You Live in This Intentionally Wall-Free House 2015).


In conclusion, it can be confirmed that indeed the above-mentioned facts are the main cause for the unique architecture design for the housings and homes. The main cause that thrives both the individuals who are within and those outside Japan is the inheritance tax, which cuts across all boards. Uniqueness and simplicity of the facades over the materials used to make the structure is actually governed by the humility. Last but not least, the influx of very interesting and unique modern architecture in Japan’s larger cities is the product of the small properties created by inheritance tax laws in the country as well as the culture’s emphasis on modesty.


Frearson, Amy . 2014. Skinny houses: “it’s amazing how important one inch of space becomes”. August 25. Accessed November 15, 2017. https://www.dezeen.com/2014/08/25/skinny-houses-japan-london-los-angeles-feature/.

Global Property, Guide. 2017. “Inheritance tax and law.” Global Property Guide. June 29. Accessed November 15, 2017. https://www.globalpropertyguide.com/Asia/japan/Inheritence.

Japan Property Central. 2017. “Japan’s residential land prices increase for first time in 9 years.” Japan Property Central. March 21. Accessed November 15, 2017. http://japanpropertycentral.com/2017/03/japans-residential-land-prices-increase-for-first-time-in-9-years/.

Makihara, Kumiko. 2010. “The Right Amount of Modesty.” New York Times. February 25. Accessed November 15, 2017. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/26/opinion/26ihtedmakihara.html.

OECD. 2017. “Japan OECD Data.” Japan OECD. https://data.oecd.org/japan.htm#profile-development.

Syrkett, Asad. 2015. Could You Live in This Intentionally Wall-Free House. May 28. https://www.curbed.com/2015/5/28/9955952/unfinished-house-yamazaki-kentaro-modern-home-Japan.

—. n.d. This Humble Japanese House Hides a Secret Leafy Courtyard. https://www.curbed.com/2015/6/26/9945872/japanese-secret-courtyard-house.

Syrkett, Asad. 2015. “This 6-Foot-Wide Japanese House is Actually Rather Luxe.” Cubed. July 14. Accessed November 15, 2017. https://www.curbed.com/2015/7/14/9940830/narrow-house-japan-yuua-architects.

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