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'Ninjas' and 'skeletons': Japan's eccentric homes find a niche

By Paula Newton, CNN
December 13, 2013 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Radical design is featuring more and more in Japan's residential landscape
  • It is a hit among the country's young generation
  • Many avant-garde structures are small middle-class homes
  • Having no worry about long-term investment gives Japanese home owners a lot of creative license

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(CNN) -- For a society that regards conformity as an important value, there are surprising number of Japanese who opt for homes that defy the cookie-cutter design.

Take for example, Tatsumi Terado and his wife Hanae who lives in a house with no interior walls, hardly any barriers and some ladders to get around. The young couple call their house the Ninja -- because they need to be as nimble as one to go from one room to another.

"We feel we're getting in better shape these days," says Hanae Terado, extolling the benefits of all the climbing around the house. "But we never fall."

Radical design is featuring more and more in Japan's residential landscape and is a hit among the country's young generation. It is as if the compact spaces the Japanese have to live in are pushing the architects, and their clients, to think out of the box and let their whimsical ideas take off.

Hanae Terado, left, and her husband Tatsumi, center, at their \
Hanae Terado, left, and her husband Tatsumi, center, at their "Ninja" home

Says Hanae Terado: "I don't know if this is a cutting edge, but this is a house where our thoughts and inspirations take place."

Avant-garde design in Japan largely caters to middle class couples or families building a small house, not the typical clientele of bold architectural ideas elsewhere in the world.

These average Japanese home owners can afford to take more risks because, unlike many of their counterparts in the West, they don't have to worry about long-term investment.

"Houses depreciate in value over 15 years after being built," says Tokyo-based architect Alastair Townsend, "and on average they are demolished after 25 or 30 years, so the owner of a house doesn't need to consider what a future buyer might want.

"It gives them a lot of creative license to design a home that's an expression of their own eccentricities or lifestyle."

This is a house where our thoughts and inspirations take place
Hanae Terado

Open a Japanese architecture magazine or browse the Internet, and there are many examples of eccentric homes across the country, from strange polygonal structures to houses with no windows.

While this conceptual Japanese architecture could be a bit impractical, these homes are becoming more like modern-art installations breathing new life into the country's cramped spaces.

Some of the more quirky homes are built next to plain-looking buildings. Architect Sou Fujimoto's "Skeleton House" stands out in an average Tokyo neighborhood.

The transparent building, which he built for a young couple, lacks in privacy but conjures a sense of open elegance. Calling the design "kind of a tree house," Fujimoto says, "We thought the whole house is like one big tree. You can jump onto one branch and the other branch to move around."

He also argues that the house fits Tokyo's character as one part of the cozy components that make up the city.

"I think it's a really, really nice collaboration because at the beginning, it was more simple, a bit more boring," he says. "Then it's getting more exciting."

Yenni Kwok contributed to this report

CNN's On the Road series often carries sponsorship originating from the countries we profile. However CNN retains full editorial control over all of its reports. Read the policy

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