Guide to Japanese Apartments: Floor Plans, Photos, and Kanji Keywords

Essential tips, photos, and keywords for understanding a Japanese apartment floor plan.

In this guide we explain the key words and kanji that you will come across when looking at apartment floor plans, with photos and tips for understanding the distinctive features of Japanese apartments.

Let’s start with a typical layout for a 3DK, which is an apartment with a dining room (D), kitchen (K), and 3 other multi-purpose rooms. You can use one of the three rooms as a living room and two as bedrooms, or one as a living room, one as a bedroom and one as a home office.  It’s up to you!

Many floor plans do not actually designate rooms as bedrooms, but sometimes you’ll see 寝室 (shinshitsu), which means bedroom.

The apartment in the example below is about 63 square meters (about 678 square feet) and would usually be occupied by a family with one or two children.

Keep in mind that floor plans are usually not drawn to exact scale and can only give you an approximate idea of what an apartment looks like.

In the floor plan at the top of the article, there are two Japanese-style rooms. Each one is “six mats,” which you can see by counting up the six rectangles in each room. (The smaller, narrower rectangle in the Japanese-style room at the top of the floor plan indicates a small alcove, not a tatami mat).

Traditionally in homes, washitsu were used as formal reception rooms for guests, but they are quite versatile. A Japanese-style room can be a living room, dining room and/or bedroom. You can furnish a washitsu simply with a low, folding table which becomes both your living room and dining room table. Fold up the table at night and spread out a futon to turn the space into your bedroom.

You can also spread a rug on top of tatami and use it as a Western-style room.

Tatami

Japanese-style rooms have flooring made of tatami mats, which are mats made from dried, woven rush reeds covering a hard compact straw core. Tatami has a smooth surface and is both springy and firm.

The counter for tatami mats. When this kanji is preceeded by a number, it is read jou. You may also see the kanji 帖 (jou), which is a counter for Japanese paper and nori (seaweed), but this kanji is used to designate the tatami size in Western-style rooms. Scroll to the bottom of the article for an example a floor plan that indicates the size of a Western-style room in 帖.

The kanji  畳 is also read “tatami.” In the floor plan above, each of the Japanese-style rooms would be considered a “roku jou no heya” (roku = six, jou = mat, heya = room).

The size of a tatami mat varies slightly by the region of Japan, but a standard tatami mat is about 1.8 meters by 0.9 meters, or about 5.9 feet by 3.0 feet. In Tokyo, they are a little smaller, about 1.76 meters by 0.88 meters.

The size of a Japanese-style room is measured by the number of tatami mats:

  • Four mat room = 6.12 sqm = 66 square feet
  • Six mat room = 9.18 sqm = 98.8 square feet

Most Japanese-style rooms in modern apartments are four or six mats in size.

Another thing to note is that Japanese-style rooms have sliding doors, rather than hinged doors. In floor plans, this is usually indicated by three closely-spaced lines (circled in red in the image here) [ … ]

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