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Tiny House designs abound in central Japan village as young people's lifestyles change

The Tiny House that won the grand prize in the first Tiny House competition, constructed as a village-run dwelling, is seen in the Yamanashi Prefecture village of Kosuge in this photo taken on Oct. 2, 2020. (Mainichi/Satoru Yamamoto)

KOFU -- Interest in affordable "Tiny Houses" that have just enough space for a couple or a family of three has been increasing in Japan, with entries to a Tiny House design competition in a central Japan village increasing by seven times over the past three years.

    Tiny Houses are defined as small dwellings, typically with a floor space of 20 to 30 square meters, which can be built for around 5 million yen (close to $48,000). Since they do not use a lot of building materials and it doesn't take long to construct them, the construction cost is cheap. If the occupants run out of space, there is always the option of building an additional unit.

    The interest in Tiny Houses appears to have been fueled by a change in attitudes toward home ownership in the country, particularly among the younger generation, with young couples who do not have many children and single people seeking a minimalist lifestyle keen on them.

    In 2017, a Tiny House design competition was launched by the Yamanashi Prefecture village of Kosuge in conjunction with a local architectural design firm and other parties. The idea was to increase the number of the small wooden houses in the village and use them as an opportunity to attract young people from urban areas, while increasing use of resources from the village's planted forest. Of 28 village-operated homes constructed in the prefecture, eight are Tiny Houses.

    Apart from actual home designs, the contest also lets people submit only floor plans and conceptual sketches, along with explanations on the intentions of the designs and the thoughts infused into them, so that even those not involved in architecture can apply.

    In 2017, there were 49 entries, but the figure rose to 265 by the third contest in 2019, and there were 336 entries this year, which arrived from across Japan, from the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido to Kagoshima Prefecture in the southwest. A total of 55% of the applicants were university undergraduate or graduate students studying architecture, 35% were architects and other such professionals, and 10% were applicants other than these.

    This year no entries were awarded the 300,000 yen (about $2,900) grand prize, but four entries received a 50,000 yen (about $480) award for excellence, while two others won special prizes, also worth 50,000 yen. Attracting particular attention among the designs this year was the "self-sufficient studio" that won the mayor's award, one of the special prizes. The design featured a small house surrounded by trees that would allow people to be self-sufficient in their electricity and water needs, via a combination of solar panels and storage batteries, and filtered rainwater. The design is seen as a step forward in the battle against global warming.

    As for the reason the number of entries has been increasing, 73-year-old architect Takao Wada, the contest's secretariat head, commented, "Due to the falling birth rate, people no longer need big houses, and with the population falling, both urban and regional areas are seeing homes being left empty." He added, "Rather than devoting their lives to repaying expensive home loans, I guess there are more people seeking free time that does not leave them tied up financially."

    (Japanese original by Satoru Yamamoto, Kofu Bureau)

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