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Japan: Micro-Homes in the Big City

Houses designed to fit on postage-stamp-sized plots offer Japanese an affordable way to live in bustling, crowded, and hugely expensive downtown areas

Small has always been beautiful in Japan, whether you think of the mini-component audio systems the country pioneered in the 1970s, its cultural love affair with miniaturized potted plants known as bonsai, or the current rage for small-engine mini-cars. Now you can add to the list the current home-design craze: ultra-compact micro-homes on plots so small they could fit into the garage space of your typical, sprawling McMansion in the U.S.

Living small is in, especially among younger Japanese with modest budgets who no longer want to cope with the grueling commutes by train from far-off suburbs outside Tokyo as their parents did. Demand for ultra-compact homes, known as kyo-sho-jutaku in Japanese, is likely a small portion right now of the $1.2 billion Japanese currently spend on homes designed by architects.