Rooted in the principles of Zen philosophy and nature appreciation, Japanese interior design centers around the creation of tranquil, functional, and harmonious living spaces that celebrate simplicity while maintaining a perfect balance with one’s environment. Modern Japanese interior design is sleek, elegant, and calming, which is why more people outside of Japan are choosing to incorporate elements of it into their homes. This article will introduce some of the basic principles of Japanese design while providing some tips and product recommendations to make your space more harmonious.
The Japanese wabi-sabi aesthetic
One of the influences of Japanese interior design is wabi-sabi, seeking perfection in the imperfect. Wabi-sabi is the traditional Japanese aesthetic of appreciating and accepting that in life, not all things are perfect, and that's what makes this world so beautiful. Nature, for example, is not perfect. Take the iconic symbol of Japan, Mount Fuji. Magnificent as it might be, amongst the snowy white peaks there are still patches of dirt, some trees without leaves, and in some areas, an overall sense of ruggedness that reminds us of the mountain's enduring journey through time. These imperfections are not flaws, but inherent features of the mountain and wabi-sabi encourages us to let go of the pursuit of flawless perfection and instead, to find solace and wonder in the unique stories that these imperfections tell.
Traditional Japanese Elements in Modern Interior Design
Even Today, wabi-sabi continues to have a lasting impact on the Japanese home, embodying the essence of simplicity, harmony, and nature, while still finding beauty in the imperfections.
One way to invite the Japanese aesthetic into your home would be with a tatami mat. Tatami mats, such as the ones by IKEHIKO, are a form of traditional Japanese flooring, and are meticulously woven from natural "igusa" rush, just as they have been for centuries. In addition to the natural tone that tatami mats set for the home, they also carry the added bonus of regulating the humidity in the air, and give of a pleasant aroma that has been shown scientifically to help people relax.
In Japanese homes, sliding shoji screens, crafted from washi and wooden frames, allow the interplay of light and shadow to paint ever-changing scenes within a living space. The natural companion for a shoji screen is a fusuma, a large rectangular sliding door that acts as a room divider or even the door. Unlike shoji, fusuma are opaque and cannot be seen through, which is why they are good for channeling energy and redefining the space.
Today, especially overseas, most modern houses unfortunately do not feature shoji screens or fusuma, which is why a lattice work folding screen, such as this one handcrafted by Ominato Bunkichi Shoten, make a splendid alternative to both. Made from a soft, yet durable cedar sourced from Akita, these four-paneled room dividers invite the atmosphere of the forest into a room and channel the radiance of natural sunlight throughout one's home like shoji. In comparison, the sturdy wooden structure breaks up, and redefines the space within the room, much like a fusuma, and can even break up direct heat or air conditioning and help it spread more evenly around the room.
Tips when following a modern Japanese interior design theme
One big tip that will transform your own home with a modern Japanese interior theme is to focus on natural, neutral colors and use warm lighting. One such item that embodies the elegance and wabi-sabi spirit of Japanese interior design is a traditional kumiko lantern, such as this one crafted by Ominato Bunkichi Shoten. Kumiko lanterns bring a playful element of romance into the home at night, but yet tease simplicity during the day. The lanterns are hand-assembled without using even a single nail, and provide indirect lighting, perfect for a hallway or the entrance to a room.
While modern Japanese interior design relies heavily on natural materials like wood and neutral colors, that doesn't mean that you can't liven things up with a little flair! This small kumiko shelf from YAMADA MOKKOUSYO features vibrant splashes of color to contrast with the natural wood, and can brighten up even the dullest of spaces.
Another tip is to keep things simple. Items such as a lattice work umbrella stand work Japanese aesthetic into even the simplest details of daily life and don’t overpower the space they enhance. While an umbrella stan may be a small household change, it is one of the first things you see when you get home after a long day. Being immediately greeted by the wabi-sabi energy of artisanally crafted wood, carefully interwoven to create the lattice pattern, can have a calming effect on one's state of mind. This is a quintessential example of how Japanese aesthetics extend beyond the grand and into the mundane, infusing each moment with a touch of mindful artistry
You'll also commonly see the nature outside brought into a Japanese interior design by way of a seasonal flower or plant display. If you've ever stayed at a traditional Japanese ryokan, you surely noticed one or more flower displays near the entrance or down a hallway somewhere in the building. These displays are a very powerful yet elegant way to breathe a sense of Japanese aesthetic into a space, so we recommend getting one or more vases to match with the season. These simple yet unique wooden vases by Yamada Mokkousyo do a great job of adding a classy touch to a simple flower display without distracting from the beauty of the plants themselves. In contrast, this Owari Cloisonne vase is enough of a seasonal art piece in and of itself that it could be displayed without any flowers at all.
Modern Japanese Interior Design Starts with the Details
The home is where you go after a long day at the office. It’s where you sleep, it’s where you enjoy your meals, and above all, it is where you rest. From the moment you walk through your front door, peace should overcome you like a wave. If seeking a Japanese interior design aesthetic, it's not just about looks, it's also about the feeling. Ideally, a space will embrace all five of the senses which is why an item like the Matcha Incense Starter Set from Kyoto's Incense Kitchen can perfectly set the tone for your wabi-sabi home. Made from the green tea of Uji, the wafting scent of matcha will fill your home, reminding you that interior design isn’t just the furniture in your house and the decorations on your wall, but the overall scene of atmosphere in your home.
Enjoy life more in a space with a Japanese interior design aesthetic
Life is hectic. And our home will always reflect some level of that. However, in the world of interior design, Japan offers more than just aesthetics; it offers a profound philosophy that manifests a way of life with its celebration of imperfections and transience. Modern Japanese interior design teaches us to find beauty in the raw, the unadorned, and the authentic. We learn that home decor is more than just aesthetics; it's a language that speaks to our souls, urging us to slow down, to appreciate the beauty of the moment, and to embrace the art of living fully.