You walk into a house, above the door is a Ba-Qua mirror. There is a Zen sand garden in one of the corners, a bamboo plant in another, and a painted yin yang hangs on the wall. Paper lanterns hang down from the ceiling. A fat Buddha, becomes you into the room, and immediately you are whisked away to Japan…SCREEEE!!! WRONG!
The entire description above contains a list of things I have never seen in a Japanese home, but are found frequently labeled as Japanese back home. There is a great misconception of what Japanese living is. Japanese and Chinese décor have become synonymous, and there is a huge misconception as to the everyday influence of Buddhism in Japan.
A normal Japanese home in Japan looks like a constant game of Will-It-Fit. Houses are not usually as big as they are in the United States, and dedicated storage space is not very common. Most homes have a certain eclectic feel to them here. They do not have the option to tuck things away like we do in the US.
Well decorated homes usually feature very empty rooms. Classic Japanese décor usually means tatami mat flooring. Tatami is made from woven rice straw, and is fairly squishy. Furniture will leave dents in tatami mats (like carpet) and so often Tatami rooms have no furniture in them. Tatami grow mold easily, so it is essential for a tatami room to have great ventilation, this usually means that the room has shoji. If the walls are not made from shoji, they will most likely be wall papered, usually with a decorative paper. When you see one of these rooms they always look very beautiful, the problem is that there are no elements to duplicate in your own home.
There is a general misconception that Zen is a prevalent concept in Japan, and it is a highly influential concept in everyday life. In reality, Zen is about as prevalent here as it is back home.
Now I really like those sand gardens, and I really like bamboo, I will probably have them both in my home when I am an adult, I will not however associate them with Japan.
Photo by Kyotowa via Flickr Creative Commons