Design

A House in the Japanese Countryside

A House in the Japanese Countryside

Seven years ago, photographer Yoko Inoue moved from Brooklyn to the Japanese countryside with her husband, Daniel, and son, Motoki. They expected to stay for only a year or two, but ended up building their “dream home” 10 minutes from her parents. They now have another son, Keito, and two golden retrievers, Sunny and Boomer. Here’s a look inside…

A House in Japanese Countryside

A House in Japanese Countryside

How did you approach building your dream home?
My vision was pretty clear. I had gotten so much inspiration from a book I photographed while living in Brooklyn years ago — Brooklyn Modern. During that project, I was lucky to see so many amazing houses and learn about architecture and interiors. Although I couldn’t afford to own a beautiful house in New York City, it was possible in Japan. It took a lot of effort since our taste is so different from typical Japanese, but it was worth it!

LIVING ROOM

A House in Japanese Countryside

A House in Japanese Countryside

Pendant light: vintage. Bar stools: vintage. Dining chairs: vintage. High chair: IKEA. Dining table: DWR. Floor cushions: homemade. Armchair: IKEA. Ottoman: IKEA.

How does your taste compare to the typical Japanese aesthetic?
Our house is VERY different from other houses around here. When it was under construction, the neighbors didn’t even realize it was going to be a house! The outside is all black, but the inside is all white. Our ceilings are much higher than most Japanese ceilings, and our steps follow the American standard size rather than the Japanese. My American husband always complained that Japanese stairs were too low.

What was the design process like?
Our architect designed a simple layout. From there, we chose the size and placement of the windows, the light switches, the door knobs… Each small detail was important to the overall cohesive design. We chose a grey oak flooring for the downstairs and a white stained oak for the second floor.

A House in Japanese Countryside

Sofa: Dellarobbia. Star pillow: Petit Pan. Wall sconce: Pure Deco. Sconce bulb: Plumen.

Do you go out on the pond?
It was originally a reservoir for the rice fields, but now nobody uses it. When we first moved in, we thought we might be able to play in the water, but there are leeches! Yuck. There aren’t any fish, but there are huge bullfrogs that are super noisy in the spring and summer. A lot of ducks and herons visit. It’s a peaceful and interesting view for us; we enjoy BBQs on the deck.

A House in Japanese Countryside

Tea pot: Tsukiusagishirushi.

How do you like having a wood-burning stove?
We were surprised and excited when our architect suggested we put in a wood stove as we didn’t think it was possible in Japan. Since my husband grew up in Vermont, he was very familiar with the advantages and challenges of wood stoves as many Vermonters have them, along with a big stack of firewood. We wanted a modern-looking and clean-burning stove and chose one from the Danish company Scan. Okayama winters aren’t very cold, but the stove is so nice that we keep it going from December to March.

A House in Japanese Countryside

Chair: vintage. Art: Ben Leenen for Elephant Press.

Do your kids work at the sweet desk in the living room?
My nine-year-old son, Motoki, does his homework at this desk. He gets one page of Japanese and one page of math a day. It takes him about 30 minutes.

KITCHEN

A House in Japanese Countryside

Wooden mug: Takahashi Kougei.

What traditions do you enjoy?
We mix both Japanese and American traditions. We do Thanksgiving, Christmas and have American BBQs, but we also celebrate Japanese New Year and other cultural events. I always cook a mix of different foods — Japanese, American, Italian, Mexican. For breakfast, we usually have coffee and toast and sometimes pancakes and sausage, but Motoki likes to have rice, miso soup and grilled fish for breakfast sometimes, too.

A House in Japanese Countryside

Your lunch with your friends looks like so much fun!
One of my goals for this house was to have a place where friends could relax. Because the typical Japanese house is very small, people around don’t host a lot of parties. But I love inviting friends over! After moving here, it took about four or five years to make friends. But finally I have a nice group of friends that I see regularly, and I host lunches almost every month.

A House in Japanese Countryside

Pendant lights: vintage. Sailing kite: Haptic Lab.

Would you ever share that cake recipe?
It’s just a carrot cake, but my Japanese friends had never tried carrot cake before! I added coconut flakes and raisins soaked in rum.

MASTER BEDROOM

A House in Japanese Countryside

A House in Japanese Countryside

Bed: IKEA. Headboard: wall decal, similar. Bedding: Matteo.

Your bedroom has such a calm vibe.
I wanted the room to be very peaceful and quiet. I usually take a bath before bed, which is a Japanese tradition, so one’s body is clean and relaxed.

MASTER BATHROOM

A House in Japanese Countryside

Tiles: Heath Ceramics.

I LOVE the tiles in your bathroom? How did you decide on the pattern?
We originally planned to stay in Japan for only a year, so we put everything into storage. After we decided to stay long-term, we had to go back to the U.S. and rent a shipping container to move our furniture here. Then we came up with the idea of going on a big shopping trip to find items that we’d always dreamed about having but would never be able to find in Japan. One of the biggest purchases we made was from Heath Ceramics. We both loved their tiles so much, so we planned our flight to New York so we had a layover in San Francisco and had just a few hours to go to Heath’s showroom in Sausalito. There, we selected several hundred square feet of tiles for our bathroom. To keep within our budget, we chose from their overstock and seconds inventory. We needed a lot of tiles, so we had to mix and match colors to have enough. Luckily, the tiles made it to Japan unscathed. I spent so much time planning the layout of the bathroom, and my husband spent a month doing the tile work, but it was totally worth it.

PHOTO STUDIO

A House in Japanese Countryside

A House in Japanese Countryside

A House in Japanese Countryside

Desk: vintage. Rocking chair: Eames. Black cupboards: custom.

Where do you shop for furniture and other household items?
We brought many items from our old loft in Brooklyn — like our sofa, chairs and toys. We also bought a lot of stuff at IKEA in the U.S. (Japanese IKEA items all seem to come in smaller sizes). My mother has an antique shop and she goes to Europe to buy antiques once a year, so I joined her on a buying trip to find some items, like light fixtures, a firewood bin, etc. Those things really made the house unique and gave it both vintage and modern touches.

Are there any Japanese brands you love?
Muji makes excellent simple items for the home. Now that I have dogs, I’m loving my robot vacuum! I also really like the handmade items from Oji & Design.

KIDS’ BEDROOM

A House in Japanese Countryside

Bunk beds: custom. Fish mobile: Flensted.

How long have your boys been sharing a room? (I love the little window on the top bunk!)
Many Japanese families sleep on futons on the floor. The whole family will share the same room and put away the bedding every morning. We actually slept this way for a few years when we were renting a house. But we missed having beds and mattresses. Now the boys share a room — although since we got the dogs, our older son has been sleeping with them!

A House in Japanese Countryside

Dresser: similar.

What are the boys into these days?
Motoki is really into Kendo martial arts. He is very good at it and practices all the time. This year he placed second at a big tournament of fourth graders. He is also into go-karting and takes lessons once a week. Little Keito loves food and playing with toy cars and trains. He has so many Tamiya mini race cars and Tomica diecast cars — he always brings them into the bath!

A House in Japanese Countryside

Pendant light: Muuto.

What do you guys do on a typical weekend?
Most weekends we either have go-kart practice or a Kendo tournament. If we have a free day, we might visit a hot spring, go shopping or explore small towns. In the winter my husband might take the kids snowboarding. Often, though, we just relax at home.

KIDS’ BATHROOM

A House in Japanese Countryside

A House in Japanese Countryside

Wallpaper: Graham & Brown. Toilet paper holder: similar.

The upstairs bathroom wallpaper is so cool.
The kids draw on it — we should add more photos, too! My husband’s father gave us the toilet paper holder that he made from a tree branch in Vermont.

ENTRANCE

A House in the Japanese Countryside

A House in the Japanese Countryside

What is the story behind the handle of the front door?
My mother blows glass as a hobby. She makes beautiful pieces that she just gives away to her friends. I think she should show more to the world, so I’m planning to take photographs of her work and put them on my website. The front door handle is a design that I asked her glass-blowing teacher to make for us.

You have such a beautiful family and home. What’s it like raising your family in the Japanese countryside?
When we were shown this plot of land, we know it would be perfect since it’s on the edge of a pond and near a mountain, but also walking distance from a train station. Sometimes I miss the excitement and energy of New York, and of course friends, but now our focus is on raising our children so Japan is ideal. Our kids have the opportunity to be bilingual and bicultural. And it’s so calm and safe. I like to be able to let my older child ride his bicycle without my watching and the neighbors will always look out for him.

A House in the Japanese Countryside

Thank you so much, Yoko! And, if you’d like to hear more, Yoko shares 10 surprising things about parenting in Japan.

P.S. More home tours, including a colorful home in Utah and a New Hampshire cabin.

(Photos by Yoko Inoue for Cup of Jo.)

  1. Jessica says...

    Yoko, can you tell us more about the boys’ bunkbeds? Did you design them and have your contractor build them? My little ones share a rather small room in San Francisco, and no bunk beds I can find commercially really utilize our space very well. I would love to do something custom but do not know where to begin! I love what I can see of yours in the pictures.

  2. What a cool house! I absolutely love Japan and can understand why you ultimately chose to move there. Thanks for sharing your tour!

  3. A. says...

    It’s interesting — and ironic — to see such a contemporary, American-style home in rural Japan. My family lived nearby on Shikoku on two separate occasions, and how I would love to bring a traditional Japanese-style home back to the States (where I’m from). Your home is lovely. But I find myself holding the opposite views here: The futon feels far more natural to sleep on than a raised, spring-wound bed; the compact Japanese home is more efficient for heating and living in than the open, high-ceilinged houses here in the States; the tatami gives an earthy scent and feels almost made for meditation when compared to hardwood floors or furry carpets; and the traditional deep tub sooths your body like no other shallow bath or shower can. One last thing, mosquitoes in that area are brutal, so keep covered up, and buy some good repellent at Zag Zag this summer…

  4. Robin says...

    What a beautiful home. I lived in Japan many years ago, about an hour outside Kyoto. I love the Japanese countryside so much. I’m grateful to have made a home closer to family but seeing this really makes me miss that life and wonder what it would be like to be there with my own boys.

  5. Tamara Rossi says...

    The penguin light! Must have! Please! (Beautiful house!)

  6. Leni says...

    Beautiful! The tile story sounds so stressful, but the result is stunning! When do we get to see your new place, Joana? I’m so curious :)

  7. Janet says...

    Yoko, could you tell us more about your master bedroom? The bed and the wall behind it feel so stark to me, too bare to be comfortable, but it seems like you find it very peaceful. Where do you set down your book at night?!

  8. Caitlin says...

    This, following the last post, has me wondering — how do you move from country to country, logistically? When I moved abroad, I didn’t even consider taking anything from home that I couldn’t pack or carry on the plane!

    • Anu says...

      You can ship things on a container ship – takes a long time but it will get there eventually. It’s not cheap exactly but it could be worth it you’ve built up a collection of stuff that you want to keep.

  9. Irena says...

    I noticed the “Le Sac” paper bag in the picture of the desk where her son does his homework…where is that bag from?! Great for paper recycling.

  10. I love this! I’m an architecture junkie and I also love hearing other people’s life stories so this post was just perfect for me!

    xx

    bombshell-to-be.blogspot.com

  11. What a beautiful home. I was surprised to hear her say that it took 4-5 YEARS to make friends! Makes me feel a bit better about my slow progress here in Antigua :)

  12. This is so cool. I wish I had 100 lifetimes to live so I could live everywhere.

  13. This home is so beautiful! I love the simplicity.

  14. Loribeth says...

    This family makes my heart smile!

  15. j. says...

    what a beautiful and inspiring home! thank you for sharing!

  16. elle says...

    My favorite photo might be the last, with the younger child’s mismatched shoes :)

    • right!? and they appear to be on the wrong feet, so charming.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, i agree! he is so so cute :)

  17. Lauren E. says...

    This is basically the opposite of my own personal aesthetic, but I cannot stop gawking at it! The entire home is STUNNING. How they managed to keep it so clean and simple and streamlined but at the same time feel warm and homey is beyond me. Wow. One of my favorite home tours to date.

  18. Rachel says...

    What a lovely home for a lovely family. I’d love to know where they got the large standing picture frame in the boys room. Love it!

  19. Grace says...

    So amazing! I love everything about this house, especially the bathrooms!

    Those kiddos are so sweet. I’m also biracial and multicultural. I grew up in the States, but I often wonder how it would have been if I grew up in my mother’s country.

    Off topic, but when it comes to marriage and children, my kiddos will be completely multiracial and multicultural and while the “biggest” part of me LOVES that another part of me worries if I can equally preserve each layer that makes up their identities so that nothing is “lost,” especially language. It’s something I think about often.

    • Lorna says...

      I worry about that too. I also worry that if they are not connected to/grounded in all the facets of culture, religion and race that they are a part of that my kids might feel lost. Because they are so multicultural and multiracial my kids don’t fit neatly to any “box”.

  20. The kids bunk beds are amazing!
    What a lovely story/ house.

  21. Jane says...

    Great place! Who is the architect? She refers to them, but doesn’t name them explicitly. It would good to know and also give credit to their work!

  22. Laura says...

    Wonderful home. I am curious, where is that adorable poodle scooter toy that was in the living room from?

    • I found at Brooklyn Flea( flea market).

  23. those are the perfect golden retriever beds. i must know where to find them. please.

    • I made them from leftover fabric from when we had our sofa recovered.

  24. Amy says...

    The bathroom tiles- colour, design- just incredible!

  25. Maggie says...

    This house.

    My husband had me save all of these pictures to our “gut this crappy split level” folder, for someday when we turn our house into a home that functions for us. this house looks like it functions, beautifully!

  26. simple, natural and bright i love it!

  27. Cynthia says...

    I’ve fallen in love with the boys’ penguin lamp, as I am a penguin lover! The entire house has this crisp, fresh feel to it. We had a wood stove for many years, but when our wood man retired, and obtaining firewood became difficult, we replaced it with a propane parlor stove. We can see the flames, but I don’t have to tote wood, which is no fun when it snows or rains. I enjoy seeing how other families live and decorate their homes.

  28. I LOVE the whole deal around Yoko and Daniel’s Heath Ceramics trip. I am a bit of a lazy bones so knowing how much planning went into that bathroom floor wows me.
    We are fans of Heath and live here in the Bay area, and we always go to their overstock/seconds shop in Sausalito. We call it our Wabi/Sabi Heath collection

  29. Was wondering about the use of rugs in Japan. I feel like in most American homes there would be so many throw rugs in the space, but I didn’t see any here. Maybe I missed them? Even in the bathroom. Is the family just not into rugs or is that a cultural difference?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i asked the same question, lisa! :) here is yoko’s answer: “I sometimes think about getting rugs but i haven’t seen a rug I like and if do see one I like, it’s too expensive! I think the dogs would really like one, though.”

  30. Christine says...

    Loved this tour! I was an exchange student to Takamatsu when I was in high school, so this tour is extra special to me. What a beautiful part of the world! Your home is just gorgeous – peaceful, but still fun. I especially love your boys’ room and master bath. Thank you for sharing.

  31. Kaitlin says...

    Love how unique this home is! Favourite tour so far :)

  32. I wanna built my own house like this someday :)

  33. Juliet says...

    Gorgeous! Can you please tell me where the cool dream catcher in the boy’s room is from as well as the wallpaper in the bathroom? Thank you.

  34. Melissa says...

    I’m curious about noise in the great room/main living area. We have a large two story, great room (with a black wood burning stove and a two-story stove pipe just like yours! I love it!) Is the room loud or echo-y? We don’t have all our furniture in this new house yet, and we’re hoping our echoes will go away when we do, but I’m worried all the hard surfaces and the big, open area will never quiet down. Thank you.

  35. Katie says...

    I love the bathroom wallpaper, but otherwise this house feels sort of cold to me. The setting is beautiful, and the natural light is great, but the overall effect is not my jam.

  36. Mandy says...

    This makes me so happy! Your house is a dream house! About ten years ago, I taught English and lived in Kurashiki and Okayama City. I used to get off the train at Soja, rent a bike, and ride all around the beautiful countryside. I loved it so much and would love to go back. I have so many wonderful memories from there :) Thank you for sharing your home with me and for the lovely reminder!

    • Kate says...

      It floors me that there is a community of Cup of Jo readers who have a connection to Okayama! I also lived there, in a small town called Yakage. It was so restful and beautiful- my time there changed my life.

    • Mandy says...

      Holy moly, Kate!!! My dearest friends lived in Yakage! It’s a wonderful place!

  37. LOVE how open and spacious this home feels. And can we talk about ADORABLE this family is (those golden retrievers…OMG)?! I was born in Japan on a military base and lived there a total of 5 years (0-2 and 4-7), but as we lived and went to school on an American base (and I was so young), I didn’t get to actually explore the Japanese culture. Would love to go back some day. <3
    http://www.wonderlandsam.com

  38. Ally says...

    Curious about the age difference between the two boys? We’re thinking about having another one but there would be about 6 year gap between children. My son has the same Frames wallpaper in his bedroom :). Love the house!

    • Juliet says...

      Can you please tell me where the frames wallpaper is from? Such a great idea. Thank you!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes! the wallpaper is here: http://bit.ly/2lE10wl

      and her sweet boys are six years apart (they’re 9 and 3).

    • Sarah says...

      I have a brother 2 years below me and one 6 years younger – I do feel the one 6 years younger than me is ‘closer’ to me, we’re more similar etc. I do think we’re different in some generational ways, but I changed his nappies, and now, we’re not that far apart in life stuff (university, working etc) so it really doesn’t matter. As a 32 year old now, I’d have children 6 years apart, if only I’d blinking get started on a first!!

    • Fiona says...

      Just jumping in to say that I too worried about the age gap being too big (just over five years, in our case) — but it’s worked out so well for us. My daughter (older) loves her little brother to pieces and she was old enough to understand (and we made sure to emphasize ahead of time) that babies need a little more time and help at the beginning. And she helps out with him so much.

      I mean, if you’re not sure about a second child (we debated for quite a while), that’s fair. But an age gap like that isn’t necessarily a problem at all. Sometimes it’s just about the kids and how their personalities mesh, and that’s never a guarantee anyway.

    • 6 years apart is perfect for us. My older son can take care of little one, I don’t have to pick up two kids at the same time, we can’t afford to pay two private schools or two expensive after school programs etc. I am pretty sure it all will work out somehow;)

  39. claudette liao says...

    beautiful family with a beautiful house.
    we have 3 boys , now residing in higashi hiroshima, not too far from okayama.i used to live in vermont and new york too.
    seems like it would be nice to meet you =)

    • Wow! I would love to meet you and boys!!! Let’s plan to meet up please;)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that would be so nice! :)

  40. Love the wallpaper in the kids’ bathroom. And I’m a big fan of Muji also! I visited my first Muji when I spent a summer in London, and one recently opened up within walking distance of my house :)

  41. jilly girl says...

    Gorgeous home and so smart of her to throw regular lunches, both to share her lovely home with the neighbors and to make friends as a newcomer! Genius.

  42. Emily says...

    I am curious what the flooring is– love the color of and width of the wood!
    beautiful house!

  43. Abbey says...

    this is by far my favourite tour! stunning

  44. Jona says...

    This is my favorite house tour so far!

  45. Brianna says...

    That bathroom floor. Obsessed. I might be too Type A to have it in my home, but I love it with their home aesthetic.

  46. Rebecca says...

    Dream house times a million!