Traditional Japanese house:
Model-building project for oral assessment

With a partner, you will be asked to build a shoebox model of a Japanese house or apartment that incorporates the traditional design elements you have studied in this unit. The purpose of building the model is two-fold:

  1. The first purpose is for you to show off your newly-gained understanding of traditional Japanese house design features.
  2. The second purpose is so that you can use the models (yours and your classmates') in an impromptu (unscripted) end-of-unit oral assessment in which you and your partner will pretend to be college roommates looking for a place to rent and live in Tokyo. You must use 3 models (you won't know which 3 until the assessment day) to "visit" and together debate the pros and cons of each place (cost, distance from school and train station, size, newness, etc). Then, you will eliminate 1 of the 3 houses/apartments supported by good reasons, and continue to discuss the pros and cons of the 2 remaining places. Finally, you will make your final choice while you continue to verbally express to each other the reasons for your choice.

Your house/apartment model must have some traditional Japanese-style rooms. In other words, the entire house may be traditional style, or it may be a modern mixture of Western-style and traditional Japanese rooms (this type of mixture is very common in Japan today). Overall, the house/apartment must be livable which means that it includes an entrance, kitchen, bathing room, toilet, sleeping/living space, and windows.

Below are photographs of previous years' students' models. BE CAREFUL and note that they are ONLY EXAMPLES--they are NOT necessarily 100% culturally accurate or perfect!

Then, scroll further down to see specific project requirements.


student model 1

This group built a two-story house from 2 tissue boxes. Note the staircase (lower center). The oshiire contains futon bedding.


student model 2

This group did a good job showing shoji for outside walls, and fusuma for inside walls and closet doors. Note their built-in tokonoma as well.


student model 3

This student cleverly added photos from furniture magazines to make his room look more realistic.


student model 4

This house has a good genkan with street shoes shown on the lower level, and slippers shown on the upper level. There's even a cabinet for shoes (yellow) next to the door.

As for specifically traditional design elements, your model must include:

Your model must also be built approximately to scale. This is extremely important. Everyone's house must be the same scale so that you can compare/contrast the various houses using the language patterns learned in this unit. Use the tatami floor mat xeroxes given to you in class. Remember that a tatami mat length equals one adult's height, so that approximately 2 inches = 5 feet. Please don't shrink or enlarge the xeroxed tatami on the copier.

Design features of a traditional Japanese house

tokonoma: decorative alcove | genkan: entryway | shoji and fusuma: paper wall panels | butsudan: Buddhist altar | kamidana: Shinto altar | ofuro-ba: bathing room | oshi-ire: closets

Other links

test yourself | model-building project | traditional Japanese house HOME PAGE