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No basements in Japanese Homes

by Ewa Nowogorski

You probably wouldn’t have noticed if you didn’t pay attention to it. It’s a room that is often overlooked, and mainly used for storage purposes anyways, so it’s never really completely furnished or made with aesthetics in mind.

In American homes, it is very common to have a basement room, usually containing the house’s boiler, washing machines, or fuses. It’s usually cool, and can double as a storage room for both regular household items and canned or jarred goods.

However, in most Japanese homes, you will not find a basement. For a country that is so desperately in need of extra space, you’d think that one would utilize vertical space as much as possible, building even downwards. But this is definitely not the case.

There are so many reasons as to why this is, and with Japan’s already super strict building regulations, the reasons become clearer.

Firstly, it is precisely because that land is so scarce that there is no room to build underground. A lot of that space, especially in dense cities, is already taken up by water pipes, electrical wires, and subway lines to begin with, all of which have to be relatively close to the surface to be easily accessed.

Secondly, Japan is an earthquake-prone country. Hollowing out the space below a building makes it more costly and difficult to fortify, and it is much easier to become trapped underground in the case of a severe earthquake. The same logic flows for tsunamis and typhoons, which can bring catastrophic flooding. In Japan the water stored underground in the water table is already so close to the surface. It really is too dangerous to build down.

Humidity is another factor that many people don’t think about when home-building. When a house doesn’t have proper ventilation and enough natural light coming in, it is very easy for mold and dangerous bacteria to fester in an enclosed living space. This is already a problem with smaller, older homes that are surrounded by taller ones, blocking out air circulation and sunlight in crowded cities. These homes, even when not underground, can easily become susceptible to mold, which is later very difficult to get rid of. Having basements would only exacerbate this problem.

One last reason why most homes don’t have basements is that builders don’t expect their designs to last more than 30 years to begin with. Real estate doesn’t appreciate in value, so the added cost of digging and filling in a basement would make a home much more expensive and not economically worth the additional investment required.

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