Japanese Interior Design – A Style Guide

Japanese culture has long held a fascination for Europeans. Whether it’s Zen Buddhism, martial arts or sushi, we’ve taken Japan’s most famous exports and made them our own. Interior design too has seen heavy oriental influences for at least a hundred years. What started as a late Victorian obsession for collecting curios from the far reaches of the empire has come full circle to encompass whole interiors, inspired by clean, simple and elegant Japanese style.

Japanese Interior Design

If you want to infuse your own home with a little Japanese minimalist style, where should you start? Read on to find out:

The History of Japanese Interiors

Western fascination with Japan probably stems partly from its age: This is a country with traditions and styles dating back hundreds, if not thousands of years, and was really only “discovered” by traders and casual western travellers in the 19th century.

Tatami Mat Measurements

Japanese interior  design is based on the concept of “Ma”. This is the balance between a space and the objects within it. The rooms are traditionally measured and proportioned by using “Tatami mats” as a scale, so a room might be 2 Tatamis wide, by 4 high. In addition, these woven mats (used for sitting and sleeping) are used to measure door heights and sometimes ceilings. So there’s a great symmetry and balance in the proportions.

The Main Look

To make your room Japanese themed, you’ll need to be an extreme minimalist, or at least hide your belongings elsewhere! Japanese rooms are light, airy and natural, and use “Shoji” screens to divide rooms. These are constructed from thin, layered paper and run along wooden tracks. Shoji screen manufacture is a skilled craft, but you can find similar budget options to give the same impression.

Flooring should be woven tatami mats on a plain, hard floor. Colours need to be very muted and neutral. Red, black and green highlights should be used sparingly, and take care not to make the room look overwhelmingly oriental. You’ll end up with more of a Chinese restaurant cliche than a zen minimalist sanctuary!

Furniture – Or the Lack of It

Japanese themed furniture should be kept low and discreet. Black ash is the closest you’ll get to a suitable wood type. Overall though, you’ll need to forget about filling the room with heavy clutter.


Light should always be softly diffused and never direct. This is where the paper screens come into play. Large paper lampshades aren’t strictly Japanese but will pass to achieve the same softly lit look.

China Tableware

Japan is famed for intricate food displays and the precision of its tea ceremonies. You can use this to your advantage by displaying some fine china tableware in a Japanese theme. William Edwards, a manufacturer of fine bone china, suggests; “You can choose styles in either geometrical shapes or with scenes of nature. A few well thought out, key pieces will massively enhance a minimalist Japanese room”.

Other Accessories and Decorations

Kimonos and art prints, orchids and bonsai all scream Japanese style, but go sparingly. It’s much better to employ a few signature pieces and a plant or two than fill the house with clutter. Japanese style is as much about what you take away as what you add. Take time make the space you have work, and you’ll be rewarded with a harmonious and deeply tranquil living space.

Wendy Lin is a writer and entrepreneur. She is the CEO of 2 business consultancy companies and is enjoying her new quieter life in the countryside of England.