Flooring in Japan

This might sound like a dull topic for a post but I stumbled upon some information about flooring in Japan that captures a certain side of Japan. It is often not easy to describe what a country is like in an original and interesting way that gets to the heart of the matter. Flooring, unlikely as it may seem, is one such way of revealing certain things about Japan.

Nowadays Japan is famous not only for its well made high tech products, its cars and its great cuisine; it is also famous for its efforts to encourage other countries to take global warming seriously. The Kyoto Protocol which George W. Bush famously ignored and the hybrid car are both testament to Japan’s eco-friendly credentials.

At the same time Japan has the world’s second biggest economy and people seem obsessed about owning cars and being perfect consumers. Japan has some of the most boring politics in the world because the two main parties refuse to adopt any ideological stance. The average politician is so bland as to be unrecognizable. Finding some way to make environmentalism compatible with the need to keep the money rolling in is a real challenge for Japan. It is interesting to note that China completely dominates the solar panel market. Japan missed a great opportunity there.

Returning to the topic, Japanese houses seem bizarrely different from the outside. They are painted a variety of colors, they adopt a variety of styles and some have odd shapes dictated by the wedge of land they occupy. On a superficial level the houses demonstrate the individual quirks of the owners. They testify to the need for individualism.

On a closer inspection you discover that most houses have a wooden frame with light walls and inside the room layout and design are very similar. There will be a tatami mat room for sleeping and maybe a tatami mat living room. The bathroom is always downstairs. And the flooring (when not tatami) will be engineered hardwood.

I did some research on the matter. Why does everyone have engineered flooring when bamboo grows all around? Sustainable flooring is another eco business that Japan has sadly not developed. The reason is that a government body underwrites over 50% of the house loans in Japan. In order for architects to get planning permission and for builders to limit their liabilities a government list of recommended specifications is fastidiously followed. For some unknown reason this list includes the assertion that plywood with hardwood veneer is the best type of flooring for Japan. No bureaucrat has ever stopped to consider amending this item for a more environmentally friendly option. More than likely a cozy relationship exists between certain engineered flooring companies and certain government departments.

This is similar to why all power lines are on concrete posts in Japan and not buried. They ruin the skyline and are dangerous in the event of an earthquake. Japan is a country a bit like Belgium that seems to carry on in the same way with or without politicians. Such is the power of tradition.