Japan is known throughout the world for its miniaturization skills. Examples of this talent are everywhere (from microchips to hotel rooms). This little note is focused on the compactness of a student dormitory, including a kitchen and bathroom, which I had the dubious fortune to live in.

When I got home again the locals were delighted by my tales of my Japanese dorm room/apartment. Some differences are fascinating. The traditional Japanese toilet, as different from the European variety as different can be, deserves, and gets a tale of its own.

Japanese-isms” are things seen only in Japan and – if we are lucky enough to move in among them – we can spend weeks getting comfortable with them followed by years describing them to people who’ve never been there. We are guaranteed never to forget them for as long as we live...

As an exchange student and foreigner, I was assigned a room in an international student dormitory, as was everyone else who came from another country and held some sort of scholarship. In other words, the sons and daughters of all sorts of nations lived here, and everyone had a separate room. Though it had all the functions of an apartment, it really wasn’t more than a room, since it was about 3 meters wide and (more or less) 10 meters long. In it was the star of my tale, my bathroom/toilet. Typical of the Japanese, they managed to fit everything that a student might need in that small space.

Walking into the room, I first found myself in an “anteroom” (the floor here was lower than in the rest of the room so the dirt on the shoes one takes off (mandatory) is not carried into the rest of the place – one more great idea we might introduce at home!). I have thus taken my first step inside my new home (the anteroom also contains a vast hot water heater about the size of a wardrobe). My second step takes me into the room itself, with the kitchen to my immediate right. The “kitchen” is really a small alcove, containing an exhaust hood and a shelf for dishes at the top, and a two-burner cooking range beneath it. There was no oven because the space below the range is taken up by a baby fridge (I’m not trying to be cute, just to show its size; it was about the size of a hotel minibar). (Sadly, the space was so tight it was hard to photograph: there was no way to move far enough away from it to fit it into a picture.)

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Without taking another step, if I turned around I’d run into a plastic sliding door. On the other side was the magical bathroom-toilet-shower complex, taking up one whole square meter!

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This was the most Japanese feature of my adorable dorm room. It was essentially a prefab plastic box with a stationary toilet (regular western style). The sink (also plastic) was not stationary. It was designed to rotate, so that if I wanted to use the toilet I could push the sink under the shower and if I wanted to use the shower then I could push it over the toilet! Like this:

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Of course, when I showered the sink-taps got soaked since the shower essentially took up the whole space. There was even room for a towel on the door and there was a two-tiered shelf unit on top of the toilet cistern.


At that time in my life it really met all my needs.

It probably isn’t even worth saying, but the next step took me into the room itself. The bed was on the left and a desk was on the right. Between them was a narrow space that took me to the balcony. Above the balcony’s metal sliding door was a heater/air conditioner combination. I used it much more in winter than in summer, heating the room so I wouldn’t have to step out of the shower into ten degree temperatures. But that’s another story.

The pictures are illustrations that I took myself.