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In Tokyo, building tiny (and living well)

Stylish, green, and close to the action, Japan's microhouses gain appeal in a city that has made them a necessity.

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The Japanese are fond of miniaturizing things. They did it to trees to create bonsai. They did it to electronics to usher in a new age of technology. Now they are doing it to homes.

An adventurous and innovative group of Japanese architects is making necessity the mother of invention and finding ways for people to live on the tiniest plots of land imaginable – which in Tokyo are the only sort of plots any normal person can afford.

"If you want to live in central Tokyo you have to think about how to use space efficiently," says Satoshi Kurosaki, an architect who helped launch the "microhouse" movement 10 years ago with a house he built on a 250-square-foot piece of land.

Matchbox homes

For Kei Hirata, a university administrator who built his family a matchboxlike house five years ago, that means storing his clothes in canvas boxes squeezed onto shelves that reach all the way to the 15-foot-high ceiling of his living room, and needing a ladder to reach them.

The end result, though, delights them. "This place is smaller than the flat we used to live in, but it feels more spacious" because of its open-plan design and high ceilings, says Mr. Hirata.

For Tadasuke Shiomi, a 20-something Web consultant, and his wife, Chisato, it means sharing a bedroom with their 3-year-old son – and with the washing machine, tucked into a built-in cupboard.

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