In Japan the concept of a micro house, a diminutive but fully functional family home is something that has been part of the culture for centuries. But with skyrocketing real estate costs and a shortage of construction worthy property, Japanese architects and prospective homeowners have taken the traditional Japanese micro house and have updated it for the 21st Century.

The population of the Greater Tokyo area for example is hovering around 37 million, a number greater than the entire population of Canada. In such a confined but crowded space real estate prices are staggering in comparison to what buyers can expect to pay in Nanaimo.

For example new condominium units are currently selling for about $10,000 (Canadian) per square metre. This reflects an increase of more than 21 percent from a year ago. Bare land (if it can be found) is currently selling for about $2,500 (Canadian) per square metre. The answer for all but the super rich is increasingly the modern micro house. Unlike micro suites or micro apartments which have become increasingly popular in Canada, micro houses (referred to as kyosho jutake in Japan) are fully functional detached single family homes, typically constructed on odd sized, or under-utilized scraps of land.

One Japanese architect designed and oversaw the construction of a two story, 1,700 square foot home that is now being lived in by two families – that is less than 10 feet wide! The land the home was built on was a long and narrow strip wedged between two existing properties requiring some very unique design work and innovative thinking.

Another Tokyo micro house is the so-called Mineral House, due to its resemblance to a faceted gem. Shown in the illustration above this home consists of three stories, sits at the junction of a street corner and encompasses less than 500 square feet. Using building techniques and design features more commonly found in boat design or in recreational vehicles, the home is another example of this increasingly popular micro house movement. For new home owners in Asia this may be the only option available for those just entering the housing market.

So will this trend catch on in Nanaimo? While not faced with the same shortage of land or stratospheric prices, savvy Canadian homeowners are already turning to this building style, especially for uses such as weekend cottages or as in-law suites.

In Victoria right now there are several micro loft style developments being built in the downtown core, units that are especially appealing for young single professionals. So the future for micro home development on Vancouver Island definitely looks promising.

Don’t expect to see buyers making any major exodus from traditional detached homes to their diminutive cousins any time soon, but as prices continue to climb and as choice building sites are used up, it’s not impossible that small but efficient will play an increasingly important role in the design of houses of the future.