Book Review: Eco Living Japan by Deanna MacDonald

Eco Living Japan

Ever since watching the Grand Designs episode about the Japanese-style house in Monmouthshire, east Wales (and possibly for a long time before that), I’ve dreamt of having my own, beautifully designed Japanese house here in the UK. (I’ve just discovered that this property is actually available to rent for holidays now and have started dreaming about a holiday in Wales!) The idea of taking some of the very best aspects of Japanese architecture and design and applying them to a home of my own is greatly appealing, and it’s that notion which makes Eco Living Japan by Deanna MacDonald (Tuttle, 2015) pretty interesting to me.

Eco Living Japan presents 19 contemporary house projects in Japan and abroad, which demonstrate the most recent trends in sustainable and ‘green’ design. Packed with over 250 photos, drawings, plans and text, this book really is a delight and an inspiration. Naturally, this is a beautiful book, full of images of buildings I could only dream to live in myself. But it doesn’t hurt to dream, does it?

This book looks at traditional Japanese architectural design and asks the important question: what is sustainability? Looking at the ‘waste not, want not’ idea of ‘mottainai’ and a number of traditional design ideas such as ‘shakkei’ (‘borrowed scenery’) and of course ‘wabi-sabi’ (translated by Frank Lloyd Wright as “rusticity and simplicity that borders on loneliness”), the reader is taken on a tour of some incredible buildings. Features include an interesting use of light, different types of wood, asymmetrical designs and balance, and a harmonious mixture of the old and new. This is much more than solar panels on roofs and recycled materials!

It’s hard to pick a favourite out of the projects which are showcased in Eco Living Japan, but if I was forced to choose it would have to be the ‘Old Japanese Timber House Renovation’ by Igawa Architects, located in Tomisato, Ibaraki Prefecture.

(Image source)

This traditional family house is made of naturally renewable and recyclable materials, and has now been renovated for the twenty-first century. The building, renovated in 2012, was a 90-year-old house built by the owner’s grandfather. Many Japanese families, when faced with a house this old and so badly in need of repair would simply demolish the house and build a new one, thinking it couldn’t possibly be renovated into a modern home. However, Igawa has shown that this is simply not true, and it is entirely possible to turn the old into a very livable and sustainable new home. This renovation project was awarded the Japanese Good Design Award and was listed as one of the 100 Designs of the Year in 2012.

Now, how can I save up enough money to either renovate or build my own Japanese home here in Bristol? My head is certainly full of ideas after reading Eco Living Japan!

Buy Eco Living Japan by Deanna MacDonald from and and read more at

3 thoughts on “Book Review: Eco Living Japan by Deanna MacDonald

  1. How beautiful! I wasn’t aware of a house like that in the UK.. definitely will consider staying there if I ever visit Wales!


  2. Start small: a modest pond with a nagatoi, wall hangings of calligraphy, obi as tabletop and/or bookshelf decorations. Some calendar pics (laminated) with momiji or sakura and you’re on your way.


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