Relaxation, Minimalism and Zen: Styling a Japanese Bathroom

Thanks to its functional minimalism and effortless beauty, Japanese design inspiration is found across architecture, interiors, fashion and lifestyles. The calming, organized qualities of Japanese interior design also make it a great solution for bathrooms of all sizes.

From toiletry organization to bathing rituals, here’s what you should know about embodying Japanese design in the bathroom.

Foundations of Japanese Style

Japanese style is known its simplicity. In fact, proponents of Japanese interior design are often people who maintain minimalist lifestyles. This is because the Japanese aesthetic is clean and uncluttered, Jerni Camposano at Cromly Home Design writes. The spaces are meant to inspire a sense of peace, calm and tranquility without excess details to distract

Fashion and beauty writer Sarah Young puts it this way: “The Japanese aesthetic is designed to eliminate clutter from your home and, instead of thinking in terms of decoration, rid your space of the non-essential.” In other words, don’t adorn your bathroom with Japanese decoration and decor; focus rather on adopting a Japanese design mindset.

One design project based on these foundations is called the Wabi-Sabi House. Architect and interior designer Elisabetta Rizzato says the Japanese word wabi-sabi means pursuing the essence of nature and ridding of all things excessive and unnecessary. The space features floor-to-ceiling windows, stark geometric shapes, light-colored wood and black and white accents. This simplicity of design is meant to inspire peace and harmony.

Despite the ubiquitous thread of minimalism weaving throughout Japanese design and lifestyle, it’s important not to confuse simplicity with perfection. Japanese architecture and design actually embraces asymmetry and imperfection, designer Robert Jarrell writes.

This is a reflection of Japanese sensibilities, which embrace natural cycles of life such as growth, death and decay. Distressed wood and worn stone are examples of how imperfections can be incorporated into a Japanese-inspired bathroom. Embracing the natural laws and life cycles of nature is always encouraged where possible.

minimalist plant - Japanese bathroom

Wood

Japanese interior design is also known for its treatment and manipulation of wood. One example is the Japanese method of preserving wood called shou sugi ban, Kristine DeMaria at reclaimed wood provider TerraMai explains. Japanese cedar planks are charred and then coated in natural oil. The result is a weatherproofed wood that’s also water resistant, making it a great addition to the Japanese bathroom.

It’s also not uncommon for walls in a bathroom or bath entryway to be covered with wood. Margot Guralnick at Remodelista has one example of a Japanese bathroom whose entryway is lined with fumed oak paneling across the floors, ceiling and walls. This room is separated from the bathing area with a steel-framed tempered glass screen: While you can undress and shower in the first room, the second is reserved mostly for soaking.

Plants

Plants are another fundamental element of Japanese style. Flowers in particular have a specific role in Japanese culture, Mark Hovane, director at Kyoto Garden Experience, writes. Ikebana, the art of Japanese flower arrangement, “is a disciplined art form in which nature and human creativity are brought together,” he explains. This art form is driven by minimalism, and ikebana designers strip away all excess flowers and foliage to intentionally highlight the shape of each particular plant.

Making use of natural light in the bathroom lends itself to bringing plants into the space. And the more light there is, the more plants you can establish and the better they’ll thrive, art and design writer Sammy Preston adds. Looking at where the natural light is the strongest — and increasing the number of windows and plants in that area — is a great way to work with existing structures to boost Japanese influence in the home.

Organization

As mentioned, keeping things clutter-free is key for mastering Japanese design. However, this can be a challenge in the bathroom — especially when you’re designing a family home that naturally uses a lot of products and toiletries. One way to amp up storage and reduce clutter in the bathroom is to leverage strategic organization options.

Lauren Ro at Curbed agrees it’s vital to be strategic when creating organizational systems in the Japanese-inspired bathroom. She looks at how the right organization allows two people to live in a micro apartment that’s just 258 square feet. Streamlined wood joinery, sliding partitions, overhead storage and deep shelving are all ways that any space can be made more efficient.

Multi-use furniture can also work well for saving space in the bathroom, especially when certain fixtures can double as storage spaces. Michele Koh Morollo at Dwell showcases a Japanese bathroom with wooden shelving systems and built-in storage that reduce clutter. The floating sink has three large shelves where essentials can be stored, and two long wall shelves facing the sink also provide room for keeping things organized.

Moreover, these larger shelving spaces can be filled with smaller organizational systems that make everything easy to find. Specifically, the Japanese tend to rely on small racks, hooks and suction cups to create additional storage in a small bathroom.

These small organizational elements are meant to be installed in cabinets and under sinks, where they’re hidden from view, home decor consultant Gabrielle Savoie notes. If you’re running out of storage space and you need to keep things in plain sight, choose the most aesthetically pleasing items.

black soap - Japanese bathroom

Bathroom Fixtures

As we’ve discussed, bathing has long been an important religious and cultural routine in a number of countries. Japan is filled with hot springs, or osens, which Japanese people regularly visit for cleansing, bathing and relaxing. Japanese soaking tubs replicate the experience of soaking in one of these hot springs, digital lifestyle journalist Brie Dyas writes.

These tubs are known as ofuros and they’re ergonomically designed to boost relaxation, explains interior design service DesignBX. Japanese soaking tubs also tend to be deeper than traditional tubs, and are often housed in wood. Homeowners can create the illusion of a Japanese soaking tub by encasing a freestanding tub of any material in wood.

Japanese bathing is ritualized, and there are certain rules that should be followed in order to recreate these customs properly. Moreover, certain design elements can either help or hinder your ability to pursue these lifestyle changes.

Architect Sally Sutherland says that it’s important to adhere to bathroom designs that promote these habits when following Japanese aesthetics. There shouldn’t be any any soap or shampoo used in the bath, for example, so there’s no need for caddies and toiletry holders in the bathing space. These items are used before a person steps into a tub, when they’re washing beforehand (usually in a shower nearby).

One bathroom that supports this ritual is showcased by Design Milk managing editor Caroline Williamson. In this example, a large soaking tub is set in a window corner to provide a serene view for the bather. Around the bathtub, you won’t find a place to store toiletries. Instead, they’re reserved for the small built-ins in the shower.

In addition to keeping toiletries in the right place, having the right accessories and toiletries can also support the Japanese bathing ritual. Having a small hand towel and some luxury bath salts on hand emulate a Japanese onsen, Maxine Builder at The Strategist suggests. Salts are acceptable to use in the soaking tub because they’re a natural substance, unlike many soaps, shampoos and other artificial bath products.

Images by: bhakpong/©123RF Stock Photo, Christian Mackie, Sarah Pflug