Japan’s Next Cultural Export: Dynamic Living Spaces

If you want to know what’s next for American culture, one of the most reliable places to look is Japan.

A 1982 New York Times article, Culture of Japan Blossoming in America, documents the first major shift toward a general American curiosity in Japanese culture. Nine years later, a Fortune Magazine article, Japan’s Influence on American Life, shows the emotional apprehension in middle-America to early Japanese influence.

The Japanese influence is unavoidable.

In business, we often think of the cars, televisions, circuitry, and other technology shipped here from Japan. But middle-managers may have tried their hand at the Kaizen management style. Plant-workers may be familiar with Toyota’s Just-In-Time Manufacturing.

On the entertainment side, who could forget NBC’s American Ninja Warrior, originally Ninja Warrior or Sasuke in Japan? Or Super Sentai, the main source material for Power Rangers. And the major influence of Akira Kurosawa on American filmmakers, from Lucas to Coppola to Tarantino.

Perhaps Japan’s greatest influence yet is Zen philosophy.

Over the past five years we’ve seen meditation, a Zen pillar, become a mass consumable item in America. Minimalism and simplicity, two tenets of Zen, are becoming more desirable statuses than traditional maximalist America – examples in Marie Kondo and Apple’s product design.

Of course there are many other major Japanese influences I glossed over. The reality is that there are too many to count. However, after traveling to Japan last year I found myself wondering what the next Japanese cultural export would be.


The next major influence to come out of Japan, I believe, is dynamic living spaces and smart furniture. Based in minimalist values of “every object having a purpose with an emphasis on getting more out of less”, dynamic living spaces feature smart furniture with multiple purposes.

Most notably is the MIT Media Lab spinout, Ori Living. Ori creates smart furniture (or robot interiors) which efficiently and elegantly multiply your space. Closets that collapse, beds that levitate to reveal a living room, Ori shows how our furniture will look in the future. Check it out:

Their idea is catching on.

IKEA has partnered with Ori to create a robotic furniture lineup of their own, called Rognan. The Cubitat is a 10’ x 10’ x 10’ cube that encompasses every furniture a person needs to live – from kitchen to restroom to storage to laundry. The Domino Loft is another multifunctional piece of smart furniture.

Although I didn’t explicitly see smart furniture while visiting Japan. The idea of dynamic living spaces is 100% Japanese. Every single object has a purpose, sometimes more than one. And for that reason, they can get more out of less space.

Why Smart Furniture

I believe dynamic living spaces are important for two reasons. One, the cultural shift from maximalism to minimalism. Two, the societal necessity.

54% of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 68 per cent by 2050 (adding another 2.5 billion people to urban populations).

United Nations

We need thoughtful ways to maximize cityspace. Dynamic living spaces are cognisant of the available area. Smart furniture automatically adds at least a bedroom to any space. More items, from blinds to cabinets to kitchen utensils will eventually make a similar shift to modularity.

Personally, I believe the current Smart Home approach is a little misguided.

What does it mean for an object to be intelligent?

The easy answer is to add Alexa to it, giving it the ability to answer questions and play music on-demand. And this is mostly how we’ve been viewing the Smart Home. But does a microwave really need to talk back to me?

Objects don’t have to be wired and powered by AI in order to be intelligent.

As our homes inch closer to smart upgrades, I hope the infusion comes from a dynamic philosophy, like Ori furniture, as opposed to the standard voice-assistant upgrade.