In this chapter of the “how to live in a Japanese apartment” series, we explain what a genkan is and give you some easy ideas for making the most of the space in a typical Japanese apartment entryway. The genkan is usually fairly small in an apartment, so it’s easy for it to get messy and disorganized. And who wants to come home to a messy space?
What is a Genkan?
The genkan (玄関, げんかん) in a Japanese home is the place where you remove your shoes before you enter the main part of the house. Genkan are often recessed into the floor, meaning that it is lower than the actual floor of the home. This is to keep dirt from being tracked inside.
In some Japanese apartments, the genkan area is simply indicated by a different type of flooring or tile, without any difference in height between the entryway and your actual living space.
In some Japanese homes (especially single-family homes), the genkan is very spacious, such as the one pictured below. The genkan is the entrance to the home and is kept very clean and well-decorated because it is your guests’ first impression of where you live.
In a typical Japanese studio apartment, the genkan is smaller. A typical one looks like the one pictured below. The cabinet to the left of the door is the “shoe box” (shoe cabinet). Some apartments will not have shoe boxes, so you will have to keep your shoes lined up in the genkan (or use some of the ideas in this article to make more space!).
Since genkan aren’t very big, and most of us own more than just a few pairs of shoes, it’s really easy for a genkan to get messy and disorganized. This is especially true if you use your entryway to keep more than just shoes. Umbrellas, sports equipment, small kids’ bicycles, and that package from Amazon you haven’t opened yet, are just a few things that can pile up there.
So let’s look at some easy ways you can organize your genkan!
1. Your door isn’t just a door – It’s a great place to hang stuff
Japanese apartment doors are usually made of metal (to help stop the spread of fire). Use this to your advantage by attaching magnetic hooks or a small magnetic bar to your door to create more storage space.
2. Make Your Own Compact Umbrella Stand for ¥216
Sure, you can buy an umbrella stand (called a kasa tate (傘立て, かさたて), but in the land of the ¥100 shop, why not make your own?
Get yourself a small magnetic towel rack, plastic basket (with holes in it), and some double-sided tape.
Set up your DIY umbrella stand like this:
3. Go Vertical with Your Shoes
As we mentioned above, some Japanese apartments do not have a built-in shoe box where you can store your shoes. Nothing groundbreaking here but in this case, just get yourself a small vertical shoe rack or make your own out of plastic bins.
4. Overhead Storage
You can create a little bit of storage space above your front door by building your own shelf using a high-tension pole (called a tsuppari-bou, 突っ張り棒, つっぱりぼう). You can find these on Amazon, ¥100 shops, and DIY stores. Just be careful not to store anything too heavy here.
5. Block off the Genkan
In a small studio apartment, you can create the illusion of another room by blocking off the genkan from the rest of your space. Use a high-tension bar and piece of cloth to make a hanging partition. Does this keep your genkan more organized? Sure, if it motivates you to keep less stuff in your genkan.
6. Turn Your Genkan into a Mini Makeup Space
If you are rushing out the door every morning to get to work on time anway, why not do your grooming right in the genkan? And as the person below has done, a big clock on the genkan will help you be on time.
7. Go Aesthetic, Go Minimalist
There’s no rule that you have to keep store your shoes in the genkan, and the easiest way to keep your genkan from getting messy is to not keep a lot of things there. You will, of course, have to find another place to keep your shoes (maybe a shoe rack in your main room?).