Japanese homemakers have a tradition of doing more with less, and the atmosphere in a Japanese home is often one of spaciousness accentuated by minimalist furnishings and decorations. Some common Japanese design features like shoji screens and noren are well known, and enterprising do-it-yourselfers can adapt them for use in a Western environment with a minimal outlay of cash. The Japanese are known for their attention to detail, and the key to successfully incorporating a Japanese theme into your living environment has less to do with budget than it does with a well-tuned aesthetic sense.
Create noren from an old bed sheet to hang in interior doorways. These are cloth room dividers that hang one third to one half the length of the doorway and have a slit in the middle to allow passage. Dye the bed sheet and then paint a floral or Zen design on it with with acrylic paint. Hang the noren from bamboo poles and keep the doors open.
Make paper lampshades to place on a table or to replace the coverings of the room light fixtures. Make a quantity of 1/2-by-1/2 inch sticks from old lumber you have lying around the house and glue the sticks together to make a shade. Cover the shade by gluing Japanese rice paper to the sticks with mucilage. Traditional rice paper is called washi and is available in most art supply stores. Place the shade around a small table lamp or hang it from a light fixture. You can also place a shade by a window, without a light inside it, and let it catch the sunlight.
Fabricate simple shoji screens from old lumber and the Japanese rice paper, or washi. Rip the frame and lattice slats with a table saw and use a Japanese pull saw to make the delicate cuts needed for fitting them together. Cover the screens by gluing washi to the frame and lattice work with mucilage. Join screens in sets of two, three or four with inexpensive cabinet hinges and use them as room dividers.
Clear out a small alcove in the living room, place a small table or bench inside and arrange flowers on the bench to simulate a tokunoma. The tokunoma is the central focus point of a traditional Japanese living room, akin to an altar, and the flower arrangement, or ikebana, is one of its central features. Change the flowers regularly to reflect the season, and use flowers from your own garden whenever they are available. If you don't have an alcove, display the ikebana under a central window.
Recycle old bamboo or thrush fencing into wainscotting to give a room the feel of a rural Japanese home. Cut the fencing about 3 feet high and arrange it around the perimeter of the room, attaching it to the walls with tacks or small nails.
Cut the legs off of an old wooden card table so the surface of the table is about a foot off the floor, then paint the table with a can of orange or black spray lacquer. Set the table in a suitable place in the room and place four cushions around it to create a traditional Japanese dinner table. Traditional Japanese cushions, or zabuton, are usually flat and square, but you can substitute regular sofa cushions.