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Decorating Challenges of Living Overseas and How to Overcome Them

Wonder what it’s like trying to decorate overseas in American style (military life)? Take a peek into Japanese home decor stores and find out how to work around challenges.

Hey there!  Welcome to The New Year New Room Refresh challenge hosted by Casa Watkins Living where 10 of us bloggers are making over a space in one month.  I’ve been working on my 8 year old daughter’s global bohemian chic bedroom which happens to be a traditional Japanese room.  We are on week 4 but there’s been a delay in progress due to product shipping times.  So I thought it would be fun (and per my husband’s suggestion) to share some decorating challenges we face living overseas and how I work around them!

You can find each week’s progress below.

Week 1: Global Bohemian Bedroom Design Inspiration for a Girl

Week 2: How to prep for a room makeover with easy tips

Week 3: An Easy Furniture Update for Global Chic Style

Week 4: Decorating Challenges of Living Overseas and How to Overcome Them

Week 5: A Beautiful Dollar Store Wall Hanging for Your Boho Home

Week 6: Global Bohemian Bedroom Makeover for a Girl

Decorating Challenges in Japan

and how to overcome them!

You may think the obvious choice would be to order items online especially since our military address is considered a US address and shipping is not more expensive!  But interestingly enough, it’s difficult to find stores that will ship even small items like blankets and lamps.  No worries!  I enjoy the challenge and hunt for bargains and unique finds out here!  It really makes our Japanese home feel curated and interesting.  I hope you enjoy reading about it too and if you are in a similar situation maybe fresh perspective.  (Scroll down to see the other New Year New Room Challenge updates!)

  • The furniture is sized for smaller people.

The first thing you notice when trying to shop for furniture is that everything is closer to the ground and smaller in scale.  It’s perfect for my petite 5’4″ frame and my kiddos current sizes but it looks like doll furniture next to my 6’1″ Marine husband.  Quite comical really!

Max Value Or Nitori
This little living room set is the perfect size for my kids!

The military allowed us to bring 25% of our weight allowance so we had our important pieces of furniture (beds and sofa) make the move with us to Japan.  The smaller accents like side tables, accent chairs, and bookshelves are a little easier to shop for and you can snag a deal in store clearance areas or thrift stores.

Here are some of my favorite pieces we have found in Japan!

I paid under $40 for this Rattan chair from Nitori clearance.
tv cabinet for rental bedroom
A $40 cabinet from the local thrift store used as a tv stand in our bedroom makeover.  I’ve had to be super creative with tv placement and tv or media stands. 
$1 tatami chair from the base thrift store for my daughter’s reading nook.
Mix copper pots, terra cotta, plants, books for a global eclectic bookcase
A Japanese (or maybe Chinese?) Eterge found at a recycle store in Okinawa, Japan for about $100
  • Prices can be ridiculously high on home decor and furnishings and there’s not very many store options.

If you do find full size furniture it’s considered  “American style” and trendy and you have to pay a pretty penny to own it.

Grace Vignette
A wicker loveseat (on the left) from high end retail store, The Grace, in Okinawa, Japan retails for around $1700.
The Grace Okinawa
Another example of trendy furniture in The Grace home store, Okinawa, Japan.
Franc Franc
Super cute home accessories from FrancFranc but with Anthropologie prices. (Iv’e even seen some Anthro pieces in this store!)

You have to do research and know where to shop.  We are currently in Iwakuni, Japan and there is only one home decor store that just opened up last month!  It’s a chain store called Nitori and offers cute home decor and Japanese furniture at a lower price.  It’s similar to Bed, Bath, and Beyond and Ikea.  But seriously, can you imagine only having one home decor store to shop at within a hour of your home? (If that’s your situation too, let’s chat!)

  • Along with few choices for home decor/furniture stores, there’s not very many style options either.
Japanese Furniture
A small home furnishing section in a Japanese clothing store.

Japanese furniture in general has a nordic, mid century feel to it with clean lines and minimal design which is in line with the natural elements in Japanese home design and gardens.  You will also find more industrial pieces in different price ranges but again in smaller scales.

Accent pieces like accessories, florals, and textiles are usually in these trends too.

High end home accessories from Nitori (out of my budget!)
Cainz Store Hiroshima
Affordable pillows from Cainz department store

I enjoy shopping for bamboo, ceramic, and woven elements in Japanese decor and usually purchase them at thrift stores and discount stores like Nitori!  They are great pieces to add for a global look and I can tweak them to my style if needed using craft supplies from the 100 yen store!

  • Picture frames are a different size.

There are no 5×7 or 8×10 frames available so framing a print in a US size can be a challenge.  This doesn’t bother me too much because most of our items are already framed but I create new art pieces by framing washi paper or fabric.  You could also easily trim a print/picture or cut a custom mat to make a Japanese frame fit  a US picture size using poster board, a craft knife, and ruler.  Just think of the 100 yen store as your local craft store! 

fall foyer with large art
Washi paper framed in Japanese poster frames for DIY large art
  • Bedding is much smaller.  There is no such thing as a King!

Luckily for us, we don’t have a King size bed so buying a blanket or even a duvet for our queen and the kids’ twin beds is doable.  There is enough difference in sheet sizes that we have to order American sizes online or shop on the military base.  It kind of stinks to not be able to feel the sheet before you buy it but hey, we get to live in Japan!  I’ve been known to do some shopping while I’m back home in the states. You can always stuff a pillow or sheet set in your suitcase! 😉

Easy DIY Candy Striped Coverlet inspired by Serena and Lily
DIY Striped Coverlet over a Japanese twin duvet
  • Everything is measured out in the metric system.

I have to mention this because if you aren’t prepared you will come home with something that doesn’t fit!  After a few months of living here, I learned that using a tape measure in centimeters and saving size conversion charts in iphone photos saves a lot of stress and time at the stores.  Now (3 years later) I’m comfortable shopping for pillows, frames, and rugs because I’m thinking like the majority of the world.  Metrically. 🙂

  • Japanese Window treatments are very different and considered a big purchase (similar to furniture).

You can easily get carried away buying custom window treatments in beautiful prints and colors.  Curtains are a one time purchase and the Japanese invest quite a bit of money in doing so.  The panels are pinch and pleat and usually fitted to the size of the window instead of hung tall and down to the floor (like I prefer).  The rods themselves are not decorative.  They are metal with plastic attachments for the pinch and pleat hooks.

So if you aren’t spending the money on appropriate curtains you have to think outside the box.   I’ve used this no hole method of hanging curtains over the existing rod in our Okinawan rental and for my daughter’s current room makeover I bought $3 tension rods to hang US curtains.  There are also clips to hang American curtains panels to Japanese rods from the 100 yen store.  That store has everything!

Rental friendly no hole curtain hanging!
Using a tension rod for curtains
  • It’s hard to find pieces to refurbish and supplies to refurbish them!

I love to find thrifted furniture but it’s very hit or miss.  Making over furniture is not a thing here!  Finding cute paint colors, spray paints, and stains can be difficult often expensive and not good quality.  If you have patience and keep looking, you will come across a good thrifted piece every now and then.  Try mixing sample cans of house paint to find the right color or pay a little extra money for milk paint at the local hardware store to update it.  Make sure to have google translate ready so you know what kind of paint you’re getting!

Frog Purse Okinawa
Frog purse anyone?

I hope you enjoyed seeing what our home decor and furnishing options are like in Japan and some of the decorating challenges we face living in here.  It makes even a simple room makeover like my daughter’s a little more tricky.  Throw in sand walls and woven flooring and it’s a hoot!  Let’s hope the rest of my orders come in this week because I would love to give you an update on this adorable room next week!global-eclectic-girls-room

Please enjoy the rest of the updates and if you are linking up below, make sure it’s a room makeover update!  No recipes or other posts please.

new year new room refresh

Casa Watkins Living // A Designer At Home // Seeking Lavender Lane // Domicile 37 // Iris Nacole // Pocketful of Posies // Monica Wants It // Up To Date Interiors // This Is Our Bliss


  1. Kathy that was such an interesting read. I would never have thought of that, that the furniture is smaller in size. Certainly there are many challenges that you face, but those pieces you have are absolutely stunning. I worked for a Japanese company many years ago and the people there would tell me how much they loved America because everything was so big. They especially loved the cars and the golf courses.

    1. That’s too funny! There are some pretty gold courses out here! We just love finding good deals on furniture. What fun souvenirs to have from Japan.

  2. You’ve done such a beautiful job with your Japanese home and especially finding unique and lovely pieces of furniture for bargain prices!! I love hearing about your adventures…even the differences in furniture shopping. My husband is 6’3″ and I can imagine we’d face some of the same challenges ha!! Can’t wait to see your daughter’s bedroom all pulled together.

  3. This might be one of my favorite posts of yours! The way that you overcome these obstacles to create a beautiful home is amazing! I love when you share about Japanese life!

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