Japanese homes are unusual in many ways: they are built neither to last nor for comfort, and their height and shape are sometimes determined by stringent regulations such as the one prohibiting new structures from casting shadows on neighbouring residences for more than two hours a day. The biggest challenge, however, is usually lack of space, which has pushed architects to come up with innovative designs. The 26 homes in Japan Houses, by Marcia Iwatate (Tuttle; $390), show how what is absent is as important as what is there. 'Elimination of the inessential has always been an intrinsic part of Japanese architecture,' Geeta Mehta writes in the prologue, which is why, 'comfort is often sacrificed for poetry'. Not that the practical considerations are neglected. In a multi-generational home in Hokkaido, the least-used rooms are placed on the perimeter, acting as buffers for the inner, insulated zone containing bedrooms and other living areas. For those who seek inspiration thinking in a box, check out Engawa House, which makes the most of a small footprint, low ceilings and shared spaces. Tiny living quarters are also featured in Michael Wolf's Hong Kong: Front Door/Back Door (with texts by Kenneth Baker and Douglas Young; Thames & Hudson; $434), a collection of photographs depicting how, as G.O.D. co-founder Young writes, residential architecture has turned the lives of Hong Kong people inside-out; lack of privacy at home forces people into public expressions of individuality. Not all images capture deliberate attempts at exposure. Some of Wolf's best photographic 'comments' are candid shots of the city that transform the everyday into works of art. The images that most resonate are the repetitive Lego-like blocks of flats in all their grey grimness. Chris Buckley's book Tibetan Furniture (Thames & Hudson; $468) explains that scarcity of wood lies behind a special feature: surface decoration. Instead of relying on beautiful hardwoods, Tibetans learned to recycle materials of indifferent quality and distinguish them with elaborate painting. Those who admire their handiwork will learn to appreciate it better with an understanding of materials and construction methods used as well as the role of religion in motifs employed.