Why Are So Many Japanese People Moving into Sheds?

Growing numbers of young Japanese embrace “small-scale living”

by Keiichi Kanda

Today, an increasing number of Japanese young people are turning away from the clamor of the city and choosing to live in mountain sheds. In pursuit of a self-sufficient and simple lifestyle, these young people attempt to live by spending as little money as possible. For electricity, they get by with portable generators they buy with their own money. For food, they live within what nature provides.

On April 11, the Asahi Shimbun reported the story of Netaro, a Tokyo man who had piled all of his belongings onto a lorry and moved from the city to the town of Kurikuri in neighboring Chiba Prefecture. There, he purchased an open lot for ¥450,000 (approximately $3,670), built a DIY shack, and moved into it. The total cost of the move was only ¥900,000 ($7,340), and his living expenses since then have averaged around ¥30,000 to ¥50,000 per month ($215-$410).

Netaro says he is satisfied with his simple life. Recently, he has gained popularity for his “Netaro Blog,” whose tagline boasts that anyone can “build a livable house for ¥100,000 ($815).” Netaro’s Blog shares the secrets of simple living in the mountains, with feature articles on how to build a shed out of wood from the mountains and how to avoid spending money unnecessarily. In addition, Netaro written a book on what he calls the “B Life,” a low-cost alternative to “A Life” mainstream living.

But Netaro is hardly alone in choosing this lifestyle.

In Nagano Prefecture, a freelance editor named Eriko Masumura has been living in a trailer for nearly half a year. Her rent for the property, which she found through personal connections, is ¥10,000 per month ($80). At 50 square meters, the trailer has become home for Eriko, her husband, and their daughter. The family makes a strict effort to avoid using electricity, with only a light and a washing machine as their electrical appliances, and their monthly energy bill is usually around ¥2,000 ($16). When you add gas, water, and food, their total expenses come to ¥70,000 per month ($560).But Eriko insists her trailer house lifestyle isn’t just about saving money. Her family moved there, she says, in search of a simpler life.

There seem to be a number of reason behind this shift towards small-scale living. Some Japanese people have done it as an ecological experiment in urban permaculture, others because they want to live without electricity, and some because they prefer an austere, stoic lifestyle.

But how did shed living become a “movement”? Issei Sawada, a representative of YADOKARI, which operates the “Conference on Future Lifestyles” web site, analyzes these issues.

“I think there are two main reasons behind the boom. The first is that the American ‘Tiny House Movement’ has come to Japan. After the Lehman Shock in 2008, people who had lost their homes began to question whether living in a big house surrounded by possessions was what ‘real happiness’ was about. Similarly, in Japan, growing numbers of people began searching for new lifestyles after the Fukushima Earthquake. Over time, people have begun to question whether life is really an either-or decision between endlessly paying high rent for an apartment and taking out long-term loans to buy a house or condominium. As incomes decline and economic growth shows few signs of recovery, some people have begun searching for smaller-scale lifestyles that can significantly reduce their living expenses.”“Another cause behind the shift is that the internet has enabled people to do direct comparisons of lifestyles around the world. Thanks to the web, people have been able to acquire information on cultures of smaller-scale living (such as kolonihave, mökki, and dacha) that have been in place in Scandinavia, among other places, for centuries. Suddenly, people began to visualize the different ‘styles’ of life in Scandinavia, where there are relatively more options than in Japan.”

In April, YADOKARI introduced the “ INSPIRATION”, a movable-model small home that can be purchased for ¥2,500,000 ($22,150). In one month, the company received 300 formal inquiries, suggesting a growing degree of interest in alternative modes of housing.

Courtesy of YADOKARI

But how do the people who are actually undergoing the “small-scale living” experiment feel about their new lifestyle?

“When you live in the country, it takes 30 minutes by car just to get to a convenience store, so there are definitely some inconveniences,” says Eriko Masumura. “But because of that, you start to notice how bizarre urban living really is. Since I moved out here, my consciousness and my concept of time have changed a lot, and I wonder which way of life is really ‘natural’ for humans. My spending habits have changed a lot, too. If you have land and connections with people, you really don’t need money. The small life is very pleasant: since your home is so small you stop piling up huge numbers of possessions. You can live very simply, and everything you get, you get by your own hands.”

If small-scale lifestyles continue to take hold, their spread is likely to have repercussions in other areas of society. Rural areas are likely to undergo revitalization, and the money saved on living expenses could be reinvested in other fields. Whatever effects the movement may have, it will certainly be fun to watch.

(translation: Michael Craig)

Originally published at ignition.co.

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