Travel deep into the forest in Japan’s Yamanashi Prefecture, three hours west of Tokyo by train, and there beneath the Japanese red pine trees you’ll find the tiny home on wheels that tiny-house builder Yuichi Takeuchi uses as a mobile office and holiday home for himself, his wife and their two children.
Takeuchi, who started his tiny-home building company Tree Heads & Co in 2010, and produced the documentary Simplife in 2017, lives in another small house nearby and is a passionate advocate for living at what he calls “human scale”. By spreading the tiny home movement around Japan, he wants to help others simplify their lives and reconnect with the natural world.
Living at human scale in the countryside has allowed Takeuchi and his family to spend more time outside and to be more involved with the local community. “People in the countryside have more relaxed lives, so they help each other. In the city I was too busy for that,” he says, referring to his former life in Tokyo, where he designed treehouses. He spent eight years before that living in London and Amsterdam, making art and furniture and working as a sushi chef. “Here I can design and build things for my neighbours in exchange for vegetables. We swap rather than relying on cash – life is much easier and more enjoyable.”
While travellers aren’t able to rent Takeuchi’s tiny house, he is building five tiny houses for travellers to rent from April – all on a 30-hectare sustainable farm called Kurkku Fields in Kisarazu in Chiba Prefecture, a one-hour express train ride south-east of Tokyo. Kurkku Fields offers organic vegetable gardens and a free-range chicken and dairy farm, a farm produce restaurant, art installations and workshops on sustainable living.
“The tiny houses at Kurkku Fields are a good starting point for people to get to know the minimal living style,” Takeuchi says, adding that many Japanese do danshari, the practice of letting go of unnecessary possessions Marie Kondo style. However, they don’t dive deeper to rethink “the biggest purchase in their lifetime – their home”.
While the tiny house on wheels concept is relatively new in Japan, the Japanese have been experiencing a renewed craze for kyosho jutaku, the distinctly Japanese version of the micro-home, since the 1990s. It’s a result of land scarcity, unaffordable property prices and minimalist Zen ideologies.
Combine that with another Japanese obsession – shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, which has pushed increasing numbers of stressed Japanese urbanites into the great outdoors in recent years – and we can expect to see more tiny houses on wheels like Takeuchi’s popping up.
If you like the sound of this, put Shirakawa-go – a UNESCO-protected village in the Gokayama region – on your radar, too. Located at the foothills of the Japanese Alps, it’s dotted with centuries- old thatched-roof houses where visitors can stay and eat with local families, enjoying among the most authentic experiences Japan has to offer. Stays in “gassho farmhouses”, as they’re known locally, start from about $120 a night, including dinner and breakfast.
For something more upmarket, head to the mountain resort town of Karuizawa, a train ride of just less than two hours north-west of Tokyo. It’s the getaway of choice for the who’s who of Tokyo, including the imperial family, and is well known for its experimental minimalist architecture. For the posh option, try a night or two at Hoshinoya Resort Karuizawa, from about $1155 a night.