Van Lifers special feature explores the inspiring lives of the next-generation people living in vans. Shiun Tatsumoto (龍本司運) talks about his wife and their life as a "cargo couple" in a mobile house, and promotes the small traveling family lifestyle. Learn a new way of mobile living.
Tell us about your van life and how you got started
I started living in my mobile house in May 2016. When I was little, I lived in China, but I went to high school and college in the US. Then, I came back to Japan in 2012 as a fresh grad and started working for a company. It was at that time when I realized that I didn't want to waste away my life as a "salaryman," so I started a company that aimed for a sustainable society. Unfortunately, I failed big time and lost a lot of money and assets. So I went traveling.
It seems like everything happened so fast! Is that how you got started with road trips?
Not really because I was completely broke at that time. (laughs) First, I went from Kyoto to Okinawa as a "broke backpacker." I travelled either on foot or by hitchhiking, and stayed in the homes of the people I met along the way or just slept outside. I did that every day for about half a year. Then, after staying at Eco Village in Okinawa for three months, I decided I wanted to get to know my roots, so I went to China. I walked 2,952 kilometers from Beijing to Yunnan Province for another half a year then I crossed over Tibet, which had an elevation of 4,962 meters.
Wait...you travelled across China on foot?? And crossed over a mountain that’s almost 5,000 meters high?? That’s crazy! Where did you get your motivation?
I think the British thinker Satish Kumar was a big influence on me. He led a peace walk from India [to the four capitals of the world: London, Paris, Moscow, and Washington D.C.] when he was 25 years old to protest against nuclear arms. He walked over 13,000 kilometers and carried no money for two years. I didn't realize that people could take long trips on foot with no money until I tried it myself. I realized that apparently, traveling is like life itself. Even if you have an incredibly long journey, if you just take one step at a time, and ask for help along the way, you'll still make it there someday. This thought resonated with me and made me want to go to India—the land of chaos and enlightenment—and immerse myself in it. So India I went. There I had a fateful encounter when I arrived at the airport and met a Japanese master wood craftsman. It was purely coincidental but also meant to be. I told him about my dream mobile house, to which he replied, "When we get back to Japan, why don't you come to my shop and I can help you build it?" And that was the beginning of it.
I see...so meeting that guy in India led you to build your mobile house. So, you did actually go straight to his shop?
Yeah. As soon as I got back to Japan, I went to this place called "Shalom Hutte" in the Kitaazumi district of Nagano Prefecture. There I met the owner, Kenji Usui, who suggested that I build my mobile house while working there. In May 2016, I started building my mobile house from scratch while working and living in a truck camper. It was just like how I always wanted: a self-sufficient life in harmony with nature. I even ended up marrying one of the staff there just before I finished my house. Of course, I proposed inside my mobile house. (laughs) It was a big turning point in my life. Since then, my wife and I have been traveling and living together in our mobile house "Yun-Yun Gou."
Wow, proposing in your mobile house sounds like fate! Have you always been in Yun-Yun Gou since then?
By the way, my mobile house looks like this in the inside. I'm about 6 feet tall but I can stand up fully inside and there's plenty of space. We usually stay in the back to work, eat, sleep, and live peacefully. And whenever we need a change of pace, we can go anywhere, anytime. I think that's the main perk of living in a mobile house. It's like a "moving living room."
But in the morning of May 2018 en route to Noto, we had a head-on collision with a car and Yun-Yun Gou flipped on her side. It was a spectacular crash. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but it was nevertheless an emotional blow for both of us to lose our home that we loved so much
Wow, that sounds terrible...but what's important is that you two are all right.
That's right. But I realized how much I really loved my mobile house after we lost it to that wreck. I mean, I used to be able to go anywhere at any time with the person that I love. But yeah, I also realized that disaster prevention is just as critical to living in a mobile house because there are absolutely no regulations about safety standards or disaster readiness and response. That's why my buddies and I started in January 2019 the "General Association of Mobile House Communities" with the aim of encouraging more people to live in mobile homes safely and securely.
I think there are a lot of people interested in the van life and other similar lifestyles. Can you tell us more about what your association does?
First, I launched Mobile House Salon together with other people that are also interested in and want to promote mobile houses. I'm personally managing our Facebook group called Mobile House Village, which has over 1,100 mobile house fans. Some are serious enthusiasts that have gained us a total of 50 members currently, who are also engaged in creating the safety standards. Next, we hold the world's first and only do-it-yourself mobile house "Camper Fes" in Japan. We started that in 2017 and we're holding it again in 2019. I think that mobile house is an art form that expresses the desire to live freely. I want more people to see that and also to realize that such a lifestyle choice exists by continuing to organize spaces throughout Japan for people to gather and make mobile houses together.
Count me in for that Camper Festival! What's your final message for the readers interested in the van life such as yours?
The decision where to live and who to live with is something that we all have to make in our lives. I think that that's where the appeal of "living anytime, anywhere, and however you want" comes in. My wife and I decided that we don't want to decide on a place, and so with a mobile house, our options for a place are limitless.
We can live anywhere in where we can park our house in Japan. Of course, I'm not saying that every person should have a "mobile residence" but that if you have problems or issues with where you're living now, I hope you'd consider a do-it-yourself mobile house and put control back into your hands.
Interviewee: Shiun Tatsumoto (龍本司運)
General Association of Mobile House Communities director. Mobile House Village founder. Camper Festival organizer. Experimental living enthusiast. Currently loving the van life and the trips with his wife in their beloved mobile house Yun-Yun Gou.