Van Lifers special feature explores the inspiring lives of the next generation people living in vans. Yoshihiro Koitani (鯉谷ヨシヒロ) talks about his life as a "modern day hippie" and his projects with ecovillages and mobile house rentals.
Tell us about your van life and how you got started
Actually I can't remember when I got started..maybe about 15 years ago? After I graduated from college, I read Robert Harris's "Exiles" and it left an indelible impression on me, turning me into a traveling hippie at 23. I travelled the world until I hit Mexico. I joined a community event of hippies there called "Rainbow Gathering" where we lived together for one month in the middle of nature. Because of that, I was able to become part of a traveling community of 20 people and 30 horses called "Horse Caravan" in 2004. We travelled to South America for a year and a half where I lived and interacted with local people without electricity, gas, or water, and spent about $150 in total. That was my big adventure when I was 25.
Wow, that’s on a whole other level than just camping in cars! Did you continue living in South America as a hippie?
Yeah, I continued living and traveling there as a hippie until 2013. Hippiedom was originally born in the US in the 1960s as a movement that broke away from the mainstream culture, but that mindset still actually exists even in modern times. It's the pursuit to live in true happiness. And we try to achieve that by fulfilling our basic needs such as eating natural food or building communities in a safe environment away from the capitalist society. So, for example, I created a self-sustainable community of mutual support for hippies in the countryside called "Extended Family," which I'm still a part of until now.
I see. I think I just learned for the first time what "hippie" really means. So, did you come back home to Japan after that?
Yeah. I'd decided to come back here in 2014 after my long stint as a hippie to tell everyone that there are plenty other life ideologies in the world besides capitalism. At that time, AirBnB was just coming into Japan so I made a living as one of the first hosts in Tokyo and Osaka. Then, I drove all over different "ecovillages" (communities that aim to become ecologically sustainable) in Japan and rounded up people through my two projects #Finalland and #Kakumei to successfully launch together REVorg in 2016 and NuMundo Japan in 2017.
And you did round up people while traveling all over the country. Did you encounter any problems while camping in your car?
Not at all. Remember I used to be a traveling hippie on horse. (Laughs) Quite the contrary, it was an amazing experience driving to different ecovillages in Japan. You see, NuMundo is a platform that lets you experience living at ecovillages, and I was able to find all these essentially "sanctuary" ecovillages like the Triangle Ecovillage Saihate in Kumamoto through that drive. We currently have 32 ecovillages registered and everyone is more than welcome to visit any of them.
I didn't realize we already have hippie communities in Japan. I definitely want to visit some!
Thank you! But also note that these ecovillages are in secluded areas because they want to be as far away as possible from the capitalist world. That means that access is also difficult. I just wished we could also get there by horse just like what I used to do abroad. But this thought reminded me that besides horses I did travel in RVs with my other hippie buddies. "Ah, if only I had something like that here that's more convenient than just camping cars," I thought. So now I have a mobile house.
You came up with a mobile house idea after experiencing it in the Americas? Do you still live in one right now?
Yes and yes. I work, sleep, and live in this blue mobile house here. A mobile house is basically a pickup truck with a living space in the back. It's complete with a bed at the top (even though I'm seven feet tall) and a work desk, built-in storage sofa, AC and heater unit, and a battery at the bottom.
Mobile houses are perfect for minimalists and digital nomads! But isn't it cold at night, especially in winter?
They are indeed perfect for them. Hippies embodied these notions of sharing economy and block chain 50 years ago. I think that technology now just made them more mainstream now. And regarding your question, no, it's not cold at night. I have thermal insulations and roof windows where sunlight can come through. Also, I have a battery for my heater to keep it running while the engine is turned off. I put solar panels on my roof which can generate about a day's worth of electricity after charging for a whole day, and when I run out of power, I just park at an RV campground and connect to a power supply there. I can let my battery charge while I sleep.
Having that option sounds really convenient. Do you plan on doing business with mobile houses in the future?
Yeah, I'm actually currently working on a mobile house rental business for 2019 launch. It'll be a rental service where you can choose different mobile houses to suit your taste like you're choosing clothes, and I'll create different design with my current one as a prototype. I'll put in different language support and include Wi-Fi rental as well so non-Japanese can take advantage of it too. Then, they can use Carstay to book parking space and camp in different ecovillages in Japan. My mobile houses are meant for two people only so they're perfect for close friends and couples. I think both Japanese and visiting tourists and foreigners are tired of the same old boring pre-planned tour routes. But with a mobile house, they can take the wheel back into their hands and journey where their wanderlusts tell them without worrying about hotels or transportation.
It seems that there is a need for mobile house rental! What's your final message to the readers interested in new ways of traveling and experiencing the van life?
What would you do today if you were to die tomorrow?
This is one of the most important questions that hippies ask. Your life is shorter than you think and the world bigger, so why not take a detour and follow a path different from your everyday life?
And one of those paths that you can take is literally going to a new place you've never been before, taking in a scenery you've never seen before, talking to someone you've never met before, eating something you've never tried before...experiencing life as it is, right now, with no plans.
Let the mobile house enrich your life! And I'm looking forward to meeting you "by chance" one day.
Interviewee Profile: Yoshihiro Koitani (鯉谷ヨシヒロ)
Modern day hippie. REVorg CEO. NuMundo Japan Representative. Intentional Community Association Representative Director.