Van Lifers special feature explores the inspiring lives of the next-generation people living in vans. Quitting his job to build a mobile house in his twenties, "Cargo Adventurer" Nariaki Akai (赤井成彰) talks about his mobile house adventures in search for a new way of living.
Tell us about the van life and how you got started
I started building my mobile house in October 2018 and finished it in January 2019, making me a fresh van lifer for only four months. Heh! I actually have a story about how I got into this lifestyle, though. When I was in fifth grade, my family and I went to Hawaii. I fell in love with the place as soon as I arrived and promised myself to move there in the future. This feeling never left me even ten years later when I started going to college. I knew that I'd need to know English if I were to live there, so I decided to go to Canada for a working holiday stint for one year when I was 21. There, I spontaneously joined a 17-day bus tour of the West Coast national parks in the US.
Wow, you're so worldly! Did this tour become your impetus?
Yeah. This tour brought 30 people from 20 different countries to visit national parks, have meals, and look up at night skies together, as we continue our journey at night and wake up every morning to different sceneries. This "wake up every morning to different sceneries" is, for example, when one day it was over 30℃ then the next day everything was covered with snow. It was then that I started yearning for the lifestyle of being constantly on the move, seeing new sceneries and meeting new people all the time.
I see. And did you return home after that?
Yeah, but I did go to Hawaii not long after, just like what I'd hoped for. I was 23. I had a "mini immigration" in Hawaii Island where I lived with the locals for 2 months. During that time, I experienced self-sustainable living and was really amazed at how the people went about their lives so close to nature. I decided I wanted to do the same and vowed to return again to Hawaii Island someday, and then I came back here to Japan.
These photos that you've been showing me are spectacular!
Thank you! My experiences in the US and Hawaii have become my foundation in life. As soon as I got back to Japan, I graduated from college and I started work in Bandai and continued for four years until 2018. While working, I was already planning my move back to Hawaii. I thought I should save money first, so I looked into cutting back my expenses. Living at an apartment with an ¥80,000 ($800) monthly rent, I thought, "Why pay ¥100,000 every year just for a place to sleep?" It so happened I saw this "Tiny House" ad from the Internet. It said, "Build it and run it for just ¥350,000! Never pay rent again!" I was thrilled. Then as I was searching about the van life, I came across Shiun Tatsumoto from “Cargo Couple” on Twitter and thought, "That's it, I'm gonna make my own mobile house for even less than Tiny House!" I could not keep still anymore, so off I went to meet with Shiun.
Wow, Shiun is so influential! Did you also learn how to build the mobile house from him?
That's right. In fact, I joined his friend Hiryu Sobajima's mobile house-building workshop at "Recycle Eco Village Yuru-Yuru" that both of them were conducting in Fujino, Kanagawa. I stayed there as I learn the ropes in building a mobile house and so I eventually did build mine.
I didn't realize there's such a place like that! But I bet that cost you a lot of money...
The truck and the building materials all cost about ¥700,000 ($7,000), but I actually used Internet crowdfunding to pay for everything. I have a friend that used crowdfunding to launch a record store and I'd been keen to try it since. Turned out to be much harder than I expected, but I feel blessed that a lot of people supported me and enabled me to reach my target amount.
It does sound like an unusual project for crowdfunding! But was building the mobile house really hard?
Oh yeah, but not because building itself was hard but because I was a complete noob at DIY. Heh! Seriously, I couldn't have made it by myself alone. Thanks to Shiun, who brought me to the whole mobile house idea... to Hiryu, who provided a place to build and introduced me to an amazing mobile house community... to all the people that actually helped me build... and to all my crowdfunding and online supporters, now I have my mobile house "Toby" after three hard months. I was overjoyed after it's done and I let out a big victory shout. (Laughs) By the way, there's a video of building the mobile house on YouTube and it'd be awesome if you can watch it!
You have such a big heart! By the way, where did you get the name "Toby?"
It goes all the way back to when I first saw "Tiny House" on the Internet. Since then, I'd always wanted to have a "scaly"-ish design and so when I thought about naming my house, I figured it's got to be something related to a fish. Then, one of my friends suggested tobiuo (means "flying fish" in Japanese) and I though why not? And it's like I'm flying like a tombi (means "black kite" in Japanese) every time I look up in the sky. With tobiuo that sees different worlds every time it leaps out of water and tombi that roams freely in the skies, I decided to go with "Toby". By the way, you can see great views from Toby's windows.
This is really nice! It must be amazing to see different sceneries here every morning. Please share with us your next life goal.
That would be Hawaii. Heh! Actually, one of the reasons I wanted a mobile house is so I can live in both Japan and Hawaii. If I did both "jungle living" in Hawaii and "mobile house living" in Japan, I wouldn't have to worry about rent when I'm not in Japan and also enjoy the four seasons when I'm here anywhere. I want to lead a life of freedom (with van life) where I can go anywhere I want.
I'm very excited for your next adventure! But for now, what's your final message to the readers who are interested in the van life?
Please follow me in my search for a new way of life! I've recently started vlogging on YouTube and blogging on note, and am hoping that my current life project is not just a new challenge for me alone, but also a catalyst for many other people to find their happiness. Through my mobile house lifestyle, I want to document and put light into the life essentials and inessentials, rent, living infrastructure, and the differences between my previous and current living conditions. I hope people can see all this and compare it to their own lives. I'd just really love it if my mobile house lifestyle could help others find their own happiness too.
Interviewee: Nariaki Akai (赤井成彰)
Cargo Adventurer and Lifestyle Explorer. Built a mobile house and is currently trying the van life project, in search for a new way of living. Wanders the road with mobile house "Toby" to meet interesting people, see new places, and eat great food.🚚