Van Lifers special feature explores the inspiring lives of the next-generation people living in vans. Quitting their lucrative corporate jobs at 26 for the van life in Mazda Bongo together, Daiki and Yumi talk about their car camping adventures all over Japan as the "Watanabe Couple."
Tell us how both of you got started with the van life
Yumi: We got started in July 2018, so almost half a year now. Before that, we were working in Osaka. Our companies were really close to each other so that's how we met and started dating. Then, at the end of 2016, Daiki found a job at a startup in Vietnam and we decided to get married and go together as a couple. But, our relationship started to dwindle really fast as I struggled with culture shock and Daiki worked days and nights. I came back home to Japan and at that time, we were on the verge of getting a divorce.
Daiki: That's when I realized that our happiness is very important to me and that I should prioritize my family and our time together. I followed her back to Japan in May 2017 and that’s when we both quit our jobs.
That was a stormy beginning for your relationship. What was it like when both of you didn't have jobs?
Daiki: We didn't really feel worried or anything. We had both been working a lot until then and had saved up enough money to not live for a year. And at that time, we were really focused on the "we time" more than anything, although we didn't have a gauge to what happiness was to us yet. What we wanted to do, where to live...we had no idea. So, we thought we should go on a trip to "find our happiness" and so that’s what we did. We made a lot of people worried, though [laughs].
A lot of events sure led to where you’re at now! Did you do a lot of driving even before?
Yumi: Daiki had been driving a lot and I technically had a license too, but I didn't really have any practice. Then one day, we met Shiun Tatsumoto from the "Cargo Couple" on Twitter and learned that we could travel all over Japan and save a lot of money too while car camping. We were lucky enough to find a Mazda Bongo Van for only ¥90,000 so we immediately bought it and customized it. Of course, we were both newbies in car camping and DIY [laughs].
You two are amazing for doing all that despite being completely inexperienced! So, was that the official start of your van life?
Daiki: Yeah, and we planned to visit all 47 prefectures of Japan. But I realized it's much harder than expected to search for places to park/camp on the Internet. Like, I found places for experienced male travelers but with no information about the toilet and any such info geared towards women's concerns. That's when we thought about blogging our car camping experiences together, including experiences from a woman's perspective. We started writing in July 2018 and our blog is called "Car Camping Paradise*”. (*We then changed the name of the blog to "VAN LIFE")
Car Camping Paradise!" The name sounds fun! Did you two have prior experience in writing?
Yumi: Of course...we're amateurs [laughs]. But we've kept writing articles about the problems we face as well as the cool things/experiences we want others to try as we move along in our car camping journey. Then, just this end of 2018, we also started our YouTube channel, and now we've been making money off these two gigs enough to support our travels. Kind of feels weird, actually, because originally, we started traveling to find what we really wanted to do, but it turned out that traveling itself became our job.
Traveling as a job—saying that sounds good! Don't you get tired, though?
Daiki: Honestly, yes, we do [laughs]. We treat both our blog and YouTube channel professionally so we can reach a lot of people and increase our viewers. But only thinking about the numbers...I realized people want to go to places and do things freely as they want. I thought if we bound ourselves to work, we'd be back to being corporate workers, but through creating contents, I'm also reminded of the importance of our "we time" and having fun together while traveling. So, whenever we feel tired, we go to hot springs, eat good food, and charge our phones while we relax.
That's awesome that you can just switch on and off whenever you want! Do you have any plans for the future?
Yumi: Well...actually, we don't know where we'll be a month from now [laughs]. For now(2019/2/22), we're in Wakayama, tomorrow we're going to Mie. That's about it [laughs]. Instead of guidebooks, we like to get recommendations from our followers on YouTube and Instagram about good driving spots near where we currently are. I think you can’t really call it "traveling" if it's planned too much. This freestyle approach definitely suits us more.
I think the fact that you two don't overdo it is what's incredible. Do you think you've changed as a person since you started traveling?
Daiki: I think my answer mostly applies to couples, but living together is surprisingly easy. When I was still working in Tokyo, I always worried about what I'd have to do to for us to survive if I quit my job, and this whole YouTuber/blogger thing only existed in my fantasy. But now I know that if you just put your mind into it and act, life is easy. People have different goals in life, but in our case, we just want to travel and cherish our time together, and I think that's exactly what we're doing right now.
Excuse me for asking, but do you two ever fight?
Yumi: We're always together, so yes we do [laughs]. But what we actually fight about and how we resolve it are pretty different from when we used to still live in Vietnam. Back then, it felt like our differences in values and lifestyle habits were so big that our fights were pretty serious too, like the "Why can't you understand me!" type of thing. But now that we're working towards a common goal of "being happy together," most of our fights are minor and petty. We've also created a rule where if we fight, we'll let each other finish talking, think about what he or she is feeling and the root cause of our disagreement, then we'll talk it over. Usually, after we make up, we have a big dinner and a good sleep [laughs].
Such a lovely couple! We're looking forward to more adventures from you! What message do you have to all the readers who are interested in the van life?
Daiki: The number one thing I want to say is that we're not doing anything that others can’t do. I often hear from people that they're jealous that I could quit my job and travel all over Japan, but I don't think quitting your job or traveling Japan is really that hard. Of course, you do have to be prepared if you want to do what you love and live the way you want. People may think you're weird. People may laugh at you. But who cares?
I understand that any change is scary, but if you want to do something new, you'll have to throw away some of what you're doing right now. If you're prepared for even just that, then I think that's one step towards doing what you really love.
Yumi: Don't worry. Because even us who are nobodies were able to break free and live the way we truly want.
Interviewee: "Watanabe Couple" (Daiki and Yumi Watanabe)
Left their corporate jobs in 2017 to "spend more time with each other." Currently freelancing as they travel all over Japan in their DIY camper van.🚐