Van Lifers Special Feature explores the inspiring lives of the next-generation people living in vans. Mikio Ohori (left) talks about his decision to leave Tokyo for Kochi and travel around Japan in a mobile house for two months.
Tell us about your van life and how you got started
I work at a nonprofit organization called Hitomaki that encourages the idea of "living many different lifestyles" to motivate the young people jaded about their lives in the mountains of Kochi. Then, I started traveling around Japan in a mobile house named "#Co-Truck" in January 2019 as part of the organization's mobile house travel project.
How is this mobile house travel project motivating the jaded young people?
To put it simply, to help them "live a hundred different lifestyles." But we actually had two separate projects:
1. Create a "Pictorial Journal of the Next-Gen Lifestyles" by interviewing one person from each 47 prefectures of Japan.
2. Hold events in 17 different locations throughout the country that introduce different lifestyles.
We were originally working mostly with the young people living in marginal settlements in the Reihoku region of Kochi, where more than half of the population is over 65. However, most of the staff couldn’t make it to their areas deep in the mountains. Being twenties ourselves, I and 5 other staff members really felt for those young people there.
Even when they do make it, we can only offer solutions to work and life troubles based on our own experiences. That's when we realized that we should go and meet more people from all over the country to get more perspectives.
The idea of the mobile house came to me and Daichi Yano, who is the director of NPO Hitomaki. "A moving house? Hell yeah! You can even save money on hotels...." And the rest is history. (Lol)
47 people from all 47 prefectures? That's amazing! Any awe-inspiring people?
Personally, I liked this guy Masafumi Ehara, who's running a co-working space “iitoco!!” in Saku City in Nagano. He believes in the concept of Idou (means "move" or "transfer" in English), where you build a human connection with every place that you move to while also doing something useful for each community. That freedom is not the be all and end all of our lives. You have to contribute to society to be truly happy. That's why I give back to society by contributing my skills to every place that I stay in. That's Masafumi's concept of Idou.
I think this is where it relates to the van life. It's not fun to simply remain a guest to your host in wherever you visit. We make the world a better place when we contribute to our host community, and it also makes our travel or van life more fun.
That makes sense. But, why did you leave your company to move to Kochi?
We have to go even further back in my story. This has to do with something I learned about myself when I was in college. Before college I always considered myself an underachiever both mentally and physically. I thought I was incapable and that I wouldn't amount to anything in life...until I started road cycling in college. I just wanted to try out in this competition at school, but little did I know that this "sports noob" that I was going to win it.
I was really shocked to discover a different aspect of me just by changing the playing field. That discovery made me want to maximize the potential of others, so I decided to join an HR company in Tokyo after I graduated from college. But I didn't like the sales and "acquisition" part of my job. It didn't suit me, nor did it bring out my full potential. So, I quit in November 2018 after four years of working there.
It's amazing that you did that. Was it hard after leaving your company?
Yes, definitely. (lol) But I met people that made me realize that I only took that job to have a job and not to have a lifestyle. They are two people behind the "address-free camper" Hyper Camp Creators. They loaded their car with camping equipments and traveled throughout Japan. When I first met them I was like, "Whoa! These people just go camping everyday and live as it is? Whatta?" So I visited to see them immediately.
Image source: Hyper Camp Creators website (https://camp-in-japan.com/)
Man of quick action! So, that encounter got you to quit your job?
Yeah, absolutely! And after that I followed their footsteps and started my own blog while doing some side gigs buying and reselling stuff as well. When I finally quit my job I loaded my car with my bicycle and camping gears and set off on a road trip. However, my savings slowly decreased and I figured I should try to increase my income from my blog.
It so happened that pro blogger Hayato Ikeda was looking for an assistant. I decided to move in December 2018 to Kochi where he's at to learn the ropes from one of Japan’s top professional bloggers.
Re: Man of quick action!!! You didn't have a second thought from moving all the way there?
None. In fact, I was all jazzed about it being so into camping and the nature. And when I arrived there, I came across the nonprofit Hitomaki, which encourages and supports young adults, jaded with their mundane lives, to try and experience other different lifestyles for a week-, month-, or year-long program.
When I learned about this initiative, I was like, "Wait a minute...this is exactly what I wanted to do that's why I took that HR job: to bring the best out of others...." And so I eventually became a staff. Then started traveling in a mobile house. (Lol)
I see, now your stories are coming together! Finally, tell us what you see in your future.
I want to continue experiencing different kinds of life, work, and existence. I figured after meeting a lot of people that there's more than a hundred different ways of living, working, and existing all over Japan. And van life is one of them.
Today, I'm living the van life with my mobile house; tomorrow, I want to try multi-residential living, workcation, and living abroad. You never know what you like until you try it, so I want to just jump into every opportunity.
Thank you very much. What's your message to the readers who are interested in alternative lifestyles such as the van life?
I think the most important thing is simply to act. The people that I met in my travels who were in their 40s and 50s whom I thought were living the life said they just did it. They said young people nowadays are really smart, and that we also have access to most information at the tip of our fingers. But that simply sitting down and thinking is not enough. I kinda agree because in my case, I just started writing my blog even though I didn't know what I was doing, and I decided to move to Kochi and meet Hayato. I opened up a lot of opportunities when I acted.
It's also really fun to just do new things. That's definitely the reason I believe Van Life rocks...because of the freedom to move anywhere and the opportunity to experience new things with it. Even if you have doubts, just give us a visit in Kochi! We'll be waiting for you!
Interviewee: Mikio Ohori (大堀幹生)
Travels all over Japan in a mobile house "#Co-Truck" with Daichi Yano while running nonprofit organization Hitomaki.