Creating work through van life to keep margin in my life and avoid burnout | Akiko Takeda

Creating work through van life to keep margin in my life and avoid burnout | Akiko Takeda

Van Lifers special feature explores the inspiring lives of the next-generation people living in vans. Vangirl Kaori Sakai talks with Akiko Takeda (武田明子) about her traveling design company, Yohaku Design, in a mobile house. Be amazed how Akiko keeps her day job as she goes car camping all over Japan!


Tell us about your van life and how you got started.


This has been my life for 3 years. I used to work for graphic design firms in Tokyo for ten years until I started feeling suffocated going to the same office over and over again. I didn't really want to quit working so I thought the best option was to bring my office with me while traveling across the country, so... voila! now I'm a traveling designer.



Why did you choose the van life instead of simply working at a satellite office or address hopping?


Because I wanted to have my own space that I could use anytime and take anywhere. I usually work long hours and didn't want the distraction you get with a shared office. Right now, I'm based in Yahaba, Iwate in my mini office inside my mini-truck-turned-mobile-house. I originally lived in a MOVE Canbus and pushed the backseats down before working, but I felt cramped and uncomfortable in it after a while. Eventually, I moved to an actual mobile house mini truck in April of 2019.



Now we're talking! Did you design this mobile house yourself?


Yup. I gave a talk one time in Shibuya and was asked by one of the attendees about my dream. I said I wanted to build a house on the back of a mini truck and have my office there, and as soon as I said that another person told me about the mobile house builders, SAMPO Inc. I got in touch with them, sent my design (I made a pretty detailed sketch indicating things like round windows), and they turned it into a reality in just a month and a half.



What a lucky coincidence! Why were you very particular about a mobile house over the usual camper or RV?


I've been used to driving small cars so I didn't think I was up to driving big and bulky RVs. Not to mention mobile houses are cheaper to maintain and provides more security because the inside is harder to see from the outside. Right now, my mobile house works both as a hotel and workspace while I travel, but hopefully in the future I'd be able to hold meetings inside as well. Mobile offices are still a novelty so people get too excited and loud when they see it, so it can't be a place for a meeting. (Laughs)


The interior looks so fancy you wouldn't imagine it's mobile! I understand why people clamor over it.


I can totally imagine that scene. (Laughs) What's it like to actually have a mobile house?


Every day is awesome! It's basically like having a grown-up toy. You can color it as you like, craft build your own furnishings, and hang out inside. There are so many things I can do, only the sky is the limit. I named it "ROOOM," which is one of the English translations of "余白" and I added an extra "O" to kind of emphasize the "vacant" meaning. ROOOM is the materialization of the margin in my life.



The more that I listen to you the more that I want to see your mobile house. (Laughs) By the way, what's your most favorite thing about it?


I love the solar panel and fake grass on the roof. Sometimes people go up there with me and hang out when the weather is good. It's an amazing feeling.


Having a meeting on the roof brings out the child in you. Really cool!


Also, I really love that ROOOM is photogenic. I took a lot of pictures at Lake Biwa and Hanamaki Airport and my favorites are definitely the ones with it.



The pictures look absolutely stunning! How do you decide where to go each time?


It depends on where I feel like going at the moment, but it's usually dictated by where the seasonal fish or vegetables are. As long as there's Wi-Fi and electricity so I can work, I can go anywhere, really. I guess it all comes down to food. (Laughs) In some cases, a friend or an acquaintance introduces me to someone which turns into work, but that occurrence is pretty unusual as I don't travel to find work. By the way, I'm hoping to go on an extended trip to Hokkaido in the future.


I totally understand you about food. (Laughs) By the way, what are the most surprising things about the van life?


How quickly things happen through word of mouth considering how much of a rarity, relatively speaking, the people that work in mobile houses are. Another thing, I was surprised I got healthier. I guess I can attribute this to having better sleep schedule. Since I began freelancing, my commute time decreased while my sleep time increased. Then, when I started working/living in my mobile house, I also started going to bed and waking up early, leading to a much healthier lifestyle. Public baths usually close at 9 or 10, and I don't have an AC, et cetera, so I go to bed early and wake up early as well.


It seems that you can sleep better there than in your old car. But weren't you worried at all about sleeping outside as a female?
You bet I can sleep better in ROOOM. (Laughs) I used to get a little scared every time I arrived late at service stations, but after I've been securing a parking space before dusk, staying put at night, and parking in well-lit areas, I've had no problems. I'm all Gucci now.


There seems to be more and more women interested in the van life recently so I think this is really good info. What are your plans with ROOOM for the future?


I think it's interesting to sell some of the things that I accumulate from every destination to other places. Every place that I "go to" (not "move to") teems with unique and incredible things that I want to sell or introduce to other places. I could share every town or village’s products and services to one another through this new style of working. I think that would be wonderful.


That sounds so wonderful I want to go on a trip somewhere right now! Before we wrap this up, please give your message to the readers who may be interested in the van life or in a new lifestyle.


I think the van life is the new way of living for anyone right now. It's fun, healthy, practical, you meet a lot of people, and... did I say it's fun? You may be thinking that it costs a lot of money to start, or worried about everything going wrong at the beginning, but just try renting a small car and customizing it and see where it goes from there. Let's create work through van life together!


Interviewee Profile: Akiko Takeda (武田 明子)


Born in 1983 in Hyogo. Studied graphic design at Osaka Art University and worked as a graphic designer for 10 years at 4 different firms. Went freelance in June 2015 and started own creative practice called Yohaku Design, Inc. Practitioner of multi-location living x working. Inventor of new lifestyle to create margin in life and avoid burnout. Started mobile house living in April 2019. Blogs about freelance living on Instagram.


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27才で車中泊旅を初体験、以降ハマる。Webマーケッター・ライターとして活躍し、"好きなときに、好きな場所で、旅するように暮らす"を目標に「VANガール」としてVANLIFEの魅力を発信中! Twitter: @VANGIRLJAPAN
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