Van Lifers special feature explores the inspiring lives of the next-generation people living in vans. “Neo-carpenter” Daiki Suzuki (鈴木大地) talks about his new van life with a Mercedes Benz Transporter T1N!
Tell us about your van life and how you got started.
It started exactly a year ago in September 2018. I've been in the construction industry for 20 years as a carpenter when I got involved in a facility complex project by Tiny House called "Tinys Yokohama Hidenocho." It was the first time I built something with a "mobile house" concept. I've always liked big cars and thought about getting an RV for myself someday, but just never got around to it...until I got involved in building this mobile house. I was like, "Hmmm... I guess I can get one too and start customizing my life." Before I knew it, my first van was delivered to me after a month in June. (Lol)
Tiny House got you interested in the van life! By the way, what kind of van did you get? It doesn't look very common here in Japan.
It is hard to find a van with a high ceiling in Japan indeed. What aspects were you particular about customizing?
First is the power supply. I'd need that to sleep, work, and basically to live. So, I installed a solar panel that's mounted to two batteries that power 2000 watts. I can use electricity even in construction sites with no power lines available. Second is wood. I think wood creates a relaxing space, so I was bent on making sure I see wood patterns and smell "trees" inside. I went to a home improvement center and compared 30 veneers side by side. (Lol)
I looked through all the posts on Instagram with hashtag #Vanlife and learned a lot about DIY and creating space in the van until I finally finished my custom RV in September 2018. Shortly after, I went to Shiun Tatsumoto's (龍本司運) Camper Festival where I met other van lifers. They were all very kind and flattering. I was just so happy that I could be in my own space all the time.
Man, this place is the real deal! It looks like an actual house! How do you like the van life so far?
I'd never driven a vehicle this big before so it was pretty intimidating driving on narrow roads at first. Right now, I'm used to it and am even down for driving in Harajuku (lol), but yeah, it was a little scary at first. Another concern was not being able to park in multi-story parking garages. Now, I'm slowly getting used to everything, making the whole experience more and more fun.
For example, I live in Hachioji and work in the middle of the city. Since it takes about two hours to commute one way, that's four hours on the road every day. This used to be my life until I started my van life and cut my travel time significantly. I'd just stay in my work area and use my free time to going to bars and public baths. The best part is being able to drink without worrying about time.
That makes sense because you can easily sleep anywhere with that kind of living arrangement. Do you feel like you were able to take advantage of your skills as a carpenter?
Yeah, I think so. The van breaking down is a pretty common problem among van lifers especially because when they send their vans for repair, they don't have a place to stay. (Lol) But I've never had that problem this whole time. Actually, your car shaking while you're driving is very similar to when a building shakes during an earthquake. That's where my experience as a carpenter helped a lot—in creating a durable interior structure. For all the carpenters out there, come join me in the van life! (Lol)
I see! But does that mean customizing a van is a difficult project for ordinary people to take on?
Kind of. But I mean, when you want to do DIY, you don't necessarily have to do everything yourself. Like, I'm a professional builder but not a car mechanic, so I'll leave all the car stuff to the pros. Vanlife doesn’t mean "I have to do everything by myself." I hear this concern quite often especially among women who are interested in the van life. They say they're interested but are intimidated by the DIY aspect of it. In reality, you could just leave all the planning, designing, and whatnot to the pros. You only need to focus on what you can do and what you want to do first.
Speaking of pros, can people contact you for their custom-building needs? (Lol)
Actually, I'd gotten a lot of consultation requests but I politely turned them all down because my original intention with the van life was to simply play around and have fun. Recently, though, I've been thinking I should try doing that. I'd be really nice if I could help others get started with their van lives if only the building aspect of it holds them back. It doesn't have to be the whole thing, it could be just a custom pull out couch or shelves or something...whatever they want!
Cool, that's good news for some of our readers. What's your final message to those who may be interested in a new lifestyle or the van life such as yours?
I'd been interested in the van life for a long time way before I started last year but just lacked the initial push that would keep me going. Then one event led to another until finally to that initial push that I needed. It's been a year but that decision to get into the van life was the still the right decision for me. Just come see my van first or join some of our events and get a feel of what van life is about and maybe, just like me, you'll meet someone that would change the course of your life for the better.
Interviewee Profile: Daichi Suzuki (鈴木大地)
Born in 1979 in Hachioji, Tokyo. Neo-carpenter. Representative at DDD inc. Worked with CEO Tezuchi Shingo in developing commercial/residential renovation business. Living the van life to create a better lifestyle one day at a time.