Japan Today



Creative hobbies that cost zero yen


Chiaki Kato has an odd hobby -- sleeping rough. It’s not to everyone’s taste, of course, but it has this in common with other “creative hobbies” discussed by Spa! (March 30) -- it’s dirt cheap, though among the more expensive ones the magazine features, given that you need a sleeping bag. Minimum cost: 980 yen.

Most of the others are either entirely cost-free -- crushing aluminum cans, for instance, or turning pamphlets into model houses -- or very nearly so; you can take up pen-twirling for the mere cost of a pen, or public bathing for the standard bath-house admission fee of 450 yen. A depressed economy, in short, is no excuse for not enjoying yourself and nurturing your talents and inclinations.

Kato, a 29-year-old care professional, was in high school when she first experienced the joys of sleeping rough. She and a girlfriend planned a cross-country trip during which the only cost would be food. Starting out in Aomori Prefecture, they walked and walked. By the time they reached Niigata, the friend was fed up. Carrying on by herself, Kato made it to Shimonoseki at the southern tip of Honshu. “I just took to it,” she says.

Lately, more than solitary travel, she organizes “banquets” in various parks. To her, the best part is not the drinking but drifting off to sleep afterwards under the stars, with no last train to worry about. But the travel bug, awakened early in life, never quite dies, and even now, sometimes she treks alone and far afield. “Not knowing where I’m going to sleep tonight is wonderful. Arriving at some place I’ve never been to, meeting people, being treated kindly, sleeping by the side of the road and thinking, ‘A person can sleep even here!’ It’s all very moving.”

Any unpleasant brushes with the darker side of human nature? Never, she says. “Once you’re wrapped up in a sleeping bag, no one can tell your gender.”

Comedian Kotetchan Baba seems a more indoor sort. His hobby is bathing, not at home but at “sento” public baths. A car accident six years ago, and the consequent need for rehab, got him started. He never stopped.

“You go to the 'sento' and see things like a boy rubbing his grandfather’s back, or the old lady receptionist treating everyone to Japanese cakes. It warms the heart. And in the tub everyone’s naked, which means everyone’s equal -- rich and poor, Tokyo University grad and junior high school dropout.”

Crushing tin cans underfoot -- can that be fun? Toshio Abe finds it absorbing enough. We’re not even told what he does for a living, from which we tentatively conclude that his hobby overshadows his career. In fact, if you ever meet him he’ll hand you a flattened can in lieu of a business card -- fitting, remarks Spa!, for the president of an organization called the “International Can-Crushing Society,” which sponsors competitions all over Japan and as far away as Texas.

"My original hobby,” he explains, “was sea kayaking. We’d camp on the beach, and flatten our beer cans to conveniently take them home and not leave litter. We started competing with each other to see who could crush them flattest.” Over time, the means became an end in itself.

The key to successful, competitive can-crushing, he says, is “keeping a clear head. If you imagine yourself putting the boot to the face of your hated boss as you bring your foot down, your thoughts will be distracted and the result none too good.”

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Travel girl is destined to be a headline if she doesn't learn to be careful. A girl traveling and sleeping out alone is asking for trouble. I hope she takes some precautions.

You know in these harsh economic times have you noticed that it is the working class people that are suffering? We are the ones laid off, downsized and reduced in pay or hours. So of course enjoying life for many in Japan means having a home, food and hopefully a source of income.

Meanwhile the politicians and wealthy classes are still spending away.

So here is a free hobby that may actually enable you to have more productive hobbies in the future. This ground breaking hobby is called "Activism" and it is free for anyone to join. All you need to do is learn about the issues facing the country and get involed to try to do something about them. It is rewarding, exciting and may even open up new career opportunities for you.

So while wandering the parks of Japan sounds nice, though a bit dangerous for solitary girl, and can crushing does sound like something one could aspire to, neither have the depth of opportunity or the intellectual stimulation and social interaction potential of activism. And guess what? You will feel very good about having done something to help others. Trust me after years of activism in various causes, there are few things that feel more positive in the realm of activities.

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at least they put creative hobbies in quotes.

We started competing with each other

thats when the idea of a hobby ends.

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he’ll hand you a flattened can in lieu of a business card ... the president of an organization called the “International Can-Crushing Society"


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If you saw Chiaki Kato, she might have a very good ability to protect herself. Years ago I hitch hiked from NY to Cali, and it was great. I think sleeping in the rough here would be very safe.

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exercise, mediation/breathing, reading (books, not manga/magazines), getting more involved/active in your community (as tkoind2 mentioned).

these are all things anyone in any country country can do for little to no money. all of which (except for that last one, shame on me) I do and find very rewarding.

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just wanted to point out, those are my FREE (or very close to free) hobbies.

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Flaming posters on JT is a free "hobby"!

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BurakuminDes: you need to pay for the internet connection

what one person calls a hobby, many unfortunates are calling life. how about volunteering for a good cause instead of crushing cans? using your energy towards an altruistic goal rather than a selfish one is ultimately more rewarding.

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I like taking my dog for a walk and photographing things not seen back home, which are easy to find in Japan. Gets a lot of interest from friends, like yesterday for instance, i photographed the settled snow near my house and a friend told me they didn`t even know it snowed in Japan!

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@jason6: more like: what one person calls a hobby/passion, to another person it's a waste of time/money/life (depending on what hobby it is).

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may hobby is working... i really like it when my boss ask me to do overtime without pay. he didn't know i'm enjoying it.

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Would love to see creative hobbies spring-up more here in Japan - free or at price but creative.

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Me and a buddy created a sport called TP Ball, where you get a glass of water, dip in a tissue and then try to hit a target across the space you're in. All it costs is a box of kleenex and the whack of beer you need to help your aim.

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I wonder when she takes a bath.. not many girls out there would be willing to run around and sleep outside without washing off their makeup, or wearing any in the first place. How can you hold a job if you don't regularly shower?

LOL I had no idea there was an art to crushing cans. At least he recycles?

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Hey you all, why is it that your hobby is ok, alright, healthy, relaxing and the the ones on this articles are not? What fits you perhaps doesn't fit others.

This guy crushing cans, if he feels ok, then that's ok. And he's doing something for a greener world.

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sleeping outside at night, taking public baths, crushing cans, borrowing books from a public library breathing a little O2 in a park... it's all good... but do we really need an article that bores us to death? i guess reading mindless dribble counts as a hobby for at least a handful of us (hangs one's head in shame...)

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Okay, the lady who likes to sleep outdoors is cool, but the rest seem like dorks in need of some focus in their lives.

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If you have just 400 yen, a sento is a great place to hang out for a few hours.

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Why does everyone miss drawing and painting? Drawing or even doing comics, sketches the like costs you a notebook, a pencil and an eraser. Hardly expensive. Granted, oil painting is expensive but watercolour isn't that bad.

Or how about writing? Again just a pen and paper. Could be a novel, short story, or a novel, if you really want.

Singing? Your body is already equip with it's own music instrument. Listen to beat boxers and you can get an idea what it can really do once you get good enough. Even some musical instruments are cheap. You don't need a 250,000 Gibson Les Paul or a 150,000 Roland (huhhmmm) Keyboard.

Hmmm, running? I suppose you need shoes and clothing. Swimming? Soccer isn't that expensive.

I'm amazed that in our age of video games, shopping and television, people have lost sight of the hobbies that have entertained people for thousands of years, all over the world.

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Actually I can think of more.

Body Surfing, don't even need a board.

Hiking. Even just a day walk.

When I was a little kid and complained about being bored my mum would turn off the TV and say "We have pencils, pen and paper. We have an old guitar old the back. Entertain yourself."

Speaking of entertaining yourself there's always.....ummmm.

That's free.

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Great ideas everyone and here are a few more ideas that are cheap if not free :)

For the artsy... Pressing wild flowers, plants and leaves in a heavy book (good use of those Japanese language books that are currently sitting on my shelf, begging to be opened once again) You can also make homemade paper and add your flowers for a personal touch.

For the technology driven.... Take apart old electronics (a walkman comes to mind) to actually see all their components and try to reassemble it with success.

For outdoorsy types... Try to find a good tree to climb in a secluded place in order to view a sunrise or sunset. You can take pics through the branches which makes a beautiful scene. Try to find edible local plants and enjoy them for free when they cross your path.

For those who need to slow down... Go fishing (with no hook is fine) and enjoy the sound of the water rippling.

For those who need to speed up... Try to bike to the next town or further and see what sites, random shops and people meet you on the way.

For those who want culture... Ask about local festivals in your city, ward, or prefecture and make a point to not only attend them but to learn out about the history of it. You can make a neat book of festivals in your area with your own pics and discriptions that you will continue to enjoy even after the festival is done. (Consider it bonus points if the festival isn't held annually (^o^) )

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