lifestyle

Less is more as Japanese minimalist movement grows

36 Comments
By Megumi Lim

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Nothing wrong with wanting to be less materialistic, but I am quite sure things will change if and when he decides to live with a partner.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

I sometimes fantasize about doing this. If I ever found myself alone in life, I'd get a small place and do it up like a Tea Ceremony room.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Some say minimalism is actually not foreign but a natural outgrowth of Zen Buddhism and its stripped-down world view.

Most religions have a history of aestheticism. Many monks took vows of poverty.

I believe this is the Japanese version of the same.

But I also suspect that people claiming to be "minimalist" are perhaps trying to one up the Jones' in a different way?

(otherwise why talk about it?)

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Probably did it for Facebook likes.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

With CDs, DVDs and books going digital you really don't need these things taking up precious space. Then again you have people buying record albums? Maybe VR will change things also.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

“But with tea ceremonies, or Zen, things are left incomplete on purpose to let the person’s imagination make that space complete.”

But imagination won't make up for the washing machine or fridge.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

I tend to have a similar line of thinking as the people in this article.

Recently I've thrown out more than 3/4 of my possessions.

The things that I still possess are things I really need, like and never want to part with.

It feels nice to keep it light, clean and simple so I can have room for things I really want to have in the future.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Personally I like this. I have taken the same approach in my life and found that I have more time to pursue other things that interest me such as travel, cooking, gardening, etc. I guess the older I get, things have less importance in my life with the exception of old photographs, letters, etc.

I am not sure about comparisons to Zen or any such thing (as that had nothing to do with my choices). But a drastic reduction in personal possessions is actually quite liberating.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I had a 2ldk apartment once that was nearly empty. My friend had the same apartment below mine. You needed to walk sideways to get through all the stuff he had: tables, dish cabinets, massage chairs that were broken, two TVs etc. He always told me I had a "really big apartment."

I guess he didn't get the memo about how "in Japan, we like empty space. Westerners don't."

3 ( +4 / -1 )

But we live in a consumption based economy! If we don't buy lots of stuff, the economy will collapse, we'll all be out of work, unable to buy stuff, and living in empty rooms. Oh, the result is the same.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Hmm a 1room apartment makes me claustrophobic. Plus I don't like sleeping in the kitchen (-smell).

1 ( +1 / -0 )

gokai - I was thinking the same!

In this "consumption equals economic advancement society", we hear pleas from politicians, producers and proprietors to buy, buy, buy and then buy some more.

So if we took the minimalist urge, society as we know it would collapse and we'd all be living a very frugal, spartan life - as gokai said - living in empty rooms.

Perhaps it's the best for us all.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I saw more of these photos on BBC/Reuters from the same photo essay ... and there's one of a young man lying on a futon in what appears to be a 3-tatami mat room of a 22 sq meter apartment. "Minimalism" is something one does purposefully however "poverty" - which is what that photo reminds me of - is involuntary.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

No wonder Saeko is out much of the time-I'm sure living in her prison cell is psychologically harming her..

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I can understand this but couldn't do it to such an extreme. When I first moved to Japan I left a 3 story house in England, I was packing it up and thought I needed stuff, so I shipped quite a few boxes over. I got here and moved into an apartment that was considerably less space than what I had before. 2 months later the boxes turned up and I realized that I just didn't need the stuff so got rid of most of it! Gradually i worked my way back up to a house here but still live with considerably less possessions than before and don't feel the need to constantly buy stuff.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Living in Japan will definitely teach you one thing above everything else - resourcefulness. More often than not, there just isn't the space to store half your stuff, so you're left with no other option. Now, if throwing stuff away here wasn't such a hassle AND scam! ¥40,000 total to get rid of stuff I couldn't even throw away! Ah, Japan...

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I grew up with a lifestyle where you own what you use. Might be minimal , I no ! longer drink coffee so out went the maker, ditto for the home bakery and oven toaster.

Our basic rule is if you own something but don't use it for 6-12month out it goes, Don't have a Stereo or DVD-plsyer, digitized all my records into my Nexus 7 and switched to Kindle Books.

All those really reduced my Utilities bill and freed up storage. Can still make Coffee using my Denki-Kettle if needed.

Minimalist don't have to mean going short just eliminating unneeded stuff.

Most Japanese visitors consider my Apartment clean and dity, with less stuff it also means less and easier cleaning.

Just my way of life.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I've been minimizing over time and it feels wonderful to have less!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

While I agree that you should eliminate all stuff you don't use, these people are taking it to a qualitatively different level. It's minimalism, not anti-clutterism or seiri-seiton-ism.

Like all philosophies or belief systems, there is plenty of potential hokum in there, which will depend on the individual practitioner. Steve Jobs' minimalism seemed to required an enormous start-of-the-art yacht.

The Guardian ran a similar article and it showed a two-year-old girl. I think kids are naturally drawn to stuff and interacting with it is a positive experience for them. I also think its good for parents to display things their kids have made.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Staying with J acquaintances in Tokyo I was awoken at 6:00 am and we had to roll up the futon and clean the room, otherwise empty of anything else. Then some TV exercises followed by a simple rice and miso soup breakfast on the tatami mats. Nowhere to hide. Nothing to do except squat or lie down, or leave. Minimalist, but mind-crackingly boring. Am I a country mouse?

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Sorry, I have hobbies and they require space for display and as they are creative hobbies I need tools to create. I am also an avid reader, I have a library of reference books and I like to collect things... so no, I could never get into the minimalist mindset.

I need stuff.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I guess he didn't get the memo about how "in Japan, we like empty space. Westerners don't."

Huh? IN Japan empty space is due to high rent or high costs in building a house with no money left over for anything else.

GO to a typical Japanese house, typically FULL of stuff.

He didnt get the memo about people coming to Japan to make their fortune that doesnt exist and forced to live on next to nothing.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I'm all for minimalism. Just go all digital :)

CD's and DVDs and real books are so 90's.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Everyone should watch Robin Williams talk about "Stuff" on YouTube. It fits this topic perfectly.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"Some say minimalism is actually not foreign but a natural outgrowth of Zen Buddhism and its stripped-down world view."

Jesus, here we go! Sorry, but the idea of being dispossessed knows no national boundaries. And if they want to get technical, Buddhism did not originate in Japan.

"But with tea ceremonies, or Zen, things are left incomplete on purpose to let the person’s imagination make that space complete.”

Tea ceremony is from China. See? If they want to get nationalistic about it they better start giving credit where it's due. But as I said, there is nothing "Japanese" or "Western" about being minimalist or not being minimalist.

Anyway, I admire anyone who can live a balanced life without all the things we often think we 'require'. I try again and again to do some serious cleaning, but it usually ends up with me throwing away a lot of my stuff and my wife using whatever space I freed up to put away the things I chose that she should throw away. I, too, have a lot of stuff that I don't use and am sure I don't need, but have trouble getting rid of.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

when he decides to live with a partner.

I saw the video with the woman on the photo and she lives with her little kids (and probably their father). My thought was more : wait till the kids turn teens. But I think she's a bit excessive but right and that's the society that is sick. In Europe, there were always "minimalist families" that never called themselves such. Let's say they were in religious (mostly Christian) cults or hippies, or poor peasants. I had classmates that had very little, they lived in houses with just the basics (or less). They were not unhappy at all as kids, but we were a generation of street kids so at the first ray of sun, we were away from our houses (full or crap or empty) and we only needed a ball to play all together. Teenage was more complicated, but so it was for the spoiled kids.

a two-year-old girl. I think kids are naturally drawn to stuff and interacting with it is a positive experience for them.

Stuff OK, but not tons of stuff. It's useless to let a 2 yr old with dozens of objects. That only creates chaos or diversion and that makes the kids only more tired and cranky. The nightmare is those houses where -like the parents- the kids have mountains of objects and there are cries and shoutings because they bump into everything and parents complain the brat does not 'respect' their gomi darake. Also you'll see that the kids use always the same objects over a period. So it's easier to let them a small shelf or box with a few things at reach. And renew the objects often as they evolve. In Osaka, you can borrow kid educ material for a month. You also have shops to buy/resell toddler stuff.

I was awoken at 6:00 am and we had to roll up the futon and clean the room....

Scoop : 99,99% that have bedrooms just get up at 6, leave their bed room (uncleaned maybe), and don't reenter till bedtime. That doesn't make a big difference if your bedroom is folded or the door is closed over it.

Nothing to do except squat or lie down, or leave

You do what usually in your 500 sq meter house ? Count how many pairs of shoes you own ?

a 22 sq meter apartment... "poverty"

If you own that flat in Tokyo, Hong-Kong, London, Paris or New-York... you're in the 1% richest people on the planet. For % of the price, you can get 200 sq meters full of crap in the West Chinese mountains, but there your frugality will come from not having tap water nor electricity.

So if we took the minimalist urge, society as we know it would collapse and we'd all be living a very frugal, spartan life - as gokai said - living in empty rooms.

Or the contrary. You believe that the economic added value is from Ikea/DonQuijote crap (what fills houses till the roof), but nope, it's more from smartphones and military drones. If everybody was aiming the efficient minimalist high tech life, economy would be boosted by a faster race for innovation.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Go ahead and minimize your paycheck too while you are at it. No go, huh?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

My parents' house (and the home I grew up in) was big: A Victorian with three porches, attic, crawl spaces, etc. However, it was cramped because of all the junk my mom used for decorating--all space needed something.

Now I have my own home (new construction, 1700 sq. ft.) with nothing on any wall--it's big and it feels big.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

A lot of the comments are bang on, especially@ smithinjapan talking about balance.

It's equally unhealthy to take minimalism to extremes as it is to fill your place with stuff. Like being anorexic about possessions.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

For a country with a space problem, it has an incomprehensible love affair with outmoded technologies, like CDs and printed books/manga.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Minimalism is fine. Especially as an ideal. However, if people have artisanal style hobbies that they enjoy, they require studio space. There they can leave a project in progress and close a door on the creative chaos. Practically speaking, Zen-like spaces are easier to maintain if people live alone and if they can find studio/office/storage space for the things they create. Then the other spaces in a home can be clutter free.

Yes, having less allows people freedom to go out and travel and the like. But for the homebodies who enjoy a comfortable cocoon at home, there is a basic level of "stuff" required. One of life's basics is eating several times a day. Cooking requires various tools and accoutrements to store and create food. In most Japanese kitchens I've seen (except the ones in posh magazines) the kitchen is a nightmare of clutter in a crazily small galley (or less) that barely has room to shred a cabbage. Without storage cupboards the rice cooker perches precariously on the microwave sitting on top of a cheap shelf storing the bowls and plates needed to serve the food. No amount of "chucking stuff" is going to correct that.

Those who are not creative and only sleep at home because they work early to late and get their meals at the obligatory after work drinking bouts, might find it easier to do with less.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It always amuses me that foreigners outside Japan who have never even been there still have this impression of Japanese minimalism and how tidy and organized they are. Virtually every Japanese apartment I ever went to had crap everywhere, on every available surface, mismatched furniture, glass door cabinets crammed with odds and ends and bits of crockery and piles and piles of "stuff" from the front door inwards.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Go ahead and minimize your paycheck too while you are at it. No go, huh?

I do not understand.....just because someone chooses not to have things does not mean they are giving up on living, which takes money.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Minimalism is relative, perhaps. Every year, my wife and I go through and throw out whatever we don't regularly use.

Turns out, we regularly use about the amount of stuff that fits into your standard 2LDK apartment.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@smithinjapan

Jesus, here we go! Sorry, but the idea of being dispossessed knows no national boundaries. And if they want to get technical, Buddhism did not originate in Japan.

If you want to get technical, the writer never said so, and nor did anyone else in this article.

By the way, have you considered the possibility that the writer isn't from Japan, and is Chinese? I'd say, ooh, let's see now, Singapore. I expect she knows enough about Buddhism and Zen to understand that they didn't originate in Japan.

Tea ceremony is from China. See? If they want to get nationalistic about it they better start giving credit where it's due.

There was no nationalism in the comment that has offended you, but there is a strong element of the unnecessary pissing contest in yours. You must be a bit of a nightmare to Japanese people who get into conversation with you, only to find themselves getting trampled by a cultural vigilante.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

coskuri - thanks.

But your statement -

"...Or the contrary. You believe that the economic added value is from Ikea/DonQuijote crap (what fills houses till the roof), but nope, it's more from smartphones and military drones...."

is based on what? The "You" you mentioned can only be inferred as me, so how did you gain such insight into my thoughts to believe that this statement is credible?

Yes, some peoples houses are filled with junk - but for many, leading a minimalist existence doesn't mean to purge most belongings. Personally - my house is generally clutter free. Space abounds and every thing has a space. But I do need / use things such as tables, chairs, cushions, sofa, beds, tv, computer, stereo, books, pot plants, family photos and all my favourite things in my love-room the kitchen. And I need a place to store my family's skis & associated winter goods, all our camping gear, our outdoor / bbq stuff, my tools and hobby equipment, my wifes hobby stuff etc etc. All of these things have been bought. Most have been made in Japan. If I cut the purchase of most of such - and every household in Japan did - I guarantee there would be an economic-quake of immeasurable magnitude. I buy little from "junk" stores, but I will confess to patronizing the excellent ¥100 shops in my town.

Your ideal world of macro-techno minimalist living may well eventuate in the far future where science fiction becomes science fact (and the beloved kitchens replaced by hi-nutrient edible blocks downloaded on a 3-d app) but for me in the now, minimalism is living a clutter-free, tidy life surrounded by the things that add a bit of warmth and familiarity to my short trip on spaceship earth.

And yes, I again agree with the premiss that plenty of people do accumulate junk.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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