Deep in the Minamisaku District in the foothills of the Nagano prefecture Japan is a tiny cabin which sits high above the running stream and quiet street below.
The proud owner and humble host Daigo, says that the idea of the tiny house was thought up over a few beers one night at a bar. The next morning, the group of friends laughed and dismissed the conversation, but two of the boys with a glimmer of childlike excitement went straight to the local timber yard to acquire the goods to begin construction.
Built almost entirely by hand and – with the help of many an evening of DIY YouTube clips – the boys finished construction in 2012 and promptly put the brave abode in the Airbnb arena.
The cabin named yamamura terrace is a clever design, made mostly of birchwood and perspex. A set of small solar panels and a truck battery attached to the outside of the building gives you enough electricity to use your laptop, charge your mobile phone or play some tunes on the wee stereo.
The sleeping quarters comprise of a small loft built above the one room living area, where heat from the potbelly below raises the temperature to a very cosy climate, leaving not much need for the snuggly quilts and plethora of pillows laid out on the traditional futon.
This pint-sized pad intimidates your innate survival instinct when you initially arrive; the convenience of everyday life is stripped from the equation. The only running water on the property comes from a stream outside. There is no bathroom. Your toilet is a composting hole in the ground. Luxury is well off the cards. However, it only takes a few hours to settle into the fact that the serene surrounding forest, and the soft trickling of the passing stream, far outweighs these trivial creature comforts.
While the cabin loudly claims to be “not comfortable and not convenient”, the consideration of your contentment goes well beyond a cup of tea and a set of clean sheets. A well-equipped kitchen and nearby grocery store means you can try your own hand at cooking up a Japanese feast. There is a stockpile of wood to burn to keep you warm through the cool nights. An inside hammock swings down from the ceiling where you can lay back and read the beautiful books that have been provided for your entertainment.
Try your hand at art with the a mini studio stocked with paper, pencils, and art books to inspire. Go for a walk or ride one of the cute bikes through the mountain trails or the village below. Or just stay home and try a homemade cup-a-soup prepared by a local villager. For the avid caffeine junkie, Daigo provides a sophisticated pour-over coffee kit as well as several bags of Japan’s most renowned coffee beans, Maruyama.
The beauty of the surrounding hills and Mt. Morai nearby are well worth exploring. Different times of year come with different experiences, from spring harvest to winter snow. We were advised when hiking to take the set of gold bells hung decoratively on the wall, which are said to warn off local black bears. Thank goodness, it never came to that.
For a taste of rural culture, walk through the village at the end of the long driveway where you will see elderly farmers picking vegetables, traditional houses that date back centuries, and curious locals that look in wonder at why the heck you are even there.
For the garden enthusiast, strolling around the neighbourhood will give you a rare insight into the care taken in each and every property. Well-trained trees lean dominantly over man-made structures, while precisely placed rocks sit quietly under meticulously maintained bonsai plants.
Upon request in the evening, the owner Daigo will arrive to take you to the nearby public baths to steam yourself with the locals, and if you’ve eaten through your supplies he will also taxi you to the nearest town to purchase your provisions.
The real charm of this place is its ability to allow you to switch off. From the outside deck, you will see the sun rise and set in a perfect arc across the valley… a reminder that every day is short and each day should be cherished. The simplicity of dining in the forest, sipping Asahi while watching the sunset, or just reading a lovely book whilst cocooned in a hammock will have your monkey mind falling into a slumberous sleep in just a few short days.
After a while you find yourself feeling comfortable without having much on hand at all and wondering why your life at home is so damn complicated. At the same time the hustle and bustle of cars, jobs, money and other commitments doesn’t just seem, but literally is, half a world away.