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An Encounter at GINZA SIX with the Tiny House Relocation Project

Minami Fukamoto

GINZA SIX EDITORS Vol.105

Just last year, in 2020, I ended my long career as a company employee and embarked on a new and independent one in launching and serving as producer and editor-in-chief of ELEMINIST, a digital publication providing information on sustainable living. Just as I began looking for an office, remote work became the new normal. So I created a workspace at home.

Now, my day consists of leisurely enjoying a cup of coffee in the morning, then opening my computer at the dining room table and shifting to work mode. Freed from daily commutes on packed trains, I have more time now. But the line between work and private life has blurred. From time to time last year, it was hard to find the right work-life balance.

More and more of my friends and acquaintances have started splitting time between Tokyo and the countryside. It really does seem like a paradigm shift is underway. I keep hoping a renovation property with a vegetable patch within city limits will come onto the market. Otherwise, I have no plans to relocate anytime soon. Still, I want to prepare for a way of life more resilient to natural disasters and climate change.

So I head to GINZA SIX to look for forms of sustainable living in harmony with this emerging style. My first stop is Ginza Tsutaya Books on the sixth floor: You might call this place a dictionary of my heart.

Putting words to images in your subconscious can be really difficult. In my case, I often collect the words I’m after at the bookstore and draw on them to make these images tangible. As usual, there’s no specific book I’m looking for. I just scan the titles on the shelves.

I come to a halt at a section that exerts a strange and quiet fascination. Here the shelves are lined with books on natural living and eco-architecture, titles like Cabin Porn. The selection at Tsutaya is, as you would expect, outstanding. Today, I pick up another book I’ve wanted.

This title is Small ECO Houses – Living Green in Style. It’s an architecture book showcasing small eco-houses from around the world. (The copy I picked up was the last one which was used as a sample.)

How wonderful would it be to build an open living space in the middle of the forest without firm boundaries between nature and one’s life! This book expresses a transformation in values from wealth defined as being surrounded by stuff to something minimal.

Some words come to me: “If I relocate, let it be to a tiny house like this.”

I also buy Spectator Vol. 47: Tsuchi no Gakko (“Soil School”) (1,000 yen; all prices listed before tax). This volume is about land and soil. Taking inspiration from Tsutaya Books, I then make my way to Snow Peak Mobile, an outdoor store on the fifth floor.

At the entrance I stop for several moments in front of a model that catches my eye. Astounded, I exclaim inwardly: This, this is what I want!

It’s a model of a mobile house called Jyubako (from 4,000,000 yen) developed jointly by Snow Peak and renowned architect (and pride of Japan) Kengo Kuma. Life in a tiny house is rapidly becoming a more realistic option.

Splitting time between two domiciles means you need two sets of home goods, daily necessities, and various other things. But if you could customize your house as a trailer, just one will do. It would make it possible to live and work from there in a mode that moves, like the tide, back and forth between city and country.

In the midst of a climate crisis, this may well be the most ethical minimal way to live.

“My furniture then, too, should be usable indoors and out.” I sit down in Take! Chair Long (19,800 yen). The fit is perfect!

Snow Peak guarantees all its products for life. If the chair develops a hole or is otherwise damaged, they’ll repair it, if they can. Just as plants and trees do, this links the present to the future for the years to come. As a store, Snow Peak is a perfect fit for this mode of life.

I next visit MONO & SOUND SIT BACK & RELAX, a premium design audio shop on the second floor that’s here for a limited time, until February 28, 2021. I’m looking for a speaker I’ve been interested in for a while now.

The Swedish audio brand Transparent produces striking designs, approaching visual art. But the brand’s name is about more than looks. Most electronic products have short life spans. Transparent’s products feature modular components designed to make them easy to repair, replace, and upgrade. They’re also recyclable. They don’t have to be thrown out when you no longer need them. Transparent’s speakers attract attention because they’re sustainable products built for the circular economy.

Exclusive to GINZA SIX, the UPCRAFTED COLLECTION is a collaboration of several craftspeople. The ceramic STONEWARE SPEAKER (180,000 yen) on the right is by ceramic artist Hortense Montarnal. The WOOD SPEAKER (170,000 yen) on the left is made of solid ash wood by fine carpenter Calle Hansson.

Since each is handcrafted by the craftsperson, to avoid production-related losses, they’re made to order. This means a wait of roughly three months from order to delivery. Time spent waiting and weighing what music to listen to will no doubt make you cherish it all the more.

“Try comparing the speakers with music you listen to all the time,” says head office sales manager Yasuharu Matsuno, who is attending on customers today. He lets me try out the speakers. I turn one on and pair it with my smartphone via Bluetooth—simple, straightforward. It’s more or less an instant process, even for someone like me, who isn’t especially tech savvy.

As I listen to the wood and ceramic speakers, songs I thought I’d known forever take on soft, friendly tones.

I’m amazed by the sound. Then, from the back of the store, Matsuno-san brings a package made from recycled paper.

He opens the lid and produces a pair of white cotton gloves, a whimsical and delightful gesture that wins me over. Creativity, sustainability, hospitality!

A corner of the box bears a serial number hand inscribed by the craftsperson. Matsuno-san says, “It’s written upside down, opposite to the box logo, but I kind of like it as is.” He smiles in a way that clearly expresses his personality. If it weren’t for the COVID crisis, I would have hugged him!

When it comes to ethical consumption, who you buy from matters as much as what you buy. I’m impressed with Matsuno-san’s style of customer service. A love for the products is clearly woven through his words. It’s certainly possible to shop without relying on sales attendants these days, but when it comes to sustainability, there are many things you won’t know without asking.

Sustainable Development Goal 12, “responsible consumption and production,” requires responsible communication. I consider this a basic ethical practice. I’ve become a big fan of MONO & SOUND SIT BACK & RELAX.

“If I’m putting this in my Jyubako, maybe ceramic…no, I want to see the wood age over time.” I add it to my shopping list for my Tiny House project and whisper through the glass, “I’ll be back to see you soon, so wait right here for me.” Finally, I head to Blue Bottle Coffee on the second belowground floor.

Blue Bottle Coffee procures sustainable coffee beans through direct contracts with select farmers. No matter what you order, it’s ethically sourced. You don’t have to struggle picking out the exact right thing off the menu.

Here you find a lineup of eco-bags, tumblers, and other lifestyle products made with recycled materials. It’s a great place to find gifts for sticklers like me.

The washable, reusable Holiday Eco Cup (2,000 yen) is made of materials like biodegradable bamboo powder, a sustainable product harvested from bamboo trees grown under sustainable management.

I give them the coffee mug I’ve brought with me and order the Oat Milk Caffe Latte (570 yen) and Almond Pound Cake (400 yen), baked with soy milk and eggs from free range chickens.

This little break has recharged my batteries completely. I think: “Next up is deciding where to park my Jyubako!” I feel ready to go another round—but I’ll leave the fun for the next visit.

If you see someone at Blue Bottle Coffee with a map open on the table, it’s probably me. Drop by and say hello. We’ll have some fun talking ethics.

Text: Minami Fukamoto Photos: Yoshihiro Tsuruoka Edit: Yuka Okada(81)

editors_fukamoto

Minami Fukamoto

ELEMINIST editor-in-chief and ethical concierge. As a student, took part in establishing an environmental group and worked to promote environmental measures at music festivals. Pivoted thereafter to the fashion industry, with the goal of contributing to society from a commercial approach. After work involving online retail consulting, primarily for luxury brands, serving as manager of an online retail business division and head of a creative office, she launched the digital publication ELEMINIST, a guide to sustainable living. She serves as its producer and editor-in-chief. Active as an ethical and online retail consultant. (Instagram: @soundbeach1990)

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2021.01.15 improves