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Japan’s Hardcore Minimalists Live in Virtually Empty Homes

The minimalist lifestyle trend has been gaining popularity in the Western world for a while now, but we’re still far from the hardcore minimalism Zen-loving Japanese have adopted in their quest to achieve a stress-free life.

Space has always been an issue in crowded Japanese cities, so from that point of view it makes sense that people try to keep their homes junk free, but some are taking minimalism to such an extreme that they are virtually living in empty houses surrounded by only the barest of necessities. For them, minimalism is not just about de-cluttering their living space, but also about evaluating what material possessions truly bring to their lives and focusing on the things that they consider important. To Japan’s hardcore minimalists, less is more in every sense that actually matters.

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Minimalism or “minimarisuto” is a popular concept in Japan these days, with thousands giving up their possessions with goal of leading happier lives, and thousands others at least interested in doing the same at one point. But as to what sparked the interest in this extremely frugal lifestyle, nobody knows for sure. Some claim it was inspired by American popular figures like Steve Jobs, while others say the idea is not foreign at all, but a natural progression from Zen Buddhism and it’s stripped-down perception of the world. There are also those who say this kind of lifestyle is simply practical in an earthquake-prone country like Japan, as having fewer stuff to fall on you is safer. One thing is for sure, though, Japanese minimarisuto is a hard concept to grasp in Western consumerist societies.

Reuters recently investigated the extreme minimalism ternd in Japan, and sat down with some of its adopters. 36-year-old Fumio Sasaki lives in a one-room apartment in Tokyo and owns three shirts, four pairs of trousers, four pairs of socks and only a few other essential objects. Once a passionate collector of books, CDs and DVDs, Sasaski one day became tired of keeping up with his obsession and turned to minimalism. “I kept thinking about what I did not own, what was missing,” he said. So he spent the next year selling his material possessions or simply giving them away to friends. “Spending less time on cleaning or shopping means I have more time to spend with friends, go out, or travel on my days off. I have become a lot more active.”

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Apart from a table, a TV set and his laptop, Fumio Sasaki’s home is completely bare, and he admits that many of his friends compare it to an interrogation room. But to him, this is the best it’s ever looked.

Katsuya Toyoda, an online publication editor and extreme minimalist, has one table and one futon in his 22 sq metre apartment. To him, the lifestyle change was all about dedicating more time to things he genuinely liked. “It’s not that I had more things than the average person, but that didn’t mean that I valued or liked everything I owned,” he said. “I became a minimalist so I could let things I truly liked surface in my life.”

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“In the west, making a space complete means placing something there,” 41-year-old Naoki Numahata, a freelance writer, told Reuters. “But with tea ceremonies, or Zen, things are left incomplete on purpose to let the person’s imagination make that space complete.”

There is a stereotype that the Japanese lifestyle in general is minimalist, but the truth is that here, like everywhere, there are a lot of people who like to surround themselves with stuff. After all, this is the birth place of many of the world’s most bizarre and useless inventions. This new hardcore minimalist trend is still viewed as somewhat of a curiosity in Japan, with many televisions showcasing the homes of minimalists on their shows precisely for their “wow” factor.

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Last year, Kotaku reported that on 2ch, Japan’s largest online forum, a lot of people viewed extreme minimalism as living in a prison and expressed concern about how growing up in such a frugal environment would affect young people.

One last interesting thing worth pointing out about Japan’s extreme minimalists is that most of the photos I’ve seen show that they have parted with many of the household amenities most of us couldn’t dream of living without, but not their laptops and smartphones. This is the land of technology, after all.

Photos: 2ch forum