Kyohei Sakaguchi’s Zero Yen Project


[Editor: Interesting interview/story about Kyohei Sakaguichi. who created the Zero Yen House- a flexible living home – Winnebago redifined. The US debut of How to Build a Mobile House will premiere at the  inaugural Japan Film Festival at New People.]

Original Article Starts Here:

By John H Lee | Issue 11, Fall 2007 Do Good

Conventional thinking dictates that people live in houses—but what’s a house? Perhaps the question is best answered by a different-thinker like Kyohei Sakaguchi.

While studying architecture at Waseda University, Sakaguchi eschewed modelmaking and drafting for more more visceral explorations, like living in an abandoned water tower and converting a pizza delivery scooter into a mobile home. “A house, by nature, should be something free, flexible, and personal, and that is what I wanted to pursue,” Sakaguchi explains. But even his water tower house and pizza scooter house didn’t prepare him for what he’d find on the banks of Tokyo’s Tama river in the year 2000, an encounter that changed his life.

Theme: Tell us about the Tama river house.
Sakaguchi: It was this structure, the house of a homeless man who had been living there for over 20 years. The entire house was made with things found lying on the ground nearby, with a total building cost of zero yen. When I saw that house, I thought, this is just like how the African natives would gather materials from what’s nearby to build their houses. I knew that this is what I was looking for, exactly my image of what a house should be. I realized the man was not ‘homeless’—he was the only person in Tokyo who owned a house that he made entirely by himself.

The house became the topic of my graduation thesis. I wanted to compile a set of information to show that there exists another kind of architecture, not designed by architects but created, by instinct, by the person who lives in it. The concept of a Zero Yen House is not a small shack for homeless people, but rather a primitive yet futuristic style of an ideal house.

The more I looked, the more examples I found of people living even more perfect kinds of Zero Yen Lives. My work right now is to perfectly record the details of this lifestyle: infrastructure, incomes, bathroom usage, sources of electricity, et cetera.

Can you describe some of the more interesting houses or people you’ve met?
“Solar Zero Yen House.” It’s by the Sumida River near Asakusa, Tokyo. The man had bought a solar panel for $90 in Akihabara (the electronics district), and the angle could be manually adjusted depending on where the sun is. He used it to store electricity in car batteries, which powered all the lights, TV and radio in that house; with the stored electricity he can watch TV for up to five hours. Next, he said, he wants a PC. His house is mobile and can easily be taken apart. It even worked as a houseboat when the river flooded—the house simply floated on water. With his past experience working at a camera manufacturer, he affixed a camera lens to the entrance of his house, which itself was shaped almost like a camera. He was incredibly smart. He did not complain at all about his living, but rather, he was enjoying it.

“The Money-Wearing Man.” I met a man in Nagoya, in his 60’s now, who was quietly feeding the pigeons. As I started talking with him, he would say all these things that perhaps a wizard would say. He is not living on the streets because he doesn’t have the money. He just did not want to be living in one of the rows of houses that were already built; he wanted to build his own house. He now makes a living by selling horse racing tips to the newspapers. He says his predictions are pretty accurate and he has made quite a lot of money that way. He takes all the money he earned and exchanges it for gold he can wear—rings, necklaces, bracelets, even his teeth.

“The Slide House.” In Nagoya, I found this house in a park built under a highway overpass, surrounded by busy four-lane roads. I thought “No kid would come to a park like this, how foolish it is for the municipal office to use the taxes like this.” But on a slide in that park was the perfect model for a Zero Yen House. The house is built atop the slide—you can simply slide out when you leave home, and intruders cannot easily climb the slide up to the house. It is a perfect house, equipped with convenience, security, and a little bit of humor.

How long do these houses last?
It really depends. The materials appear flimsy, but most houses I studied lasted at least four or five years, probably because they are repaired daily.

Sounds like you’ve encountered some very unusual things in your research.
There was another house that used a solar panel. When the owner turned 65 he abandoned it and moved into a welfare facility. But the house was not waste—it was taken apart and absorbed into other, nearby houses. I was ecstatic about the organic decomposition that was happening right here in Tokyo.

Another time I was talking to a man who lived in a house that was actually two houses annexed together. We were in a good mood and started drinking. He served me incredibly deluxe foods such as mackerel sashimi, tomatoes and cucumbers that he was growing outside his house, and oden, a kind of Japanese hot pot. I started to feel really good and we kept drinking late into the night, and then he told me I could crash. I spent the night on a neatly-made bed in the guestroom (!) in between the annexed houses. The next morning, I watched as a housewife who lived nearby brought some stew she had made and exchanged it for the tomatoes that he had grown. I could see that he was on very friendly terms with his neighbors.

The Tama river runs right through Tokyo, and there are areas where a path is paved through the trees and grass. While walking along one such pathway, I noticed there are houses there, hidden so as not to be seen from the outside. I met one of the owners, he had a radio in his hand. In his house, which was nearby, he was actually selling electronic appliances! He used to own an appliance store and had equipped his home with a full stereo set and large speakers. He fixed his neighbors’ appliances, too.

How do these houses provide amenities like electricity, kitchens and bathrooms?
The kitchens are simply a portable cooking stove with a gas canister, widely available in Japan. For bathrooms, there are public toilets in parks nearby, which also provide water. There are many parks like that along the river. I know two guys who live in this one particular house, and they use about 25 liters of water a day, all taken from the park next to the house.

Where do they acquire other materials?
People who do not have solar panels go to the local gas station and ask for “dead” car batteries. Even discarded batteries have enough electricity to run a 12-volt TV for up to two weeks! They also know where appliance stores get rid of their old batteries, so they can easily obtain those, to use heaters to keep their houses warm during the cold seasons.

The blue vinyl sheets that characterize Zero Yen Houses are all leftover trash from the fireworks festival held near the river every summer. It is a Japanese tradition for people to bring large vinyl sheets to spread on the ground to watch the summer fireworks with friends and family, and when it is over they usually leave the sheets behind. They then become part of the Zero Yen Houses nearby.

I know one person who has never purchased a single thing to build his house, not even a nail. This shows how many useful things the Japanese are throwing away everyday. There are plentiful resources available; Zero Yen House people flock to the garbage sites on trash collection days. Piles of waste at construction sites are like mountains of treasure. Electricity and water can be obtained in the methods I mentioned before, and you can trade in discarded aluminum cans for money.

The only thing that people purchase is the food, although even food can be obtained for free, through religious organizations or by getting expired foods from convenience stores. There is a kitchen in most of these houses, so people can cook for themselves.

How do these people go from “normal” Japanese society into living in Zero Yen Houses?
The man I’m closest with is Mr. Suzuki, and he is from Tochigi, a prefecture outside of Tokyo. He used to work at a construction firm, but when the firm went out of business he came to Tokyo in hopes of finding a new job. He was soon out of money and started spending nights under the bridges, where he met an expert on Zero Yen Life who taught him how to live. Mr. Suzuki found joy in living in unison with others like him and so decided to enter a Zero Yen Life.

What is the future of Zero Yen Houses, and your project?
Currently, Zero Yen Houses are simply considered the houses of the homeless, but I believe Zero Yen Houses offer many solutions to problems we have today, such as land ownership disputes, inflation, electricity, urban waste, and pollution.

This year I went to Nairobi, Kenya and Vancouver, Canada, and in both places I also found Zero Yen Houses. What they both had in common is that they were closely connected with their large metropolis. I now really want to see if houses are like that in other places too.

I am currently in the middle of a project that goes deeper into this research right here in Japan. This project will be released sometime this year as a publication and in the future will be converted into a film. With this in mind I am planning to make my own Zero Yen House and start living a Zero Yen Lifestyle myself.

Read Original Article here: http://www.thememagazine.com/stories/kyohei-sakaguchis-zero-yen-project/

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