Meet Mr. Junichi Kanasugi from Yokohama, who enjoys his Airstream trailer for four seasons now, with his wife, his son and the dog, a tan Shiba-Inu. They live around the block and I have passed by his home and the big trailer parked next to it many times, exchanging greetings and small talk.
Only when I learned my remote friends Becky Blanton, who I had met (once), and Tom Bentley write for the Airstream magazine, did I notice the connection, got any interest in the brand at all and approached the neighbor to ask for an interview. So glad he said yes, but like many Japanese, the family do not want their likeness in public, so we have only Mr. Kanasugi in the photos.
The Kanasugi family loves outdoor life. For many years they went camping with a tent, but always felt uneasy with only a thin layer separating them from the elements and animals. In recent years, bears, for example found their food supply in the wilderness dwindling and took up foraging near settlements. Although the family was never attacked, they yearned for more solid yet mobile walls around them to enjoy the simple pleasures of staying near the places they love - and just relax. Others go hiking, mountaineering, they simply enjoy nature or meet others at a camp ground or in an RV park and have a good time together.
In 2007, the son helped to realize the dream to purchase an Airstream. They drove the 30 miles to Airstream Japan in Saitama prefecture. The parents fell in love with it, too, and bought this 2008 model Safari, 7.9m long (25 feet). It was the 101st Airstream sold in Japan. They pull its 2.5 tons with a Ford Explorer, left-hand drive, adding to the rarity factor on the roads, where right-hand drive is the norm.
The family had the sloped garden dug out in front of their unique house to make the parking space, complete with 30A power, fresh water and sewage connection. Most of the time the Airstream serves as a spare room, sometimes for guests, or to relax. No working in here, the older Kanasugi winks. His wife adds she would not mind living in the trailer for long, as an upper-class homeless.
For about 120 nights the family has used the Airstream for its intended purpose, to go traveling and enjoy the great outdoors in Japan, which can be remote and lonely, while all the bustle keeps crowding the cities.
Asked, what kind of comments he gets from the people, Mr. Kanasugi laughs, "most just say, what is this? They called this trailer many names... One guy jokingly called it coal-fired, meaning locomotive, and a third-grader called it vacuum car, mistaking it for a sewage truck. At highway service areas, many bus travelers come around to admire the vehicle. "
Entering an Airstream for the first time, I notice its enormous standing height, tall enough for my 190 cm (6'4") and then some. The trailer presents a solid and inviting appearance, pleasantly warm inside for a sunny winter day. Aside from special trim for the 100th edition, the trailer is stock, with no special modifications. It has all the shelves, pantry, easy-to-clean PVC flooring, the 19" TV, the Sony audio (FM not usable in Japan, due to different frequency spectrum), and all the usual amenities, including furnace heater and air conditioner. All openable windows have insect screen and there is a ceiling fan and a harness for a backing camera above the rear window.
This Safari is number 1 of only 10 made for the 100th Edition of Airstream Japan. Almost all the trailers they sell here are the 8' wide version, to comply with Japan's traffic laws, reflecting the narrower roads in this country.
Mr. Kanasugi would have really liked to have the extra foot of width. He explains in order to tow any trailer above 750kg, you need to obtain a special trailer license, normally following 12 hours of driving instruction on a school ground, costing a thousand dollars. Very few people in Japan find time to do this, next to a busy job with little vacation.
So, why not a motorhome, then, which you can drive with the common medium license? Independence, he says. To go shopping in the countryside, you need to circle a motor home exactingly around narrow corners and small streets. No big deal if you do it every day as a commercial driver, but at leisure leaving the home on the camp ground and just using the car is a convenience. For some weeks they leave the trailer at the RV park, as it is very cheap to park if no one is living inside.
What does Mr. Kanasugi like about the Airstream? Well, he says, living in a trailer you are all on the same floor and keep close company with the family members and the dog, or with guests. You can move it any time. The body is airtight and silent, no worry about your party upsetting nearby people on a campground. You have all the convenience of modern lifestyle, yet can move your walls on wheels to a different place every day. You are bear-safe. The Airstream is built to be good for 50 years or more, outlasting most Japanese houses. However, because of its U.S.-built Sharp Microwave, the Airstream needs a 30A power supply, which only five camping places in Japan have.
Getting around takes some improvising, as life outdoors always does. What is your preferred way of relaxing outdoors?