Yakushima, Japan – After several years spent living and working in some of North America’s most desirable cities, including Portland and San Francisco, Yoshiko and Eric decided to move to Japan. But rather than opting for Tokyo, they chose Yakushima – a subtropical island off the southern coast of Kyushu. Attracted by the relaxed vibe and entrepreneurial spirit of the island, and Yoshiko’s family history in the area, the pair have found here a simpler, slower life, allowing for more time to pursue the things that matter to them most – family, friends and creative freedom.
What brought you to Yakushima?
ERIC VIVIAN: After five years in San Francisco our first daughter Miyako was born. We had been thinking about moving to Japan for a little while, and having a child made us crave somewhere a little simpler to call home. So we thought, ‘why not Yakushima?’ Yoshiko’s dad grew up here and after retiring he and his wife moved back. Having family close by would be a huge help, and at the same time we could be close to the island’s awesome nature.
YOSHIKO SHIMONO: Raising our child in a big city didn’t make sense to us anymore. Hustling, taking her to daycare, rushing to work, working really hard, rushing to pick her up again, and then feed her and put her to bed. I was like, ‘what are we doing this for?’ I wanted to have more time for her. I wanted a more flexible schedule.
EV: Yakushima seemed a great place to relax a little bit, to experiment and try out new things. It would allow us to focus on our own creative projects. We didn't want to be someone’s employees anymore. We had visited Yakushima a few times, but it still felt a little risky. You don’t get the vibe right away. We didn’t know what we were getting into. Eventually we moved, two years ago.
What made you crave a simpler life?
EV: Our life was really hectic. Trying to juggle work demands and childcare was quite challenging. I also started to feel weighed down by all our possessions. When you have the space you just fill it up. Before we moved here we had a big clearing out. We had to learn how to get rid of stuff. It felt so good to see it leave the house – we pretty much sold everything.
YS: Instead of owning a lot, we just wanted to have quality things. If you’re surrounded by things you love, you take better care of them and they will last longer.
Can you describe what your work life looks like?
EV: We have a studio together. This year we had a lot of graphic design projects and I’ve been doing most of the design work. Yoshiko does a lot of strategy and project management. My Japanese is pretty basic, so she has to write all the emails [laughs]. We’re also spending our creative energy on doing our own products. We want to build a guesthouse – we want to build a place for our friends and other visitors to stay.
Have you succeeded in having a more flexible schedule?
YS: Yes, definitely. Life is less stressful. It’s a much healthier environment for me in that sense.
EV: With setting up our own creative business we are more in charge of our time. It allows me to go surfing when there are waves, and if I feel like going for a run I just do it.
Do you have many Japanese clients?
EV: When we first moved here I was still working for clients in the United States. Now we have a network here in Yakushima, so we mainly work for businesses based on the island. A lot of our friends here are trying to do their own thing. You kind of have to – there are no jobs here. It has been great having direct access to the people that own these businesses. You’re not dealing with a big corporate structure.