“Spend Every Day with Peace of Mind”: A Labor-of-Love Family Home in the Japanese Countryside

It took me a while to realize that my new pen pal Hironobu Kagae is an emerging lifestyle guru. He and I met on Instagram: I sent him a message admiring his entryway and we struck up a halting conversation. I don’t speak Japanese and Hironobu was relying on Google Translate, but he shared intriguing photos of his family home and rural life at the southernmost tip of mainland Japan.

He and his wife, Hitomi, have three kids and live in a village in Kagoshima prefecture. He works for Sinken, a building company specializing in environmentally friendly custom wooden houses—”we look for ways to satisfy both people and nature,” explains the website. Hironobu might have written that himself—it turns out he’s a columnist on the Sinken site, and by making use of Google Translate myself, I came to learn more about Hironobu’s own story; his practical, unpretentious approach to design; and his celebration of everyday pleasures, such as “sitting by a window and calmly catching the air at the beginning of the day.”

A nutshell bio: To avoid the forbidding high school admissions test, Hironobu attended technical high school where he studied interior design—then went on to earn a newspaper college scholarship and a master’s degree in architecture, all while delivering papers for 14 years (he started in fifth grade). It was touring a Sinken design that inspired him to work for the company—which entailed moving with his family three hours south to the countryside. In Kagoshima, he was able to buy a triangle of land and build his own work-in-progress compound, pet goat, oak forest, and newly planted rice field included.

Hironobu’s home chronicles—on the benefits, for instance, of having a communal closet and family bath right next to the laundry area all on the second floor (the title of that essay is “A house that makes housework easier”) —have been so popular that Hironobu has just published his first book, The Meaning of Living, which he described for me as “an essay on what I thought about when designing and building my own home and my daily life.” Join us for a tour via Hironobu’s family album.

Photography by Hironobu Kagae (@kagae_hironobu).

a japanese maple (here in its fall glory) stands outside the front door. of his 12
Above: A Japanese maple (here in its fall glory) stands outside the front door. Of his design, Hironobu writes, “I prepared a box (a simple wooden house) that suited the lush greenery of the area.” It was constructed by the team at Sinken and incorporates signature Sinken elements, such as wood-framed windows and a heat-collecting pitched metal roof that works in tandem with external insulation and an under-floor heating system.