Episode 1: What is a Multicultural Co-living House?

Living Together in a Guest House: An Unprecedented Experience in America

I first learned about guest houses during the summer of my second year in college in 1974 (a time when hippie culture and student movements were at their peak), while reading “Nandemo Miteyaro” (“See Everything”), a book that chronicled a trip around America full of freedom and possibilities, by Minoru Oda. Inspired by the book, I embarked on a solo trip to America and was introduced to guest houses by a Japanese traveler I met in Las Vegas.

The facility was located near Los Angeles and was run by a volunteer group called the “Corping Association,” which was affiliated with the Catholic Church. The guest house, called “Corping House,” was an elegant three-story Western-style building that looked old-fashioned at first glance. Upon entering the entrance, there was a spacious living room, and a table tennis table was placed in the pilotis.

The cost was $35 per week for a single room with two meals included (at the exchange rate of $1 = 300 yen at the time), and each room was about 8 tatami mats in size with a bed and desk, making it possible to live comfortably with only one bag. Although the toilets and showers were communal, the American toilets were so large that smaller Japanese people seemed as though they might fall in, and the showers had strong water pressure.

There were about 60 residents, and although it wasn’t a large number, they were diverse, including not only Americans (many of whom were elderly and living alone), but also Hispanic workers from Central and South America, backpackers (people who traveled cheaply with only one bag), and Japanese exchange students. It was a peculiar living space where people of different languages, nationalities, purposes for residency, and even ages as different as parent and child, lived together in harmony.

Looking around the lobby, I saw a young Japanese person reading an English newspaper and conversing with an American, almost as if they were taking an English conversation lesson. In the living room, there were Japanese exchange students playing billiards with Mexican gardeners from Beverly Hills. Some people chose to live here because they felt unsafe living alone in the dangerous city. They went shopping and played together, feeling like a family.

This guest house was full of wisdom for the weak who lived in an unfamiliar land. At the time, I had no idea that this Corping House would become the root of J&F House, which we would operate 25 years later.

In the next column, I will discuss J&F House Tenjo, the first J&F House that caused a big buzz in the media.