“The hermit crab prefers a small shell. This is because he knows himself.” -Kamo no Chomei, Hojoki
In 1204, a poet patronized by retired Emperor Go-Toba left imperial court life behind to live an intentional life as a recluse in the countryside near the capital. Kamo no Chomei (c.1155–1216) enjoyed music and poetry. His works were included in several major anthologies of the time. His specific reasons for becoming a recluse have led to speculation among those who analyze his life. One thing is clear: he chose to leave the world of the court and live an intentional, minimalist, lifestyle in a ten-foot square hut. Chomei immortalized his experiences living simply in his famous Hojoki, written in 1212. There are those who try to trace the modern interest in minimalism to some illustrious ‘founder’ centuries ago. This is not my intention. Minimalism is timeless and infinitely valuable as a philosophy of intentional living. Kamo no Chomei is certainly not the founder of minimalist living but his experiences are valuable and relevant to those seeking greater meaning.
Kamo no Chomei lived a well-curated life. He did not give up everything. Indeed, he was very interested in particularly possessions. The point here is owning only those things which have immense value. Kamo no Chomei kept a few books and scrolls in his ten-foot square hut. Religious in nature, these materials provided value to Chomei. He did not go overboard in filling his modest dwelling with clutter. In Hojoki, Chomei recounts how his life can be construed as moving from larger dwellings to smaller ones. Chomei’s main influences were the Vimalakirti Sutra and his life experiences. Throughout his life, Chomei had seen many grand dwellings destroyed due to war or natural disasters. Being a Buddhist monk, Chomei focused on the terrible loss which attachment to things brings people in life.
Chomei has left us with details about his curated life. “So I have withdrawn to live in the Hino mountains in this ten-foot square hermit’s cell. On the east side, where the eaves extend less than a meter, there is a place to burn the firewood I have gathered. On the south the bamboo drainboard is spread. Inside, on the west, is a shelf made for the water offerings to the Buddha. On the north, in a single-leaf screen partition, the portrait of Amida Buddha is placed, and, next to that, Fugen Bodhisatva’s portrait, before which the Kekyo sutra is placed. On the east side of the hermit’s cell, I spread the straw from bracken grain as a cot. In the southwest corner, I have built a hanging shelf on which three black leather-covered boxes are placed, for poems, music books, and collections of sutra prayers. Next to that a koto and biwa stand, one on either side. These are the circumstances in this temporary hermit’s cell.” Chomei had all he really needed. Despite his desire to live a life of nonattachment, he found himself becoming attached to the life he had created for himself in Hino, outside Kyoto. Perhaps Buddhism goes too far with regard to emphasizing complete detachment. Perhaps creative constrains and a limited degree of attachment are where true value lies. Chomei’s life and text seem to suggest this even if he felt a sense of guilt about his attachment to a well-curated life of simplicity in his ten-foot square hut. Minimalism is about getting rid of excess so that only those things which truly add value remain.
 which, among other things, teaches the value of silence and nondualism. Vimalakirti was a Buddhist figure from the 6th century BCE and is seen as an antecedent to the Zen patriarchs.