Dreamers’ dream homes in rural Japan

Dreamers' dream homes in rural Japan

(CNN) – Kimberly and Paul Fradale lived in Tokyo, worked at international schools, skipped most of an American group’s dreams: buying a large country house for a song and restoring it to its former glory.

Both were raised in the countryside: Kimberly, whose mother was Japanese-American by her mother, grew up in the countryside of Alaska, and Paul’s childhood passed in the New York countryside.

Find cheap dream home

In a country known for its sky-high real estate prices, it is still appropriate to buy a large country house (or “kominka”) in Japan.

Courtesy of Paul Fradale

“You can buy a modest house for as little as $ 20,000 depending on the location. Some towns even keep a list of free or almost free homes hoping to bring new families.”

There are no restrictions on foreigners purchasing land or property in the country and no citizenship or resident visa is required. However, without a work visa or permanent residence status, getting a loan can be difficult. Foreign buyers usually prefer to pay cash for this reason.

“However, even though there is so little money available for very few homes, cash shouldn’t be a problem.”

Fradales, who lives and works in Japan throughout the year, waited until she reached the status of Permanent Residence before purchasing her homes. In the event of an unexpected job loss, they did not want to leave the country every three months to renew their tourist visa.

They also spent a lot more money than they could have – about $ 250,000 – but it came with 130-year-old homes, about a quarter acre of land, a fully mature garden with a giant Japanese cherry tree, and a kind of “walled” warehouse like utility. buildings.

Why old country houses were abandoned

Fradales says that most of the young teens have little interest in an old house that is far from the city, lacking modern amenities.

They say houses are considered disposable in Japan. But they reject this mentality.

“Old, large farmhouses like ours are built and show to last for a long time, to accommodate families for generations,” says Paul.

“The houses in Japan do not gain value over time, and vice versa. The value of our property is only in the amount of land. Although the main house is made of materials that literally cannot do, it is worth a few thousand dollars. It will be purchased now,” explains Paul.

In particular, young families do not want to live in “kominka” (literally “old house”) because they offer little in terms of privacy despite being large: all doors are either paper shoji or fusuma (cloth-covered sliding door).

“If everyone snores, the whole house can hear. If we had children, a kominka wouldn’t be an option,” says Kimberly.

They can also be cold.

“Even though a wood stove was added, we still have a few winter mornings and evenings where we can still see our breath at home,” says Kimberly.

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House hunting

Fradales rubbed real estate ads Paul had checked the weather views on Google maps for years when they found a good possibility. Then he would look for the basic features he wanted most.
Paul and Kimberly Fradale in front of their traditional

Paul and Kimberly Fradale are ahead of their traditional “kominka”.

Courtesy of Paul Fradale

Paul’s wish list:

A river at a bicycle distance but not too close to the risk of a flood

Let a bell be heard in a temple nearby

-Local production shop / farmers market

– Nearby mountain or mountains

– A lot (warehouse) on property

– A mature garden

-Any land so that its neighbors will be at a far distance

– A town big enough to have a hospital, market and home improvement store

– A town that is not so big, traffic will be a problem

– Relatively flat town, so cycling would be easy

In comparison, Kimberly’s wish list – running water, electricity and plumbing – was extremely modest.

Finding their dream kominka

Paul said, “We stayed away from the beach. As I love and miss the ocean, the 2011 earthquake / tsunami also paid for this thought. ”

Instead, they checked the city and town distress maps to see where the risk of sliding, flooding and hurricane was.

Personally, after looking at more than 30 houses, they eventually came across the house they were going to buy.

The process of buying

For Paul, their future home was love at first sight.

“When I stepped on the property, I fell in love with him. I can easily imagine what it would look like in the end. Kimberly was much less impressed. Her words to me when I was meeting with the agency are as follows: ‘Remember, poker face Don’t be interested!'”

“Kim’s resignation is painfully clear,” says Paul, from this photo taken before the house was cleaned.

Courtesy of Paul Fradale

But as soon as he entered the house, Paul noticed ‘Kaidan Tansu’, a chest of drawers that also served as a staircase, a hidden trap door on the ceiling, and sliding doors made of a single elm layer. That’s when he says, “He squeaked like a little girl.”

“The seller was said to have a proposal from a developer to buy property, demolish the house, and build a dozen small houses on it, but he hoped someone would want to keep the old house.” Says.

A little shock for Fradales: In Japan, the buyer, instead of the seller, usually covers all the closing costs. The owner, in turn, delivers an empty house, free of contents.

“Often, a landlord needs to clean the house completely, but I could see that there were many interesting antiques mixed with an infinite amount of material, so we got a price reduction for that,” says Paul.

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A treasure chest (and a box of cockroaches)

Since the house came with all its contents, cleansing became a treasure hunt.

“For us, this meant that the first year of ownership was a little more than sorting out a hundred years of history, as described by a family’s property,” says Paul.

There was nothing more than sugar wraps in a box, all smoothly flattened and stacked.

“A box made a suspicious sound, so I went out to turn it on. It was filled with nothing but hundreds of cockroaches from the Indiana Jones movie,” says Paul.

However, the next box contained rare old photos and postcards from the Second World War. Another box was filled with old jewelery, including a string of pearls. There was even an old chest of drawers with an old kimono inside.

What was most relevant to Fradales were historical photographs, documents and antiques that they offered to send back to the owner on multiple occasions.

Kimberly, “I shared some newspapers and other wartime works with my history students. These items helped make things more personal and tangible.” Says Kimberly.

“In the next town, there are large family members that we communicate with to see if they want some photos; we chose historical photos and documents to keep,” Fradales said.

They also thought of donating the works to a historical society, and even turning some of their homes into a miniature museum that was the history of Japan in the early 20th century, as described by a family and their homes.

War memories

“We found an old watch made in Nazi Germany with a swastika on it; we gave it to a watchmaker in a neighboring town,” says Paul.

There were also ancient Chinese coins, house letters, and a miniature Japanese flag to be carried by a soldier into battle for good luck.

They also found WWII-era newspapers, which included stories of the Second Tojo, laughing with the number of Allied forces killed.

“Some of the documents are not proud of Japan (newspapers, for example), so we realize that not everyone will be happy to see them display anywhere. We believe that history should never be whitened,” says Paul.

Holiday traditions

“Every traditional Japanese house has a” butsudan. “An” butsu “is an in-house Buddhist temple for deceased family members.

The temple of Fradales came with the names, letters and photos of people in the family of the previous owner, and several generations have returned.

Fradales was told to get rid of it, but Kimberly couldn’t do it: “I still can’t evacuate them. Every big holiday I open the doors and they hang out with us. I hope they confirm the interest. We gave it to the ground.”

Neighbor trades

The rural neighbors of Fradales, many of whom retired in their 70s, welcomed the newcomers.

“Every weekend and all our holidays, they saw that we were working from dawn to sunset to clean the house and the garden. Like people everywhere, the Japanese love to take root for an underdog and they see that we both struggle with this place. he did the ones, ”says Paul.

Neighbors donated stones and plants, including a 100-year-old fern and a bonsai tree, to help them spruce their garden.

In turn, Fradales gives the bamboo that they cut from the garden every year. Since bamboo is a seasonal delicacy in Japan, neighbors welcome this treatment.

“This year, for example, we’ve come over 50 and dig them and take them to all the neighbors. Thanks to the exile, a variety of neighbors a week of beer, coffee, cabbage or rice dishes that will leave home-made or homemade, thanks,” he says.

“We’re so lucky we landed in a place where the neighbors are kind and open. In return, we offer hours of endless fun.”

Honoring traditional handicrafts

Since people around the world are trying to find a way to reduce their environmental impact, Fradales believes that embracing traditional folk arts and crafts, as well as restoring rural homes, represents a way Japan and indeed the world can go.

“Japan was once known as the source of cheap goods that function well in the West. Japan now saw South Korea, then China, and equalized this claim,” said Paul.

“The values ​​that started building this house are still the same as handmade paper umbrellas, hammered copper tea pots, lacquered sticks or quality tatami mats. Each product should last more than one generation if carefully maintained and maintained. they are produced with thought, “says Paul.

Restoring the garden

Restoring the garden “returns” – albeit rewarding – works for Fradales.

Courtesy of Paul Fradale

Beauty in the middle of crash

Fradales’ withdrawal within the country was a pleasant respite during the coronavirus.

“Since the Covid crisis has isolated us all, this house and property became an endless source of comfort in the form of hope …[right now] Frogs are about to start their evening song, and azalea gives way to hydrangea. There is optimism about seeing the growth of nature, “says Kimberly.

Paul agrees and says it is the right decision to buy their country from their home.

“There are historical houses that need love all over the world. I strongly recommend you leave your own country, join a truly new culture and take part in such a challenge. Don’t make mistakes, it can be a returning effort, but it’s very rewarding,” he says.

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