Expats buy their dream home in rural Japan

Expats buy their dream home in rural Japan

(CNN) – Kimberly and Paul Fradale were living in Tokyo, working in international schools, when they made the leap that American expatriates dreamed of: buying a large country house for a song and restoring it to its former glory.

Both grew up in the countryside: Kimberly, a Japanese American alongside her mother, grew up in the Alaskan countryside, and she spent Paul’s childhood in rural New York.

Finding an inexpensive dream home

In a country known for high real estate prices, he buys a large country house (or

In a country known for high real estate prices, buying a large country house (or “kominka”) in Japan is still affordable.

Courtesy of Paul Fradale

“You can buy a modest house for $ 20,000, depending on the location,” explains Paul. Some cities even maintain listings for free or near-free homes, hoping to bring in new families.

There are no restrictions on foreigners purchasing land or property in the country, and citizenship or residency visas are not required. However, without obtaining a work visa or permanent residence status, it may be difficult to obtain a loan. Foreign buyers usually choose to pay cash for this reason.

“With so many homes available for so little, however, cash shouldn’t be a problem,” says Paul.

Members of the Fradales family, who live and work in Japan all year round, have been waiting for them to obtain permanent residency status before purchasing their home. They did not want to leave the country every three months to renew the tourist visa, in the event of an unexpected job loss.

They also spent a lot more money than they could have earned – about $ 250,000 USD – but their 130-year-old house came with about three-quarters of an acre of land, a fully mature garden with a giant Japanese cherry tree, and attached buildings like “Kura” , A type of warehouse with dirt walls.

Why have the old cottages been abandoned

Fridays says most Japanese youth don’t care much about an old house, especially out of town, and they lack modern amenities.

In Japan, they say, homes are considered disposable. But they reject this mentality.

“Big, old farms like ours have been built to carry and house generations of families, and that shows,” says Paul.

“Homes in Japan don’t gain value over time, but the opposite is true. The value of our property is only in the amount of land. The main house is worth a few thousand dollars, although it is made of materials that cannot literally be bought anymore,” Paul explains. .

In particular, young families are not interested in living in “kominka” (literally “old house”) because while they are spacious, they offer little in terms of privacy: all doors are either shoji paper or fusuma (covered with a cloth sliding door).

“If anyone snores, for example, the whole house can hear it,” Kimberly says. “If we had children, then the comica wouldn’t be an option.”

It can also be cold.

“Even with the addition of the wood-burning stove, we still have many mornings and evenings in the winter where we can see our breath at home,” says Kimberly.

Fishing house

Scouring Fradales Real estate listings For years, Paul has even seen weather scenes in Google Maps every time they find a decent possibility. Then he searches for the main features he wants the most.
Paul and Kimberly Fradell in front of the traditional

Paul and Kimberly Fradell in front of the traditional “kominka”.

Courtesy of Paul Fradale

Paul’s wish list:

– A river within walking distance of biking but not so close that flooding will be dangerous

A nearby temple to hear the bells

– Local products store / farmers market

– Hills or nearby mountains

Cora (storehouse) in the property

– A mature garden

– Enough land so that the neighbors are within a reasonable distance

A town large enough to own a hospital, grocery store and a home improvement store

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

– A relatively flat city, so it will be easy to ride bikes around

By comparison, Kimberley’s wish list – running water, electricity and plumbing – was very modest.

Finding their dream kominka

“We stayed away from the coast,” says Paul. “As much as I love and miss the ocean, the 2011 earthquake / tsunami propelled this idea.”

So they instead examined city and town risk maps to see where there was a risk of mudslides, floods and hurricanes.

After looking at over 30 personal homes, they finally come across the home they buy.


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

“When we got on the property, I fell in love with her. I could easily imagine what it would look like in the end. Kimberly was less impressed. Her words to me when we went to meet the agent were,” Remember, the face of poker doesn’t seem interested! “

“Kim’s resignation is painfully obvious,” says Paul of this photo taken before cleaning the house.

Courtesy of Paul Fradale

But as soon as he entered the house, Paul spotted “Kaidan Tansu”, which is a chest of drawers that also works as a drawer, a hidden trap door on the ceiling, and sliding doors made of a single solid ash board. Then, he says, “he cried like a little girl.”

“We were told that the seller had an offer from a developer to buy the property, destroy the house, and build dozens of small houses on it, but he was hoping someone would want to keep the old house,” says Paul.

One small shock to Fradales: In Japan, all closing costs are borne by the buyer, rather than the seller. The owner, in turn, delivers an empty house, clean of its contents.

“The landlord is usually asked to completely cleanse the house, but I used to see that there were so many interesting artifacts mixed between the infinite amount of things, so we got a price cut for this reason,” says Paul.

Buried treasure (and a cockroach)

Since the house came with all its contents, its cleaning has turned into a treasure hunt.

“For us, this meant that the first year of ownership was a little more sorted over a hundred years of history, as it is said through the property of one family,” Paul says.

One box only had candy wrappers, all flat and stacked.

“One of the boxes made a suspicious noise, so I took it out to open it,” says Paul. “It was full of nothing but hundreds of cockroaches, which stretched like something from Indiana Jones.”

However, the next box contains rare old World War II photos and postcards. Another box is full of antique jewelry, including a chain of pearls. There was even an old chest of drawers with an antique kimono.

The historical photographs, documents and artifacts were most important to Fradales, who offered to return them to the owner on more than one occasion.

“I shared some wartime newspapers and other artifacts with history students,” Kimberley says. “These elements have helped make events more personal and tangible.”

“There are extended family members in the next town that we are contacting to see if they want some pictures. We have sponsored pictures and historical documents that we will keep,” said Friday.

They also thought about donating artifacts to a historical community or even converting part of their house into a miniature museum with history in Japan in the early twentieth century, as one family and their house have told us.

Memories of war

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

There were also ancient Chinese coins, letters to home, and a Japanese miniature flag carried by a soldier in a fight for good luck, with encouraging messages on him.

They also found World War II newspapers featuring stories of General Togo laughing at the numbers of dead Allied forces.

“Some documents don’t satisfy Japan (for example, newspapers), so we realize that not everyone will be happy to see it shown anywhere. We believe history should never be erased but should not be rubbed into anyone.” Paul says.

Holiday traditions

Kimberly explains that “every traditional Japanese home has“ Potsudan. ”“ Potsudan ”is an indoor Buddhist shrine for family members who perished.

The Fradales mausoleum came with the names, letters and photos of those in the family of the previous owner, dating back several generations.

Ferradales was told that they should get rid of him, but Kimberly could not do that: “I still cannot drive them out. Every major holiday I open the doors and they spend our time with us. I hope they agree the attention we gave it to the place.”

Neighborhood trade

Fradales’ rural neighbors, most of whom are retired in the 1970s, welcomed the new arrivals.

“They saw us come every weekend and during all our holidays, we work from dawn to dusk to clean the house and the courtyard. Like people everywhere, the Japanese love rooting weak, and seeing we both treat this place … made us new arrivals” hello if mad “In the neighborhood,” Paul says.

Peek at some of the traditional crafts that entered the old house.

Peek at some of the traditional crafts that entered the old house.

Courtesy of Paul Fradale

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

Fradales, however, give up the bamboo they tear from the yard every year. Since bamboo is a delicacy of seasonal foods in Japan, neighbors welcome the treatment.

“This year, for example, we attended more than 50 people, dug them and took them to all neighbors. And always, later in the week, many neighbors will drop beer, coffee, cabbage or other products, or homemade rice dishes thanks to the buds.”

“We are very fortunate to have landed in a place where the neighbors are kind and open,” Kimberley says. “In return, we offer hours of endless entertainment.”

Honoring traditional crafts

As people all over the world struggle to find a way to reduce their environmental impact, Fradales believes that restoring country houses, along with embracing traditional folk arts and crafts, is a way for Japan – and the world – to move forward.

“Japan was once known in the West as a source of cheap goods that worked well,” says Paul. “Now Japan has seen the first South Korea, then China, rise and then equal this claim.”

“The values ​​that went into building this house are the same ones that still go into handcrafted paper umbrellas, forged copper tea pots, painted sticks or high-quality mat mats. Each item is carefully crafted and is intended to last for more than one generation if maintained, says Paul: “It was made with deep respect for the materials they came from, and it has been taken into consideration deeply by those who will use it.”

Garden restoration was

Garden restoration was “shattered” – albeit rewarding – to work for the federal forces.

Courtesy of Paul Fradale

Beauty amid closure

The rural retreat of Fradales was a respite during the coronavirus.

“Since the Covid Crisis has made us all isolate ourselves, this home and property has been a source of endless comfort in the form of hope …[right now] The frogs are about to start their evening and azalea songs giving way to Cuban. “There is optimism in seeing nature grow,” says Kimberly.

Paul agrees, saying that buying their home was the right decision.

“All over the world there are historical homes in need of love. I highly recommend leaving your home country, truly engaging in a new culture, and facing a challenge like this. Don’t make mistakes, it could be a business that breaks the back, it’s very rewarding,” he says.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *