Migrants buy the house of their dreams in the Japanese countryside

Migrants buy the house of their dreams in the Japanese countryside

(CNN) – Kimberly and Paul Fradale lived in Tokyo, working in international schools, when they took the leap many dreams of an American expatriate: to buy a large cottage for a song and bring it back to its former glory.

They both grew up in the countryside: Kimberly, who is a Japanese-American mother, grew up in rural Alaska and Paul’s childhood was spent in rural New York.

Finding the cheapest dream home

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

Polite offer from Paul Fradale

“You can buy a house with a small batch of just $ 20,000 USD, depending on the location. Some cities even keep lists of free or almost free homes, hoping to bring in new families,” Paul explains.

There are no restrictions on foreigners buying land or real estate in the country and no citizenship or resident visa is required. However, without a work visa or permanent resident status, obtaining a loan can be difficult. 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.

Fradales, who live and work in Japan all year round, waited until they were granted permanent residence before buying their home. They did not want to leave the country every three months to renew their tourist visa in the event of an unforeseen job loss.

They also spent far more money than they could – about $ 250,000 – but their 130-year-old home came with about three-quarters of an acre of land, a fully ripe garden with a giant Japanese cherry, and ancillary buildings such as a kura, one soil type warehouse.

Because old cottages are being abandoned

The Fradales say most young Japanese are less interested in an old house, especially one far from the city, which lacks modern amenities.

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

“Old, big farmhouses like ours were built to last, to protect generations of families, and that shows,” says Paul.

“Houses in Japan do not gain value over time. The opposite is true. The value of our property is solely the amount of land. The main residence is valued at a few thousand dollars, despite the fact that it is made of materials that are literally they can’t be bought anymore, “explains Paul.

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

“If someone snorts, for example, the whole house can hear it. If we had kids, a kink would not be an option,” says Kimberly.

It can also be cold.

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

searching for HOUSE

The Fradales burned property registrations for years, with Paul even checking the air views on Google Maps every time he found a decent prospect. Then he would look for the key features he wanted most.
Paul and Kimberly Fradale in front of their traditional

Paul and Kimberly Fradale in front of their traditional “kominka”.

Polite offer from Paul Fradale

Paul’s wish list:

-A river at a distance of cycling but not so close that floods would be a danger

– A temple nearby to hear the bells

-Purchase of local products / purchase of farmers

– Hills or mountains nearby

-Curse (warehouse) in the accommodation

– A ripe garden

-Enough land, so that the neighbors are at a distance

– A city big enough to have a hospital, grocery store and a home improvement store

– A city that is not so big that traffic would be a problem

– A relatively flat city, so cycling around it would be easy

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

Finding their dreams kominka

“We stayed off the coast. As much as I like and miss the ocean, the 2011 earthquake / tsunami put the idea,” says Paul.

Instead, they checked city and city emergency maps to see where there was a risk of landslides, floods and tornadoes.

After looking at more than 30 houses in person, they finally came across what they would buy.

The purchase process

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

“When we walked into the property, I fell in love with it. I could easily imagine what it would be like. Kimberly was much less impressed. Her words to me as we went to meet the agent were, “Remember, the face of the poker! Don’t look interesting! ‘”

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

Polite offer from Paul Fradale

But as soon as he entered the house, Paul spotted a “Kaidan Tansu”, a chest of drawers that also serves as stairs, a hidden trap door on the roof and sliding doors from a single compact plate of elm. Then, he says, “he hit like a little girl.”

“We were told the seller had an offer from a developer to buy the property, demolish the house and build twelve small houses on it, but he hopes someone would like to keep the old house,” says Paul.

A little shock for Fradales: in Japan, the buyer, rather than the seller, usually incurs all the costs of closing. The owner, in turn, delivers an empty house, cleared of its contents.

“Usually, it takes a homeowner to clean the house well, but I could see that there were a lot of interesting antiques among them in the endless amount of items, so we got a price reduction for that,” says Paul.

A treasure (and a box of cockroaches)

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

“For us, it meant that the first year of ownership was more than just choosing a hundred years of history, as it is called through a family property,” says Paul.

One box had nothing but candy wrappers, all neatly leveled and stacked.

“A box made a suspicious noise, so I went outside to open it. It was nothing but hundreds of cockroaches, spilled like something from an Indiana Jones movie,” says Paul.

The next box, however, contained rare old photographs and postcards from World War II. Another box was filled with old jewelry, including a series of pearls. There was even an old chest of drawers with vintage kimonos.

The biggest interest for Fradales was the historical photographs, documents and antiques, which they offered to return to the owner in more than one case.

“I’ve shared some of the newspapers and other war objects with the students in my story. These facts have helped make things more personal and tangible,” says Kimberly.

“There are family members in the next city we are contacting to see if they would like some of the photos. We have edited historical photos and documents that we will keep,” Fradales explains.

They have also considered donating objects to a historic community or even turning part of their home into a tiny museum with Japanese history in the early 20th century, according to a family and their home.

War memories

“We found an old watch made in Nazi Germany, full of swastikas with a stamp. We gave it to a watchmaker in a neighboring town,” says Paul.

There were also old Chinese coins, house letters and a tiny Japanese flag that a soldier had brought to battle for good luck, with encouraging messages on it.

World War II-era newspapers were also found with stories of General Tozzo laughing at the number of dead Allied forces.

“Some of the documents are not flattering (for example, the newspapers) in Japan, so we know that not everyone would be happy to see them appear anywhere. We believe that history should never be whitewashed, nor should it be rubbed into no face, “says Paul.

Holiday deliveries

“Every traditional Japanese house has a ‘butidan,'” Kimberly explains. Butsudan is an inner Buddhist temple for family members who have died.

The sanctuary of Fradales came with the names, letters and photographs of those of the previous owner’s family, behind many generations.

The Fradales said they should get rid of it, but Kimberly couldn’t: “I can’t get them out yet. Every big celebration I open the doors and hang out with us. Let’s hope they get the attention we’ve given to the place.”

Neighboring transactions

Fradales’ neighbors in the countryside, most of whom are retired in the 1970s, welcomed newcomers.

“They saw us go up every weekend and during all our vacations, working from dawn to dusk to clean the house and the yard. Like people everywhere, the Japanese want to uproot an underdog, and seeing the two of them. “Let us face this place…. He has made us ‘welcome-crazy’ newcomers to the neighborhood,” says Paul.

Take a look at some of the traditional crafts that went into the old house.

Take a look at some of the traditional crafts that went into the old house.

Polite offer from Paul Fradale

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

In turn, the Fradales donate the bamboo that they tear from the yard every year. Since bamboo is a seasonal delicacy in Japan, neighbors welcome the delicacy.

“This year, for example, we had over 50, and we dug them up and took them to all the neighbors. Of course, later in the week, various neighbors will throw beer, coffee, cabbage or other products or homemade rice dishes. Thank you for the shoots, “he says.

“We are so lucky to have landed in a place where the neighbors are good and open. In return we offer hours of endless entertainment,” says Kimberly.

Honoring traditional arts

As people around the world struggle to find a way to reduce their impact on the environment, the Fradales believe that restoring homes in the countryside, along with embracing traditional folk arts and crafts, represents a way that Japan – and in fact – the world – could move on.

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

“The values ​​that went into the construction of this house are the same that still apply to handmade paper umbrellas, forged copper teapots, lacquered chop sticks, or quality tatami mats. Each item is carefully crafted and is designed to last more than a generation. “They are made with deep respect for the materials from which they come and are made with deep care for those who will use them,” says Paul.

Restoring the garden was a

Restoring the garden was a “revolutionary” – albeit rewarding – job for Fradales.

Polite offer from Paul Fradale

Beauty in the lock

The Fradales country shelter was a pleasant rest during the corona.

“As the Covid crisis has isolated us all, this home and property have been a source of endless comfort in the form of hope …[right now] the frogs are about to start their evening songs and the azalea gives way to hydrangea. There’s optimism about seeing nature grow, “says Kimberly.

Paul agrees and says their country’s market was the right decision.

“Everywhere you look today, the tide of protectionist sentiment is flowing. , says.

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