Want to buy a cheap house in rural Japan? This millennial farmer offers his advice

When Lee Xian Jie first stepped foot within the conventional farmhouse situated in Ryujin-mura, a village in Japan’s Wakayama prefecture, it was “fairly rundown” — with flooring so rickety they shook beneath him with each step he took. 

In spite of everything, the primary construction of the deserted residence was 300 years previous, Lee stated. However when he took a more in-depth look across the residence, he might inform it was “correctly constructed.” 

“The pillars are all Sakura wooden, which is a particularly dense and arduous wooden,” he instructed CNBC Make It. “It is also a thatch constructing, which could be very uncommon in Japan now … So it is a constructing with nice historic worth.” 

“My curiosity has at all times been in historical past. I needed to see … How did folks construct properties with simply wooden and joinery?” stated Lee Xian Jie, who restored three buildings in Ryujin-mura, a village in Japan’s Wakayama prefecture.

Lee Xian Jie

The property, which beforehand housed 4 generations, is one among Japan’s tens of millions of vacant homes referred to as akiya, Japanese for “empty home.” 

However not like many akiya which might be on the market, this was for lease as a result of it is on “good land,” and there are two household graves within the space, Lee defined. He was, nevertheless, given permission by its landlord to revive the premises. 

“My curiosity has at all times been in historical past. I needed to see what it was like for folks again then to dwell with out chemical fertilizers that we use proper now. How did folks construct properties with simply wooden and joinery?” 

Issues to think about 

Covid-19 fast-tracked Lee’s desires of dwelling in rural Japan. He began his personal tour firm in Kyoto six years in the past, however moved to the village in the course of the pandemic when there was no work. 

He shortly fell in love with Ryujin-mura and determined to lease the farmhouse, together with one other akiya, which is now a co-working house for digital nomads. 

The 33-year-old runs a farm-to-table cafe on the farmhouse three days every week, utilizing components he harvests from the farm, which he additionally makes use of free of charge.   

However that is not all. He additionally purchased one other 100-year-old constructing subsequent door, which he’s changing right into a guesthouse.

The farmers are the busiest folks right here —  the one distinction is that you do not have to take a seat in entrance of a desk.

Whereas akiya usually have low-cost value tags, there are some things to think about earlier than transferring to Japan to buy one, stated Lee. 

“That is particularly for Japan: If you cannot converse the language, you’ll be able to’t get alongside together with your neighbors … communication could be very tough,” he added. 

“Folks neglect that point invested within the language is quite a lot of time they’ll use elsewhere. It takes anybody not less than a naked minimal of 4 years to be fluent in Japanese, seven to eight years to be actually fluent.” 

Farm life is commonly romanticized as quiet or peaceable in comparison with town, however Lee says “no farmer right here has a gradual life.”

“The farmers are the busiest folks right here —  the one distinction is that you do not have to take a seat in entrance of a desk,” added Lee, who has virtually 16-hour lengthy days on the farm. 

There are additionally “social expectations” equivalent to sustaining the grass round your land, which requires extra time and power than one would think about. 

“I am unable to stress how a lot grass reducing goes on as a result of Japan has quite a lot of rain and crops develop very properly. In case you do not keep it, it will look very messy and your weeds will have an effect on the neighbors’ crops.”  

“Life is gradual in the event you pay to remain on the farm as a visitor. For my friends, it will be a gradual life as a result of they’d should do not one of the chores,” he added with fun. 

Whereas it is quite a lot of arduous work, it is all value it for Lee — who finds essentially the most achievement from figuring out what goes into the meals he serves at his cafe. 

“Probably the most fulfilling a part of the expertise is that after I serve tea now, it is my very own tea that I made. Once I serve rice on this cafe, I do know that I’ve used no pesticides,” he stated. 

“I’ve made many native associates right here … it is the human connections I’ve right here which might be actually priceless.” 

Price of renovations

Residing in rural Japan is little question cheaper in comparison with town. Lee stated that he pays “properly beneath” $750 for the primary farmhouse and co-working house, measuring a complete of about 100,000 sq. ft.

“I did my math and realized that if I renovated a spot properly, I shall be paying the identical quantity I might have if I lived in Kyoto for 5 years,” stated Lee. 

Nonetheless, he warned that renovation prices could be hefty, relying on the situation of the akiya. The flooring of the primary farmhouse for instance, had been weakened by the humidity and termites. 

“I believed I might substitute the ground [through] DIY however then I fell by the ground,” Lee recalled. “Then I simply employed the carpenter who lives about 10 minutes away.” 

For the guesthouse measuring 190,000 sq. ft., he spent about $97,000 with two associates to buy and renovate, with the majority of that going towards renovations. 

On the identical property is a 100-year-old constructing, which Lee Xian Jie transformed right into a guesthouse. That is the way it seemed like earlier than renovations.

Lee Xian Jie

One other $37,000 was spent to show the primary home right into a dwelling house for himself and a purposeful cafe. 

Lee needed to contain himself within the demolishing work — partly due to a scarcity of manpower within the village. 

“However it additionally means you’ll be able to reduce your prices a bit, in the event you’re prepared to get your arms soiled,” he shared. “A variety of work went to {the electrical} work, pipes … Getting a correct flushing rest room, earlier than that it was a gap within the floor.”

Having spent 5 figures on all of the work on the property, whether or not he can recoup these prices is a priority as a result of “there’s rather a lot much less work” to be present in rural Japan. 

“If you wish to do agriculture, it’s important to be an skilled in agriculture, in any other case you’ll fail. There are fewer jobs right here additionally of any type,” he defined. 

“Residing prices are decrease in rural Japan, however so is the earnings.” 

The guesthouse after renovations. Whereas it’ll solely open in June, Lee Xian Jie stated he is already been getting some bookings.

However the 33-year-old stated he was “by no means frightened,” as his expertise as a tour information since 2017 gave him a eager understanding in regards to the actions that might appeal to guests.

“There are going to be tea workshops organized right here for some Europeans later this October. And that was bought out inside an hour.” 

“There was curiosity on this. This 12 months we have had just a few teams are available in to expertise that with me right here,” Lee stated. 

Whereas the guesthouse will solely open formally in June, he is already been getting some bookings. At full capability, he expects to make about $7,500 a month from the cafe, co-working house, excursions and guesthouse. 

“There’s quite a lot of curiosity on this space particularly as a result of we’re two hours from the closest airport … There are additionally quite a lot of cultural and historic issues to see right here — plus the character after all,” Lee added. 

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