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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In spite of everything, the primary construction of the deserted house was 300 years outdated, Lee mentioned. However when he took a better look across the house, he may inform it was “correctly constructed.” 

“The pillars are all Sakura wooden, which is a particularly dense and arduous wooden,” he informed 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 all the time been in historical past. I wished to see … How did individuals construct properties with simply wooden and joinery?” mentioned 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 certainly one of Japan’s hundreds of thousands of vacant homes referred to as akiya, Japanese for “empty home.” 

However in contrast to many akiya which might be on the market, this was for hire 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 all the time been in historical past. I wished to see what it was like for individuals again then to reside with out chemical fertilizers that we use proper now. How did individuals 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 hire 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 without cost.   

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 individuals right here —  the one distinction is that you do not have to take a seat in entrance of a desk.

Whereas akiya typically have low-cost worth tags, there are some things to think about earlier than shifting to Japan to buy one, mentioned Lee. 

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

“Folks neglect that point invested within the language is a variety of time they will use elsewhere. It takes anybody at the least a naked minimal of 4 years to be fluent in Japanese, seven to eight years to be actually fluent.” 

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

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

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

“I am unable to stress how a lot grass chopping goes on as a result of Japan has a variety of rain and vegetation develop very effectively. In the event you do not preserve it, it’s going to look very messy and your weeds will have an effect on the neighbors’ crops.”  

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

Whereas it is a variety of arduous work, it is all price it for Lee — who finds probably the most achievement from realizing what goes into the meals he serves at his cafe. 

“Essentially the most fulfilling a part of the expertise is that once 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 mentioned. 

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

Value of renovations

Residing in rural Japan is little question cheaper in comparison with the town. Lee mentioned that he pays “effectively below” $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,” mentioned Lee. 

Nevertheless, 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 may change the ground [through] DIY however then I fell via 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 regarded 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 practical cafe. 

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

“But it surely additionally means you may minimize your prices a little bit, in the event you’re keen 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 lots 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 kind,” he defined. 

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

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

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

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

“There was curiosity on this. This 12 months we have had a couple of teams are available to expertise that with me right here,” Lee mentioned. 

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

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