(CNN) – Kimberly and Paul Fradale were living in Tokyo, working in international schools, when many of the American immigrants they dreamed of jumped in: bought a large country house for a song and restored it to its former glory.
They both grew up in the countryside: Kimberly, who is a Japanese-American mother, grew up in rural Alaska, and Paulino spent his childhood in rural New York.
Finding a cheap dream home
In a country known for high real estate prices, buying a large country house (or “fireplace”) in Japan is still affordable.
Courtesy of Paul Fradale
“You can buy a house with a modest lottery for just $ 20,000, depending on the location. Some cities even keep lists of free or near-free houses, hoping to bring in new families,” Paul explains.
There are no restrictions for foreigners buying land or property in the country, and no citizenship or residence visa is required. However, without a work visa or permanent residence status, a loan can be difficult. For this reason, foreign buyers choose to pay cash.
“However, with so many homes available for so little, cash shouldn’t be an issue,” Paul says.
The Fradales, who live and work in Japan all year round, waited until they acquired permanent residence status before buying a 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 mature garden with a giant Japanese cherry, and ancillary buildings like a “chicken,” a type of earthen warehouse. walls.
Why old country houses were abandoned
The Fradales say most young Japanese have little interest in an old house, especially one that is far from the city and lacks modern amenities.
In Japan, they say, houses are considered disposable. But they reject that way of thinking.
“Old, big farmhouses like ours were built to last, to be able to protect generations of families, and it shows,” Paul says.
“Houses in Japan don’t gain in value over time; the opposite is true. The value of our property is solely in the amount of land. The main house is valued at a few thousand dollars, despite being made of materials you literally can’t buy anymore,” Paul explains. .
In particular, young families are not interested in living in a “fireplace” (literally “old house”), although they are spacious, offer little privacy: all doors are either paper shoji or fusuma (cloth-covered sliding doors).
“If someone snores, for example, the whole house can hear it. If we had kids, a chimney wouldn’t be an option,” Kimberly says.
They can also be cold.
“Even with the addition of a wood stove, we still have a few winter mornings and evenings where we can see the breath in the house,” Kimberly says.
Paul and Kimberly Fradale in front of their traditional “chimney”.
Courtesy of Paul Fradale
Paul’s wish list:
– River within cycling distance, but not so close that the flood could be dangerous
-Temple nearby so they could hear the bells
– Local product store / farmers market
Hills or mountains nearby
-Kura (storage) on the property
-Enough land for the neighbors to be at a considerable distance
– A city big enough to have a hospital, grocery stores and a grocery store
– The city is not big enough for traffic to be a problem
– Relatively flat city so cycling around it will be easy
By comparison, Kimberly’s wish list – running water, electricity and plumbing – was extremely modest.
Finding my dream come true
“We stayed far from the coast. As much as I love and miss the ocean, the 2011 earthquake / tsunami paid off for that notion,” Paul says.
Therefore, they checked the hazard maps of cities and towns to determine the danger of slips, floods and tornadoes.
After personally looking at more than 30 homes, they eventually came across one to buy.
For Paul, their future home was love at first sight.
“When we stepped onto the estate, I fell in love with it. I could easily imagine what it would look like in the end. Kimberly was much less impressed. Her words to me when we went to meet the agent were,” Remember, poker face No look interested! ‘ “
“Kim’s resignation is painfully clear,” Paul says in this photo, taken before the house was cleaned.
Courtesy of Paul Fradale
But as soon as he entered the house, Paul noticed a ‘Kaidan Tansu’, a chest of drawers that also functions as a staircase, a hidden trap door in the ceiling and a sliding door made of a unique solid elm board. Then, he says, “he whimpered like a little girl.”
“We were told the seller had an offer from the developer to buy the property, demolish the house and build a dozen small houses on it, but he was hoping someone would want to keep the old house,” Paul says.
A small shock for the Fradales: in Japan, all closing costs are borne by the buyer, not the seller. The owner, on the other hand, delivers an empty house, cleaned of its contents.
“Usually the owner is asked to thoroughly clean the house, but I could see that there are a lot of interesting antiques mixed among the endless amount of stuff and so we got a cost reduction to explain it,” Paul says.
Treasury (and cockroach box)
Since the house got all the contents, its cleaning turned into a treasure hunt.
“For us, it meant that the first year of ownership was little more than sorting through a hundred years of history, as it was said through the possession of one family,” Paul says.
One box had nothing but a candy wrapper, all neatly flattened and stacked.
“One box made a suspicious noise so I took it outside to open it. It was full of nothing but hundreds of cockroaches spilling like something from an Indiana Jones movie,” Paul says.
The next box contained rare old photographs and postcards from World War II. Another box was filled with old jewelry, including a string of pearls. There was even an old chest of drawers with a vintage kimono in them.
The Fradales were most interested in historical photographs, documents, and antiquities, which they offered to return to the owner several times.
“I shared some newspapers and other wartime artifacts with my history students. These items helped make the events more personal and tangible,” Kimberly says.
“There are extended family members in the neighboring town. We are contacting them to see if they like some photos; we have curated historical photos and documents that we will keep,” Fradales explains.
They also considered donating artifacts to a historical society or even turning part of their house into a museum of miniatures depicting the history of Japan in the early 20th century, as told through the family and their home.
Memories of the war
“We found an old watch made in Nazi Germany, along with a swastika imprinted on it; we gave it to a watchmaker in a neighboring town,” says Paul.
There were also old Chinese coins, letters home and miniature Japanese flags carried by the soldier in the battle for good fortune, on which were encouraging messages.
They also found World War II newspapers containing stories of General Toyo laughing at the numbers of Allied casualties.
“Some documents don’t flatter Japan (for example, newspapers), so we’re aware that not everyone would be happy to see them displayed anywhere. We believe that history should never be bleached, but neither should it be rubbed in someone’s face.” says Paul.
“Every traditional Japanese house has a‘ butsudan, ’” Kimberly explains. “Butsudan” is a Buddhist shrine in a home for deceased family members.
The Fradales Sanctuary comes with the names, letters, and photographs of those in the previous owner’s family that date back several generations.
The Fradales were told they should get rid of it, but Kimberly couldn’t do it: “I still can’t evict them. Every big holiday I open the door and they hang out with us. I hope they’ll approve of the attention we’ve given the place.”
The neighborhood trades
Fradales ’neighbors in the countryside, most of whom are retirees in their 70s, welcomed the newcomers.
“They saw us going out every weekend and during all our holidays, working from dawn to dusk to clean the house and the yard. Like people everywhere, the Japanese like to cheer for the offspring and see the two of us dealing with this place. .. they made us newcomers to the neighborhood, ”Paul says.
Take a look at some of the traditional crafts that have entered the old home.
Courtesy of Paul Fradale
Neighbors donated stones and plants, including a hundred-year-old fern and bonsai tree, to help them darken their garden.
In return, the Fradaleys donate bamboo from the yard every year. Since bamboo is a seasonal delicacy in Japan, neighbors welcome the treat.
“This year, for example, we came over 50 and dug them up and took them to all the neighbors. Inevitably, later in the week, different neighbors will drop beer, coffee, cabbage or other products, or homemade rice dishes, thank you for the youngsters,” he says. .
“We’re so lucky to have landed in a place where the neighbors are kind and open. In return, we offer hours of endless fun,” Kimberly says.
Honor of traditional crafts
As people around the world strive to find ways to reduce their environmental impact, Fradales believes that rebuilding rural homes, along with embracing traditional folk arts and crafts, is a way for Japan – and indeed the world – to move forward.
“Japan was once known in the West as a source of cheap goods that worked well. Japan has now seen South Korea and then China increase and then equalize that claim,” Paul says.
“The values created in the construction of this house are the same as today in handmade paper umbrellas, checked copper tea pots, lacquered chopsticks or quality tatami mats. Each item is made carefully and should last more than a generation if maintained; they are made with deep respect for the materials they come from and are taken with deep care for those who will use them, ”says Paul.
Restoring the garden was a “return” – albeit useful – job for the Fradales.
Courtesy of Paul Fradale
Beauty in the middle of a lock
Fradales ’retreat into the country was a welcome respite during the coronavirus.
“As the Covid crisis isolated us all, this house and property were a source of endless comfort in the form of hope …[right now] frogs will soon begin their evening songs, and azaleas give way to hydrangeas. There’s optimism in watching nature grow, ”Kimberly says.
Paul agrees and says buying their country house was the right decision.
“There are historic homes all over the world that need love. I highly recommend you leave your homeland, really get involved in a new culture and choose this challenge. Don’t get me wrong, it can be a great workforce, but it’s very useful,” he says.