Thursday, February 17, 2011

How it all began...

Back in 1998 I moved to Japan with the intention of staying 6-12 months in order to set up business here but the longer I stayed, the more I fell in love with this beautiful country and it's gentle natured people. After some years I met the girl who would become my wife and my future in Japan became sealed.

Despite our dislike of concrete jungles for the sake of convenience for work we lived on the outskirts of Tokyo for 10 years, but eventually we decided it was time to move and live a healthier life in the countryside.

It was hard to find a suitable house to rent, but eventually, just days before our daughter was born we found & rented a house in Oyama-Cho, in Shizuoka, very close to Gotemba, Yamanaka Lake and just a few minutes from Fuji Raceway (My other love is cars, so this was a bonus of circumstance).

We rented so we’d be able to try living in the country and deal with the logistics of our business now being about 75 mins from Tokyo. This would allow us to study the local areas without having to travel from and to Tokyo on weekends and possibly find our future home. Weekend road travel in the direction of the masses is to be avoided in Japan, so living in the countryside is essential if you want to enjoy nature at it's best!

Motosu Lake:

Living in Shizuoka was a great improvement to our lives. Regular views of Fuji mountain, cooler summers, fantastic lakes to enjoy (Motosu is our favourite of the 5 lakes, not least because it's a fantastic place to snorkel, camp & windsurf) and we learnt that traffic was generally never a problem, as we'd almost always be travelling in the opposite direction to the greater flows of traffic.

At first we looked at homes 10-25 years old, but after looking closely & learning of the consequences of relatively weak standards of build including the home we were now renting (Modern Japanese homes are a model of inexpensive material use & only designed to last around 30-40 years max) we eventually decided there was no way we’d want such a used house.

Being brought up in England, I’ve always preferred the charms of old strong houses anyway… The older the better, in some cases.

For over 2 years we tried to find places around Shizuoka & Yamanashi. We had no success at all in finding a classic Japanese classic style farmhouse with large land (Kominka). We narrowly missed one beautiful looking example that needed complete restoration near Motosu (Our favorite lake in Japan!)...It wasn't meant to be, I realise now.

After 2 years we found just one cheaply built, but well kept 30 year old Kominka with 700 Tsubo next to a beautiful temple in Oyama-Cho, but it was unfortunately very close to the Gotemba highway services! We tried to tempt ourselves as it was inexpensive, but we couldn't fall in love. Fortunately we didn't follow through despite visitting it several times and considering it as a possible project before it quickly went off the market.

Reluctantly we finally concluded there’s nowhere relatively accessible to Tokyo with land large & flat enough except Chiba, which offers much more attractive properties, albeit without the beautiful views of Fuji we've grown used to but will never tire of.

Only in the last 10 years have such old Kominkas started to come on the market in Chiba as traditionally these homes were passed down to younger generations, kept in the family & never sold. We found websites that had sprung up in the last 10 years offering classic properties and kept a close eye on what was coming on the market.
When we saw something that looked interesting, we went to view and continued learning as we saw more.

These are the 3 best sites to check:

Whilst looking at Chiba’s larger Kominka properties (Over 500 Tsubos of land) we learnt that larger places with flat land (not mountain designated)tend to have clauses that require farming licences, etc. This meant we’d have to rent land to (permaculture) farm on. Whilst this is a possibility & inexpensive it takes time and carries certain conditions. Some parts of the country are also difficult to get licences in order to buy farm land, so our natural preference veered towards finding our future home where we’d own all the land outright, preferably non farm land. Some would say this is a tall order and at times it seemed all but impossible...

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