(CNN) – Kimberly and Paul Friedel live in Tokyo, working in international schools, and they have overcome the dreams of many American immigrants: buying a large country house for a song and restoring its former glory.
Both grew up in rural areas: Kimberly, a Japanese-American by her mother’s side, grew up in rural Alaska, and Paul’s childhood was spent in rural New York.
Finding an inexpensive dream home
In a country known for sky-high real estate prices, buying a large country house (or “kominka”) in Japan is still affordable.
Courtesy Paul Frudel
“You can buy a home for as little as $ 20,000 depending on the location. Some towns even run listings of free or almost free homes, hoping to bring in new families,” Paul explained.
There are no restrictions on foreigners who purchase land or property in the country and do not require a citizenship or residence visa. Without a work visa or permanent residency status, getting a loan can be difficult. Foreign buyers usually choose to pay cash for this reason.
“Even though there are very few houses available, cash is not a problem,” says Paul.
Fraudels, who live and work throughout the year in Japan, waited until they attained permanent residence status before buying their home. They did not want to leave the country every three months to renew their tourist visa.
They cost a lot more money than they have – about $ 250,000 – but their 130-year-old house came with three-quarters of an acre .
Why they left old country houses
Freedles said many Japanese youth have little interest in the old home, especially outside the city, and lack modern facilities.
In Japan, houses are considered disposable. But they rejected that mentality.
“Old, grand farmhouses like ours are built to bear and to shelter generations of families, and it shows,” Paul says.
“The houses in Japan don’t get value over time; the opposite is true. The value of our property is just the amount of land. The main house is worth a few thousand dollars, even if it is made out of literally impossible materials,” Paul explained.
In particular, young families are not interested in living in “kominka” (literally “old house”) because they are spacious, but they offer little in terms of privacy: all doors are paper shoji or fusuma (cloth-covered slippery door).
“If someone snores, the whole house can be heard. If we have children, Kominka is not an option,” says Kimberly.
They are also cool.
“Even with the inclusion of a wood stove, we still have many winter mornings and evenings where we can breathe at home,” Kimberly says.
Finding a house
Paul and Kimberly Frudel before their traditional “Kominka”.
Courtesy Paul Frudel
– A river within cycling distance but not so close is at risk of flooding
-A temple so they could hear for hours
-A local produce shop / farmers market
-Hils or nearby mountains
– On a kura (storehouse) property
-A mature garden
-If there is a land the neighbors have a fair distance
-A large town with a hospital, grocery stores and home improvement store
-A town is not that big and traffic becomes a problem
-It’s a relatively flat town so it’s easy to cycling around
By comparison, Kimberly’s wish list – running water, electricity and plumbing – is quite modest.
Their dream is to find Kominka
“We stayed away from the coast. I love the ocean and miss it. The 2011 earthquake / tsunami paid off for that feeling,” Paul said.
So instead they checked city and city risk charts to see where the mudslides, floods and tornadoes were.
After seeing more than 30 homes in person, they finally found a home they could buy.
The buying process
For Paul, their future home is love at first sight.
“I fell in love with it when we landed on the property. I could easily imagine what it would be like. Kimberly was very impressed. When we went to meet the agent, she said to me, ‘Remember, poker face! Don’t look interested!'”
“Kim’s resignation is painfully obvious,” said Paul of this photo, taken before cleaning the house.
Courtesy Paul Frudel
As soon as he entered the house, Paul spotted a ‘kaidan tansu’, a chest of drawers, a trap door hidden in the ceiling, and a sliding door made of a single solid slab of elm. He says he “pisses off like a little girl.”
“We were told that the seller had an offer from the developer to buy the property, demolish the house and build a dozen smaller homes on it, but he expects someone to keep the old house,” Paul said.
A Small Shock to Friedles: In Japan, the buyer usually pays for all closing costs rather than the seller. The owner cleaned the empty house and its contents.
“Normally, the owner needs to clear the house completely, but I could see an endless amount of very interesting antiques mixed in, so we cut the price for it,” Paul said.
A treasure box (and a box of roaches)
Because the house came with all its contents, cleaning it up became a treasure hunt.
“To us, this is little more than sorting through a hundred-year history of first-year ownership, as told by a family’s assets,” Paul said.
There is nothing but candy wrappers in a box, all nicely flattened and stacked.
“A box made a suspicious noise, so I took it out to open it. It was nothing but hundreds of cockroaches. It spilled like something in an Indiana Jones movie,” Paul said.
However, the next box contains rare old photos and postcards from WWII. Another box is filled with old ornaments, including a string of pearls. There is also an old chest of drawers with a vintage kimono.
Of greater interest to Friedels are historical photos, documents and antiques, which have been returned to the owner on more than one occasion.
“I shared some newspapers and other wartime artifacts with my history students. These elements helped make the events more personal and clear,” Kimberly said.
“There are extended family members in the next town. We contact them to see if they want some photos; we keep historical photos and documents,” explains Friedels.
They considered donating artifacts to a historical community or turning some of their home into a small museum containing Japanese history in the early 20th century, as told by a family and their home.
“We found an old clock made in Nazi Germany that had a swastika stamped on it; we gave it to a watchmaker in a neighboring town,” Paul said.
Old Chinese coins, home letters, and even a small Japanese flag should be taken to war for the sake of a soldier’s fortunes, on which are encouraging messages.
They found WWII-era newspapers featuring General Tojo stories looking at the number of dead Allied troops.
“Some papers are not compliments to Japan (for example, newspapers), so we know that not everyone is happy to see them displayed anywhere. We believe that history should never be washed white, but it should not be rubbed off on anyone’s face,” Paul said.
“Every traditional Japanese home has a ‘batsudan’,” Kimberly explained. An ‘Buddsudan’ is an internal Buddhist shrine for the deceased family members.
Fredels House came with the names, letters and photos of those in the previous owner’s family, leaving many generations behind.
Fradels said they should get rid of it, but Kimberly couldn’t do it: “I still can’t evacuate them. Every major holiday I open the doors and they hang out with us. Hopefully they’ll accept the attention we’ve given the place.”
The Friedels neighbors in the countryside, most of whom were retired in their 70s, welcomed the newcomers.
“Every weekend and all our holidays, they’ve seen the house and yard work from dawn to dusk. Like everyone else, the Japanese love to roam the underdog and see the two of us fixing the place. Newly made, ”says Paul.
Take a look at some traditional craftsmanship that went into the old house.
Courtesy Paul Frudel
Neighbors donated stones and plants, including a 100-year-old fern and bonsai tree, to grow their garden.
Every year, the Fredels give them a torn bamboo from the yard. Since bamboo is a seasonal delicacy in Japan, neighbors welcome this treat.
“This year, for example, we’ve got over 50, and we’ll dig them up and take them to all the neighbors. Consistently, next week, different neighbors will make beer, coffee, cabbage or other produce or homemade rice dishes,” he says.
“We are very fortunate to be in a place where the neighbors are kind and open, instead we provide endless entertainment for hours,” Kimberly said.
Respecting traditional crafts
As people around the world struggle to find a way to minimize their impact on the environment, Friedels believes that restoring rural homes and embracing traditional folk arts and crafts represents a way for Japan – and indeed the world – to move forward.
“Japan was once known for being the cheapest commodity in the West. Japan now sees South Korea, then China, as the equivalent of that argument,” Paul said.
“The values that went into building this home still go into handmade paper umbrellas, hammer copper tea pots, lacquer chopsticks or quality tatami mats. Each item is carefully prepared and handled for more than one generation; And those who use them are made with deep consideration, ”says Paul.
Renovating the park is a “backbreaking” – albeit rewarding – job for the fratdles.
Courtesy Paul Frudel
The beauty between the lockdown
During the coronavirus, the Fradels were a welcome respite to the country retreat.
“As the Covid crisis isolates us all, this home and property have brought endless comfort in the form of hope…[right now] Frogs are about to start their evening songs and Azalea is showing the way to Hydrangea. There is optimism in seeing nature grow, ”says Kimberly.
Paul agrees, and says buying their country is the right decision.
“ప్రపంచవ్యాప్తంగా ప్రేమ అవసరం ఉన్న చారిత్రాత్మక గృహాలు ఉన్నాయి. మీ స్వదేశాన్ని విడిచిపెట్టాలని, నిజంగా కొత్త సంస్కృతిలో పాలుపంచుకోవాలని మరియు ఇలాంటి సవాలును చేపట్టాలని నేను చాలా సిఫార్సు చేస్తున్నాను. తప్పు చేయవద్దు, అది శ్రమను వెనక్కి నెట్టవచ్చు, కానీ అది చాలా బహుమతిగా ఉంది, “అని ఆయన చెప్పారు.