Summer 2016

Summer 2016
Summer in Tsukahara

Spring in Tsukahara

gkimbal's Spring in Tsukahara album on Photobucket

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Reaching To This Point (Part 1)

The search for the Tsukahara home started over ten years ago. In Japan, homes are not advertised like they are here (at least in the countryside). In the U.S., a person can find just about any house they want in the country just by using the MLS and a property search. Not so in Japan. It depends on which websites you luckily find and also who knows the areas of interest. If the property is sold by a realtor, then it might be advertised on the net. Most homes require word of mouth to be sold. Many homes don’t even have a sold sign posted. This makes it very difficult to find a house in the short time span of a vacation. Many realtors only know about their properties thus limiting the choices. One realtor even turned down Erika, who is a Japanese citizen, by refusing to show a house which we were seriously interested in. According to him, we shouldn’t bother the seller’s privacy until we move to Japan.

If you find a “For Sale” sign on a property, don’t approach the owner directly! We made that mistake. The owner seriously scolded Erika and told her that things are not done that way. It took a lot of apologies, bowing, and kind words to get the owner to settle down just to talk with her. It also took a lot of time driving around, asking people where the owner lived. In the Japan countryside, streets don’t have names and numbers. People are found by their names, not by their address. For example, if you are handed a map of a residential area, the map has the owner’s names instead of addresses. Since we didn’t know anyone, this made any map including a GPS navigator, useless. We spent hours and hours wandering and searching for a place to live. We often found ourselves staring at a house and we couldn’t tell if it was on sale. So, why make it a big secret? Privacy is important in Japanese society, especially in a small village. If a small rumor gets out, soon everyone knows about it. The best thing to do is not tell anyone.
Homes that are a bargain exist everywhere in the countryside. Why? Several factors come into play here. Jobs are few and far between. The younger generation isn’t interested in farming and living in a place that has no night life. Some villages have no life at all. The aging population is growing at a tremendous rate. When the parents die, the children may keep the home out of respect for their parents, but they fail to take care of the home, so the home deteriorates. As the problem multiplies, an entire village can look like a ghost town. Another factor creating bargains is that in the Japan housing market, houses are expected to depreciate. Yes, depreciate. The logic here is that no one wants to pay for a house that has been used. The value drops dramatically once you move in. For example, we saw an $800K house in perfect condition that was only a few years old, sell for $300K. If someone had previously died in the home, then you might as well tear the home down and rebuild. It would be close to impossible to sell a home like that.
So, how did we find this home? Erika spent many hours, days, years, searching the internet. We had to narrow down what we wanted. I knew I wanted to live somewhere away from the city. Seattle is too big for me. I always wanted to live in the countryside. The most beautiful countryside I had ever seen was in Yufuin. Erika stumbled upon a house on the internet that a realtor in Oita City was selling. The advertisement mentioned 360 degree views. The photograph in the ad wasn’t clear, but we were curious. The asking price was also a little high. Our next vacation was planned around looking at that house and others in the area.

Driving to Tsukahara was a pleasant experience. The scenery was stunning as the autumn colors painted the hillsides. The side road leading to Tsukahara was memorable. Yufudake towered above us, as the valley covered in grasslands stretched to the bases of various mountains. This was the closest I had been to the wilderness in Japan. I loved it there. It was open to the sky. I could stretch out and breathe. I felt at ease and relaxed, but at the same time I was anxious to see the house. After driving down some narrow roads, we came upon a very narrow gravel road. “Could this be it?” I asked Erika. I drove very slowly down the gravel road. A huge meadow was on our right side and a huge volcano was on our left. It almost felt as if I were entering a refuge… a cathedral. It was unbelievably beautiful. I found myself with my jaw open trying to say, “Wow!!” Upon making a turn at the neighbor’s log cabin, we were greeted by a barking Jack Russell. “Hey, she looks like Lucky!” The view grew impossibly better. I drove a couple of hundred feet and briefly looked at the house. My attention went back to the view as my gaze fell onto the most beautiful panorama that I had ever witnessed. My face felt a flush of warmth. I had experienced that feeling once before when I stood in front of Lake Louise in Banff. I was speechless. Turning towards the house, I saw what appeared to be an old, beaten down and weathered house in desperate need of repair. I was torn between feelings of exhilaration and disappointment.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Did I mention anything about the leaks? Most of the leaks are on the exposed side of the house. A large blue tarp is covering the outside of the house where the leaks are supposed to be. Inside, evidence of leakage is clearly shown in the photos. The water stains are on the surface of the logs, so I should be able to remove most of the damage with a sander. Later, I’ll go back with sealant and a clear gloss acrylic coating. The sealant that has already been applied to the house is in terrible shape.(My wife can do better job. My dogs will help me rip all of the old sealant out.) I plan to use a color that will match the spruce logs. After cleaning up the old sealant and logs, foam rod is installed first, and then a layer of sealant is applied. I measured over 400 feet of foam backer rod that will be required for the inside of the house.
All of this will be done after we can get a container of materials to Japan. I’m still working out the details of shipment. Wood stains, preservatives, sealants, cleaners, and restoration materials need to be shipped. Tools, tools, and more tools will be needed. Most of my equipment requires 120 VAC 60Hz. Japan uses 100 VAC 60Hz. This means transformers will be needed, not only one but several, in order to run anything with a motor in it.
Before the tools and materials arrive, a separate garage will need to be built to secure and store all of this stuff. The existing garage has no way of securing anything. $$$$$$$$$$$...As the expenses begin to pile up, I’m thinking of playing the Lotto. My main goal is to give my family a roof over their heads and a dry house to sleep in. With all the expenses and problems surfacing, I did discover one thing. After all the repairs are made, I think I’ll miss the blue tarp. How does a blue roof sound?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

An Unwelcomed Surprise

Before purchasing my dream home, I was warned by a contractor and an architect not to buy the house. The main concern was a leak on the exposed side of the house. The post and beam construction made it difficult to locate this particular leak. Rot was also an issue although no one was sure about the extent of the damage. The damage ended up being more than anyone expected. After talking with the designer and taking a log home care class from Permachink, I was able to make an educated guess as to the scope of the rot damage.
main support near garage
injecting CPES

no tools equals a lot of extra work

solid wood replacing rot


I did a temporary repair by removing the soft and mushy wood, and replacing the areas with solid wood. Due to the limited time I had to make the repairs, I filled the entire area with epoxy resin and CPES. This should stabilize the rotted area until a permanent repair is accomplished. Luckily, both areas will be cut out during the remodel when we can afford it. The materials to do the repair were shipped from the U.S. This was extremely expensive because resins are considered hazardous. I wished that I had sent more resin because as I picked away at the rotted area, it became larger and larger.

This was frustrating and stressful as I witnessed my dream home being slowly eaten away by rot. I wish I could move there sooner.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

First Impressions

After searching for several years for the right home in Japan, I finally found it and decided to make the purchase. We, however, did not spend a single night in our home until eight long months after signing the contract. This was because we could not sell our home in Seattle, coupled with conflicting work schedules, and the weather.
Finally on November 2nd, we experienced our home for the first time. The house was empty and cold. We didn’t have any furniture…not even a chair! We did have a very old camping stove, refrigerator, futons, and a kerosene heater. The refrigerator, after the dollars to yen conversion, ended up costing us a small fortune, but we couldn’t live without one. The camping stove and futons were borrowed. We also borrowed three foldable camping chairs. The kerosene heater was another investment we had to make to survive the cold days and nights in Tsukahara. Television, radio, computer and cell phones were all a distant memory.
The night sky was simply incredible. The stars formed a luminescent blanket above my head. As I looked to the heavens, I heard all kinds of rustling and grunting in the Susuki . It was pitch black and in that kind of intense darkness, my hearing became sensitive and my imagination went wild. I imagined all sorts of creatures lurking in the bushes. Having heard that wild boar live nearby, I decided to step inside to the safety of my futon to try to get an early start on some much needed sleep. I briefly opened the window in the tatami room to let some fresh night air in. The strange noises I heard earlier had all disappeared. The only sound that I could hear was silence. It was as if we abandoned all of civilization. Savoring the thought, I closed my eyes and had the most wonderful and peaceful night sleep.