George has finally found his "Home Sweet Home" after 14 years of searching. George convinced Erika to move back to Japan, but it has been an uphill struggle. There are many problems that lie ahead for George and Erika before they can finally call Japan, "Home Sweet Home". Please join them as they face the difficulties and celebrate the successes. The journey promises to be entertaining as well as informative.
Summer in Tsukahara
Spring in Tsukahara
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.