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People used to have negative attitudes toward old houses. That view has changed over the past years.


Toru Kanai, who runs the Japan Minka Revival Association, a Tokyo- based nonprofit organization. About 200 old houses, some from the 1603-1868 Edo era, and peak-roofed rural farmhouses are being restored every year in Japan. (Bloomberg)

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I love old houses. In America anyway. They have character and charm and the technical limitations are usually manageable. But to be honest there is not a lot of choice in Tokyo for old houses. Sure 40-60 year old places that are pretty poorly built, bug and rodent infested, but not much more.

Tokyo tears everything down before it can become interesting. And the quality of building here leaves something to be desired. It is almost as if houses are built with the intention of being disposable.

I grew up in a house built in 1905. Restored a bit in the 1970s and again in recent years. It is sold as a rock, filled with lovely old wood floors and doors, and is frankly a wonderful example of a working class home of the early 20th century. But I cannot think of a single place in Tokyo, outside the architecture museum in Mitaka, that has that kind of quality old housing.

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No it hasn't, old houses are still commonly sold for less than the value of the land.

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Most of the old houses are either already burned up, crumbled by earthquakes or destroyed by the city development process.

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When my husband and I were looking at getting a house, he told me something that I think is very true. In Japan, if the house is about 100 years old, it was built strong and has great character. Those houses are worth buying and renovating. If you want a newer used home, you should probably be looking at ones that have been made within the past 15 years or so. We got a great used house (16 years old) that was recently renovated. We are paying next to nothing for a 7SLDK in the countryside while my brother in-law slaves away to keep payments up on his new 3LDK on a postage stamp of land.

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My husband and I purchased a 136 year old traditional Japanese farmhouse a little over a year ago. House is 2800 sq ft with an additional 1500 sq ft of storage. The garden is fantastic, old style, complete with stone lanterns and water basins. House is well built and quite solid. Most rooms are large, some with high ceilings showing huge hand planed beams. We have been working weekends to restore the house, replacing the tatami with wood flooring, scraping and re-plastering walls, etc. The house is a 3 minute walk to a JR platform, 8 minute ride into a town of 50,000. Shink station about a 15 minute train ride away. So, for us at least, we don't feel isolated. Oh, and the beach is a 15 minute walk. Neighbors are shockingly friendly, they love to come over to inspect our work on the house, and of course, offer their advice. They share loads of home grown veggies with us, nice! If you interested in purchasing an old house, don't be put off by naysayers. Our house was under 2,000,000 yen and at purchase, was fully habitable with a working toilet, kitchen and bath. We bought the house to retire in, not as an investment. Nice to not have a mortgage. Anyway, thought I'd give a bit of encouragement to those of you considering life in the inaka.

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while I like to dabble-the one thing for the average person who may be interested in such an endeavour, is that reform loans are limited. A young family, who want to stay reasonably within in distance of facilities, could possibly afford a loan for a older home. However if they wanted to get a loan to reform it to their livable standards, the odds are pretty much not there. So while the negative attitude amongts the elite has changed, those average families who really could use such a lifestyle, the option isnt as nearly as inviting as some comments made here.

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Thanks for your kind words. Hope you continue to enjoy your life in the fully reformed old house! Does your place get really dusty, or is our house just dusty due to all the work we're doing? I seem to spend half my time cleaning, I swear.

I never thought of dismantling a traditional house and moving it to a more desirable location. Neat idea!

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I consider myself to be an "average person"..My husband and I are of somewhat limited financial means, my elderly mother lives with us, my daughter is working and supports herself, we have two dogs and two cats. We drive a 12 year old kei van. The vast majority of our meals are cooked at home. I'm not a big shopper. The old home we purchased ( see my post above), cost 2,000,000 yen. That's less than most new cars. I imagine that's less than the average down payment for a housing loan. We use my husband's twice yearly bonus to buy the materials we need to reform our house. Except for the rewiring, we have done all the work ourselves. We did not take out a loan to reform the house. The house is located " reasonably within distance of facilities"-I think the countryside, old home option is viable for many "average" families.

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@kominka-yes I know what you are talking about, that is the sort of thing I meant whenI said I dabble. However, as you state your child is grown. I was referring to the average, new, or young family. Those who would be starting out. Maybe their first home. Just married. I do tend to think that most young couples have a dream type home that they envision. They do consider young babies and raising little children. With older houses there is a lot more that needs to be considered in regards this way. I do believe that the negative attitude that is stated here has not changed in this area. And if you would be any what aware, reform loans to perhaps get an old house done to a standard that it would be still comfortable to move into for a young family, is not that easily available. Therefore the negative attitude still remains for a lot of people who would benefit such a lifestyle. And reciprically who would benefit the area. Also i would darw attention gto the slow approach versus getting it done. Also older houses that are quite unique, or antique in standards are not always that cheap. Ones that are cheaper do need work to be done on them.

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If the subject interests you, try this forum:


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Thanks for the great tips on ways to reduce the dust. You are so right about the roka area....will ball up some newspaper this weekend and give it a try. Regarding the yucky stuff over the plastered walls, yikes, ours seem to be made of fiber/sand/crushed shells and layered over with 100 years of dust. We had to lightly spray with water and scrape down to the rough plaster. We then thinned out joint compound, brushed a coat on, let it dry, then mixed a bit less watered down batch of joint compound and rolled it on...The result was pure white, rustic looking, textured walls. Really sets off the wood. We also have some sand walls, gritty and rough. These were painted an awful avocado green, so we sprayed on a sealer, then painted them with a low VOC diatom.earth white paint. Looks great, no fumes from the paint and no sand comes off while brushing against the wall. Still haven't figured out what to do with the earthen walls....Your art studio must be a nice getaway. Your prior building experience and electrical expertise must have served you well in that project! My husband and I are fairly new to the do-it-yourself thing, but we have found a positive can-do attitude goes a long way. That, and remembering it's called home improvement, not home perfecting. Again, thanks for the tips.

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Thank you very much for sharing your helpful tips, really appreciate the help! OK, understood, will stop using a sealant on the walls. Fortunately, we used it sparingly, ( just enough to stop most of the sand from brushing off) due to its high cost! We did lay thick plastic sheeting over the dirt under the floors. We have removed tatami and put down hardwood floors in 2 of the downstairs rooms so far. Your tip on covering the plastic sheeting with sand is timely, as we will put another floor down over the 3 day holiday. One of the rooms we've already floored is next to the room we'll do this weekend, so I guess it might have to be me in that crawlspace spreading sand, as I'm small and my husband's biggest fear is of enclosed spaces. We will also try your dampened newspaper ball trick as well as the chewing gum gem. As for your earth wall recipe, we will try that on the interior walls of the doma. Any suggestions on what to use on the exterior earth/chopped straw walls which are in wood framed segments? Some of the segments have cracks and are of a brownish yellowy color, we'd like them to be white.. Thanks again for your kind help. I will check out the country living Gaijinpot forum volland linked for us in his post.

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The big problem with old houses is that they lack insulation, which makes them freezing cold in the winter. However, this problem is not insurmountable; a little insulation and strategically placed vapour barriers make a world of difference. I have made my house warm in winter this way.

One reason that renovation has not been so popular is that most Japanese lack the confidence or desire to do DIY, but this is slowly changing. Paying builders to do the work soon adds up.

Zichi, I am another who moved into a house with avocado walls. I used to need the lights on in the middle of the day because they were so dark. Now they are white and that really made a difference. If you paint directly onto the walls the paint just soaks in and the colour disappears. I used wood glue to seal the walls first. This system works well. I am rebuilding another house. I may well try your idea of sand there to texture the paint.

Importing materials can also help to keep the cost down. Things like windows are far too expensive in Japan.

I am even doing the electric wiring myself. That way I can have enough sockets, enough breakers and standards that are high enough. In the house I am rebuilding the wiring is a nightmare: I sometimes wonder if this was because it was previously an electrician's shop.

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