Postcards from Japan: Making holiday home dreams reality, with Michael

Michael in front of his house

Michael fell in love with Japanese after his Aikido teacher encouraged him to give it a go. After living in Japan for a decade he moved away but Michael still visits Japan every year for one or two months to spend quality time in his vacation home! Making it reality was not an easy process so Michael decided he wanted to help other people with similar dreams. He now runs a newsletter and an Instagram account where he introduces his hand-picked properties each week. We had a chat about his experiences and got some advice for everyone who can't stop thinking about owning a holiday home in Japan...


Michael's house in Japan

Hi, thanks for talking to us today. Could you tell us a little about yourself? 

I’m Michael, creator of Cheap Houses Japan. I’m originally from Canada, and I’ve spent a total of about 10 years living in Japan. I no longer live in Japan, but I own a vacation home there, where I spend at least a month or two every year. I’ve long been fascinated by Japanese houses and how the real estate industry in Japan is so different from other countries!

 

Michael sitting in front of his house

What was it that first got you enthusiastic about Japan?

When I was a young kid, I used to get picked on a little. Karate looked intimidating, so I joined an Aikido class. My Aikido teacher encouraged me to start studying Japanese and I absolutely fell in love with the language: hiragana, katakana, kanji… I wanted to study Japanese every day! From there, I did a study abroad program in University, and eventually ended up working various jobs around Japan: as an English teacher, journalist, and travel agent. 

 

On the left property in Maniwa, Okayama; on the right property in Tayuhama, Niigata

How did Cheap Houses Japan come about? What do you do there?

A few years ago, I bought a vacation home in Japan. I did everything directly through a Japanese realtor without the help of a translator. It was a challenging process, made more difficult by the lack of information available in English. So I read lots of books in Japanese, studied the terminology, and poured over thousands of listings to eventually find the house I fell in love with. 

I thought: there must be other people out there like me who are interested in buying a house in Japan, but either don’t have the know-how, or don’t even know it’s possible! So I decided to turn the idea into a website and instagram account. Through Cheap Houses Japan, I now offer a newsletter with 20 of my favorite Japan house deals every week. 

 

Flowers Michael got from his neighbours

Do you have any advice for people thinking about a holiday home in Japan?

I have a lot of advice! But I’ll keep it to 4 things: 

First, make sure you weigh the pros and cons of owning a house in Japan versus a regular vacation home rental. Owning a house comes with a lot of added responsibilities (like taking care of the property and neighborly duties), as well as ongoing costs for maintenance and renovations. That said, there is something special about owning a house that you can come back to every year, and getting to know your neighbors over time. 

Second, raise your budget. I know there are a lot of dirt cheap akiya out there that make the headlines (for example, under $20,000), but it often involves a huge amount of work and money to make a house like that livable. In many cases, much more than the original cost of the house! There’s an abundance of properties for sale that have already been renovated or need minimal work, and they don’t necessarily break the bank. You can buy an excellent vacation home that needs minimal renovations from around $50,000 to $100,000. And occasionally you can find a good one for less: my house was about $36,000 including taxes and fees, and only needed about $2000 of work and a little DIY love. 

 

On the left property in Atami, Shizuoka; on the right property in Mimasaka, Okayama

Third, I’d highly recommend hiring an English-speaking intermediary or buyers agent to help with the purchase. Doing everything on my own, I learned a lot, but it also came with a fair bit of stress and headache. An intermediary helps with contacting the agent in Japanese, doing due diligence, arranging a building inspector, and negotiating the price. The extra cost (around 5% on top of the house price usually) is worth it in my opinion. 

Lastly, follow @cheaphousesjapan on instagram! I introduce a new property every day, and you just might find something you fall in love with. 

 

Entrance to Michael's house in Japan

What’s your favourite place to visit in Japan and why?

When I was in my twenties, I went on a cycling / camping trip around Yakushima. I knew the island had been an inspiration for Princess Mononoke, but I didn’t realize just how magical the place was! With the ancient trees and rainforest, it really felt like a different world. I hope Japan opens up again soon so I can visit again!

Make sure to check out Michael's Instagram account and his website!

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