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Want to buy a cheap house in rural Japan? This millennial farmer offers his


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When Lee Xian Jie first stepped foot in the traditional farmhouse located in Ryujin-mura, a village in Japan’s Wakayama prefecture, it was “quite rundown” — with floors so rickety they shook beneath him with every step he took. 

After all, the main structure of the abandoned home was 300 years old, Lee said. But when he took a closer look around the home, he could tell it was “properly built.” 

“The pillars are all Sakura wood, which is an extremely dense and hard wood,” he told CNBC Make It. “It’s also a thatch building, which is very rare in Japan now … So it’s a building with great historical value.” 

“My interest has always been in history. I wanted to see … How did people build homes with just wood and joinery?” said Lee Xian Jie, who restored three buildings in Ryujin-mura, a village in Japan’s Wakayama prefecture.

Lee Xian Jie

The property, which previously housed four generations, is one of Japan’s millions of vacant houses known as akiya, Japanese for “empty house.” 

But unlike many akiya that are for sale, this was for rent because it’s on “good land,” and there are two family graves in the area, Lee explained. He was, however, given permission by its landlord to restore the premises. 

“My interest has always been in history. I wanted to see what it was like for people back then to live without chemical fertilizers that we use right now. How did people build homes with just wood and joinery?” 

Things to consider 

Covid-19 fast-tracked Lee’s dreams of living in rural Japan. He started his own tour company in Kyoto six years ago, but moved to the village during the pandemic when there was no work. 

He quickly fell in love with Ryujin-mura and decided to rent the farmhouse, along with another akiya, which is now a co-working space for digital nomads. 

The 33-year-old runs a farm-to-table cafe at the farmhouse three days a week, using ingredients he harvests from the farm, which he also uses for free.   

But that’s not all. He also bought another 100-year-old building next door, which he is converting into a guesthouse.

The farmers are the busiest people here —  the only difference is that you don’t have to sit in front of a desk.

While akiya often have cheap price tags, there are a few things to consider before moving to Japan to purchase one, said Lee. 

“This is specifically for Japan: If you can’t speak the language, you can’t get along with your neighbors … communication is very difficult,” he added. 

“People forget that time invested in the language is a lot of time they can use elsewhere. It takes anyone at least a bare minimum of four years to be fluent in Japanese, seven to eight years to be really fluent.” 

Farm life is often romanticized as quiet or peaceful compared to the city, but Lee says “no farmer here has a slow life.”

“The farmers are the busiest people here —  the only difference is that you don’t have to sit in front of a desk,” added Lee, who has almost 16-hour long days at the farm. 

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Want to buy a cheap house in rural Japan? This millennial farmer offers his

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