Countryside advantage: 7 options in rural Japan
So you’ve decided to escape the city and stake your claim to a piece of the Japanese countryside. Congratulations! You’ve made the first step towards finding your inaka.
But to where? Japan is home to 47 prefectures and a wide variety of terrain.
What should you consider when embarking on a journey through the wonderful world of Japan’s countryside real estate? Let’s take a look at what options are out there, and the pros & cons of each.
What’s it going to be: river deep or mountain high?
1. Cliffside Villas
Popular areas: Atami, Shizuoka | Yugawara, Kanagawa | Kamakura, Kanagawa | Zushi, Kanagawa
First up are properties on inclines. Popular areas provide you with breathtaking views year-round. Whether you prefer views of the ocean, mountains, or wilderness, there is certainly something out there for you. Ocean views are particularly sought after, because they afford a rare panorama without the worry of high tides or worse, tsunami waves. Another appeal for cliffside real estate is ample natural sunlight, which feels great and reduces mold issues.
Because of their location, you will most likely need a car to reach any cliffside property you consider. You should also be sure to inspect the structural condition of the building. Especially with older properties, it is wise to obtain a professional inspection.
Some of these buildings are built on solid concrete foundations, while others are on stilts. In the latter case, over time the stilts can lose their structural integrity and cause the building to slant. Structural deterioration can lead to expensive renovations or worse, so take care when considering these properties.
2. Woodland Cabins
Popular areas: Karuizawa, Nagano | Nasu, Tochigi | Japanese Alps
Another attractive option are forest cabins. These properties are often in planned communities built during Japan’s period of high economic growth in the 1970s and 1980s. Karuizawa, Nasu, and the Japanese Alps were popular real estate development sites then, and are regaining popularity among younger generations.
Many properties in these areas come on the market simply because the owners are getting older. Sometimes, they have decided that they can no longer handle the upkeep. Other times, they are concerned about driving several hours to reach the property.
With one of these properties, nature is at your doorstep. If you follow the 森林浴 or forest bathing trend, you’ll be right at home. The major appeal here are larger patches of land, which allow endless possibilities. Plant a garden? Build a wood deck? Lay a brick barbecue pit? All of this and anything else you can imagine.
On the negative side, you have to take into account issues with mold, sometimes limited direct sunlight, and wood rot. The upkeep of properties in forested areas is always something to carefully scrutinize. Properties that have been well taken care of can be a turnkey option. However, properties that have been vacant for some time might have maintenance issues difficult to remedy without large additional investments.
3. Beach Houses
Popular areas: Boso Peninsula, Chiba | Izu Peninsula, Shizuoka | Shonan, Kanagawa
Next, let’s talk about properties near the beach. If you enjoy fishing, surfing, diving, and quick access to the water, this can be the perfect option.
Near Tokyo, the Boso Peninsula in Chiba, and the southern Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka are perhaps the most popular beach areas. Japanese celebrities and athletes frequent these areas, taking the opportunity to get their surf and tan on. These properties tend to have comparatively higher prices given their popularity, but this can be a boon when thinking about investment and resale value.
But oceanfront real estate isn’t entirely without hazards. In a country famed for tsunamis, there’s a small chance that your property could get hit by one. Sea spray and salt water are also formidable opponents of wooden structures, so you’ll have to take preventative measures to avoid maintenance issues. The strong winds may also cause a bit of trouble if you have smaller pets.
4. Countryside Farmsteads
Popular areas: everywhere!
Perhaps the most labor-intensive and gratifying option are farm properties. These vary wildly in price, accessibility, and quality, making them a wild card in the countryside akiya roster. For the adventure seeker, though, they’re almost a surefire win.
These tend to be fixer-uppers, so in addition to farm work you’ll have unlimited opportunities to get your hands dirty. If you’d like to test drive farm life without going all-in, you can also hire locals to tend to your crops.
In this case, figuring out the local farming community is of the utmost importance. Farming communities in Japan have their own local culture and traditions. Some communities are very welcoming to newcomers, while others can be less friendly. This should be researched and acted upon accordingly prior to the big move.
It is also important to consider that farm land has to be properly maintained in order to stay fertile – farming is hard work! Land that has not been properly farmed for several years can have issues, and it may take several seasons before that land can deliver quality crops. Prior to making any commitments, you might want to consult the locals and conduct soil quality tests.
Popular areas: Kawaguchi-ko, Yamanashi | Nojiri-ko, Nagano
One of the most popular options is a location near one of Japan’s great lakes. The most famous resort area near Tokyo is Kawaguchi-ko in Yamanashi. Several prominent Japanese business people and politicians including Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have country homes there. These popular lakeside communities are often synonymous with golfing, with some of Japan’s best golf courses.
When looking at lakeside locations, you’ll want to treat it as you would real estate in forested areas. The humidity and vegetation make mold a potential risk for lakeside properties. However, if you take simple, proactive measures, you can keep your property in pristine condition.
6. Resort Condominiums
In addition to single-family properties, there are condominiums of various sizes across all of Japan’s major resort areas. Many of these were built to spectacular standards to appeal to those who wanted a low-maintenance option away from the city.
Interestingly, major developers have revisited this concept in recent years. Areas such as Atami in Shizuoka and Niseko in Hokkaido have seen a number of new developments. With these developments, you gain an additional level of amenities and privacy. Most of these larger developments have various hotel-like features such as pools, onsen hot spring communal baths, and sometimes even tennis courts and other leisure facilities.
However, larger developments – particularly those that were built in spectacular fashion in the 1980s – can have hidden problems that make the investment less attractive. There is an infamous 30-story luxury condominium near Naeba, Niigata with a terrible problem: deteriorated pipes & tainted water. This completely ruins an otherwise luxurious estate.
In the worst case scenario, sometimes resort condominiums are in a state of disrepair because of inadequate finances. For instance, when several owners in a complex are delinquent in paying into the maintenance fund, this halts plans for necessary repairs. This is a problem that potentially affects any condominium or multi-family structure, but is especially dangerous in resort areas where owners might not feel a strong sense of responsibility.
7. Villa Communities
If you are a perfectionist, you might love the options available inside one of Japan’s many planned villa communities. These communities exist in all types of areas, both the seaside and in the mountains. In exchange for a monthly fee, a management company keeps the resort in impeccable condition. Often these communities have shared facilities such as tennis courts and banquet halls.
This can be a good option for people who are busy and would like the peace of mind that there are people taking care of the surrounding area when they are not around. However, with these communities come certain rules about new construction and exterior renovation, and the constant need to pay monthly management fees can add up in the long run.
Ready to dive in? Find your home in the Japanese countryside.
Purchasing real estate in Japan is an involved process, and making an acquisition in the countryside presents an additional level of complication that requires a bit of thought before jumping into it. But, like any good thing, you can discover the property of your dreams if you do your homework.
Akiya & Inaka provides real estate services focused on helping you find your home in the Japanese countryside. From location tours to research and transaction assistance, we are here to help you along the journey to staking your claim. If you’d like to take a look into what’s out there waiting for you, get in touch and let’s go on a journey to find your Inaka!