Jaya Thursfield and his wife, Chihiro, bought a traditional abandoned Japanese farmhouse in 2019 and have spent the past two years making it their dream family home.
The couple, who both work in IT, moved to Japan from London in 2017 and started looking for a home.
One of Thursfield’s priorities was to find a home on a relatively large lot so that they could have barbecues and a vegetable patch, and so that their twin sons, Anton and Marco, now 10, could play outside in comfort. .
“The subject of the abandoned house, or akiya, had sort of popped up in a few articles over the past two years and people were just starting to talk about it…” Thursfield said. “So we thought this might be the most likely and affordable way to get a house on a larger block of land.”
In February 2019, the Thursfields bought the house at auction.
The traditional Japanese farm, known as minka, had remained empty for several years after the previous owner’s death and the family refused to inherit the property, Thursfield said.
“We loved the house in terms of how it looked,” Thursfield said. “I remember the first time I saw him in person, it was quite spectacular and I was really blown away by it.”
Thursfield and his wife had to submit an offer to the Ibaraki Prefecture city offices. This was a blind auction – so they had no idea how many other bidders or how much they were bidding – and the minimum bid was 2.9 million Japanese yen (26 $ 000).
“You have to submit an offer that you think you will win, but you don’t want to win too much,” Thursfield said. “It was quite scary.”
They ended up winning the auction with a bid for 3 million Japanese yen ($ 30,000).
The couple had only been able to take a quick glance at the house before they bought it, so they were happy to see that it was in good enough condition that they could renovate it instead of tearing it down.
Since then, the couple have spent around $ 150,000 renovating the interior and exterior of the house.
For the renovation, they brought in an architect friend from Tokyo and a local team of father-son carpenters. Throughout the process, the Thursfields lived nearby with Chihiro’s mother.
“It was completely new to me, so jump in the deep end,” Thursfield said. “I ended up doing a lot of DIY myself, but I definitely couldn’t have done some of it, especially the structural work the carpenters were doing. “
Thursfield documented the renovation process on his YouTube channel as “kind of a keepsake for my family,” he said.
Thursfield declined to break down renovation costs by category, but he plans to do so eventually on his YouTube channel.
The property’s many sheds were full of things the previous owner had left behind, including two cars, a tractor, and farming and gardening equipment.
Some of the farm equipment was in serviceable condition, Thursfield said.
“We are still using some of it, but a lot of it was not recoverable and we had to either throw it away or sell it,” he said.
Inside, it was a similar story. The kitchen needed a total overhaul – but first it needed to be cleaned.
The ’80s-style kitchen was the only Western-style room in the house, Thursfield said in one of his YouTube videos.
The Thursfields found abandoned furniture, clothing, books and magazines all over the house.
“It was truly an abandoned house in terms of declining heirlooms and all that was left by the previous owners,” Thursfield said.
Amidst all the trash, they also encountered a pleasant surprise of around $ 700 in cash.
After nearly two years of renovations, the Thursfields moved into the house last December.
Outside the house, they replaced some of the single-glazed windows with double-glazed windows and replaced the exterior siding.
“The house mostly had some sort of pewter cladding, which was sort of a popular post-war kind in Japan,” Thursfield said, noting that the original plan was to replace it with a more modern version of the pewter cladding. “But we changed our mind halfway and decided to go with wood.”
He said he was still considering painting the wood panels a darker color.
Although they replaced most of the traditional tatami floors in the house with wooden ones, they kept the tatami in one room, which they plan to use as a tea room and guest bedroom.
“It’s really nice to sit and lie down on a tatami mat,” Thursfield said. “It’s tough, but it’s cool. And that room on the corner, it has a nice view of the garden.”
The three bedrooms are still under construction, most of the children’s bedrooms have been completed and the master bedroom still needs to be repainted.
Now that they’ve moved in and the contractors have completed the major renovations, the Thursfields are doing the finishing touches themselves.
“The walls look a bit bare at the moment,” Thursfield said. “We haven’t really put any shelves or pictures or decorations or anything like that in the house yet. The house is functional, the next step is just to make it look good.”
For anyone looking to undertake a similar remodeling project for an abandoned home, Thursfield recommends carefully inspecting the home before purchasing to make sure there is no significant damage. They were lucky there was none in their case, aside from some minor water damage from a roof leak, he said.
Thursfield admits buying and abandoning a refurbishment of a akiya is not necessarily cheap. The over $ 180,000 they spent to buy and renovate the house is roughly the cost of a “cheap new home in Japan,” he said.
“If price is the main concern, I wouldn’t say getting a akiya and renovating it is the cheapest way to do it, ”he said. “Of course, there are people who have done it very cheaply. It depends on your taste. “