Gilles bought an akiya in Kyushu for under $10,000 and turned it into a lovely cafe / atelier / lodging. Here’s his story!
*All the photos on this page are of the house Gilles bought and the surroundings.
Would you mind quickly introducing yourself to our readers? How long have you lived in Japan and what brought you there originally?
Gilles: I am originally from France, and I came to Japan 32 years ago while on a backpacking trip in Asia. That is where the trip ended.
I slowly worked my way to become independent and started a company offering various services in the field of visual communication, projection, video production, house studio, support for foreign companies coming to shoot in Japan, 360 VR online tour, and accommodation in Tokyo.
After 30 years in the concrete Jungle, and no obligation to work from there, I felt the need to escape the city and create a remote work environment with a base in Kyushu. Kyushu is the place I first visited, as well as being where my wife is from.
So the idea, at first, was to make that transition with the aim of going back and forth to Tokyo. The project of creating this new base was also to find new work opportunities for ourselves in Kyushu.
“After 30 years in the concrete Jungle, and no obligation to work from there, I felt the need to escape the city and create a remote work environment with a base in Kyushu.”
Where is your house? Why did you choose that location?
Gilles: The kominka house is located in Saga Prefecture, a relatively less visited part of Kyushu, however it is a really great place with plenty to offer.
The name of where we are is “OKAWACHIYAMA”, referred to as “the village of the Secret Kilns”, where few local Artisans still work on their crafts and 4 kms away to Imari City, famous for porcelain alongside Arita city nearby.
We were focused on Saga to be close to Takeo Onsen, my wife hometown, and also a very good HUB to go around easily. Indeed, a car is necessary. So, being in the “center” to 3 airports(Fukuoka, Nagasaki and Saga) within about an hour drive was just great.
The actual location of the Village itself as the house choice came out of the blue as I was looking so much on various sites to find a place with a good atmosphere I could renovate. I was not interesting to buy new, and old ones needed to have something special…
It took a rather long time to match my personal taste and conditions, but we finally found this old house in the city Akiya bank database that would “fit the bill” to at least start and compromise the fact it was not by the sea, even though the beautiful beaches are less than 40 mins drive from here.
“It took a rather long time to match my personal taste and conditions, but we finally found this old house in the city Akiya bank database…”
What was the most difficult thing about the buying process? Was there anything surprising?
Gilles: At first I could not believe that someone would actually leave this place unoccupied for 10 years, the house itself is about just 80 years, not so old for European standard. Seeing the property was really the turning point as the house was not in too bad shape, and we liked the village atmosphere.
The purchasing price was just impossible to turn down. We saw what needed to be done in terms of renovation and could roughly estimate the extra costs. Paperwork was not much different than buying normal property.
Approximately how much did you purchase your house for? Were there any unexpected costs?Gilles: So we went for it and bought it for less than US$ 10,000! It was an instant decision, no hidden fee or surprises.
“Seeing the property was really the turning point as the house was not in too bad shape, and we liked the village atmosphere…”
What renovations did you do? How long did the whole renovation process take and how much did it cost? Were there any unexpected costs?
Gilles: It took us 4 months in the winter of 2019 with some work trips back to Tokyo to fully complete the renovation process, that turned out to finally create a cafe and Lodge place, beside our own base.
The total cost combined came to about US $45,000 that includes also the electricity, water work, homecenter equipment, appliances, decoration etc… But it doesn’t take into account all the actual work of the 3 of us working mostly everyday for 4 months non stop.
We got lucky as we didn’t have many surprises along the way, but we had to ask some professional electrician and carpenter from time to time to make sure we were doing the right things.
“It took us 4 months in the winter of 2019 with some work trips back to Tokyo to fully complete the renovation process…”
If you could do it all again, what would you have done differently?
Gilles: We went into this project with a positive mindset and as family project. It was hard work, but fun.
Bringing to Life this unoccupied house was a great feeling and gave us the opportunity to work remotely.
With the Covid situation that started about 6 months after we finished, we had a place to stay away from Tokyo and work remotely.
The cafe and Lodge were affected but since it was not our main activity it was just too bad we could not fully operate it normally.
We are now looking at getting another project done closer to the Sea as we are in a low mountain area now. Maybe this newsletter will help us find it:)
You can visit the Village and our Cafe & Lodge now with our VR site here: https://www.basecampimari.com
Gilles's House Photo Gallery
A big thank you to Gilles for sharing his story here. He often posts pictures of his house / cafe on instagram if you want to see more: www.instagram.com/gilthebo/
What do you think? Would you buy a fixer upper like he did?
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Looking for more advice about buying a house in Japan? Read this article I wrote: