Kurt & Yumiko's Fifth Great Life Adventure:
"Return to Japan"
Yup... It's that time again.
Yumiko and I are both fifty-eight years old in 2022... So far in the course of our life together we've lived four separate major life episodes which I refer to as "Great Life Adventures". The first was our life together in Japan, after we moved there together after college in 1989 and before our daughter Emily was born. Our second Great Life Adventure was in the early 90's in Santa Barbara, California where Emily joined us in 2000. Our third was back in Japan again in 2003 where we raised Emily to high school age. And our forth and current Great Life Adventure was returning to the USA in 2015 to make Emily into an American by sending her to high school and university in the Los Angeles area. And now, with Emily grown and nearly done with her own university adventure, it's time for Yumiko and me to plan Great Life Adventure number 5. This web page will chronicle both our planning and execution of this next journey.
"If you could tear yourself from the games, you could buy a most excellent place, at Sora, at Fabrateria or Frusino, for the annual rent you pay now, for a tenement in Rome. There you'd have a garden, and a well not deep enough to demand a rope, so easy watering of your tender plants. Live as a lover of the hoe, and the master of a vegetable bed, from which a hundred vegetarian Pythagoreans could be fed. You'd be somebody, whatever the place, however remote, if only because you'd be the master of a solitary lizard."
-Juvenal (first century BC)
Our Dream and Plan:
To become Japan-based social media DIY home
owners, gardeners and life adventurers.
Yes. Yumiko and I plan to go back to Japan. And we are going to buy a house, and retire, and become amateur farmers, and enjoy Japan, and blog and post about our experiences doing all of that. And I am also going to become softypapa again, and re-awaken the brands Walking in Japan, and Abandoned Japan, and YouTubeBulletTrain.
How will we make this dream real?
Here's the rough plan:
A: Complete our USA Adventure
Daughter finishes university
Pay off daughter's school
Secure $100,000 home loan
Yumiko returns to Japan
Kurt moves to small apartment
Kurt works to pay off home loan
Emily settled into her own life
Kurt moves to Japan
B: Begin our new Japan Adventure
Yumiko moves in with her father
Yumiko buys a home in Japan
Kurt moves to Japan
Each get part-time jobs
Full retirement for both at age 65
Garden, fun & adventure
Our Top Priority: Daughter finish university and becomes settled in her own life
Yumiko and I are both currently working very hard to keep Emily in school without the need of student loans. This effort takes nearly all of our available income and reserves. But our work is not done when Emily is finished with school and has her BA degree, as we will also work to help her get started in a career and life of her own. Basically, we will not fully return to Japan until Emily is safely on her own two feet in whatever life she decides to pursue after college.
"Two suitcases and a farm"
This is another title for this life plan, involving reducing our lives down to a single suitcase (maybe two) each before making our way over to Japan to buy and take up residence in an old house, preferably a farm.
Akiya is the Japanese word used to describe "empty houses" which nobody wants to buy. In fact, the word is applied to many types of homes, including places where the owner has passed and there is no one willing or interested in inheriting, or which there is an outstanding tax bill causing a government sale, or even houses where the owner has simply walked away. Akiya are often sold outside the normal real estate process of realtors and escrow, sometimes directly by the towns, cities or prefectures which have authority over the property, and often at auction. Akiya can also be acquired by those who seek out such homes and figure out how to contact the owner to negotiate a purchase. Below are a catalog of useful websites for finding and buying Akiya, followed by a list of people in Japan who have chosen this life, and finally some Akiya around Japan which have caught our eye.
Japanese Inaka Return
Following World War Two, and especially after the start of the great Economic Miracle, an exodus of young people left the Japanese countryside (Inaka) in favor of education and job opportunities to be found in Japan's growing urban centers. This departure left the Japanese countryside bereft of the people, energy and ambition necessary to sustain the agricultural way of life which had been intact for centuries. As a result, many thousands of large and beautiful farmhouses which had once housed two or three generations together, became the lonesome haunts of aged men and women, quietly keeping up old ways until passing and leaving their homes and way of life to a generation of Japanese living elsewhere. Whole villages went silent in this way, and the Japanese countryside became a very quiet place, devoid of the animating qualities of children, adults and families striving to grow, make a living, keep home, and maintain a community. As softypapa, I once explored and documented this condition on my YouTube channels Walking in Japan and Abandoned Japan - that is, until my family too left in 2014 to finish raise our daughter in the United States. All along though I've wondered if the day might come when the younger generation in Japan decide they've had enough of what we in the West call the rat race. And if that day did come, would that generation return whence their parents had come, back to the countryside, back to the villages, farmhouses, small shops, temples and shrines which once defined the lives of their grandparents and ancestors beyond.
Well, that day appears to be upon us, thanks largely to COVID-19 and the challenges and changes which entire cultures have faced down while learning to do life differently. The pandemic appears to have been the force and catalyzing agent which may have tipped the scales in Japan back towards am older, simpler way of life. The stress and frustration of two years of uncertainly about work, school and home have seemingly led people in Japan (and elsewhere) to wonder if better living might be found away from the nexus of these challenges, away from the crowds of the vast Japan urban sprawl, perhaps up there, way up in the valleys and along the clear-flowing rivers and upon the slopes of the mountains where Japanese villages were left behind by their parents. Maybe a better life can be found there? This question appears to have been asked, and answered, by a host of young adults striking forth to give this curious prospect a try. But, these people are not just going back to the simpler lives their grandparents knew. Many are bringing their good-paying jobs with them, or creating jobs for themselves from the skills they acquired and the tools they gained in the cities and via on-line opportunities. And they are aided by a changing work culture in Japan (again fostered in part by the pandemic) which is now more accepting of remote work; many being given a green light from their bosses and peers to make the move, which change and acceptance is a paramount culture shift should this experiment succeed, let alone be tried.
But the young people who are going back to the countryside are also bringing their people with them, their communities, and their connections. On-line venues such as Discord and multi-player games such as Minecraft provide ready access to e-communities which have sprung up for all during this time of involuntary isolation, as well as providing access to family and friends wherever they be. And the fact of high-speed Internet availability almost everywhere in Japan ensures our human connections are never more than a mouse click away. Ironically, the things we once thought would push us apart - the Internet and the pandemic - have in fact helped to form and solidify human connections and render distance irrelevant. Yes, some young - and not so young - Japanese (and perhaps a few foreigners) may be considering a return to a life more like the life their parents and grandparents once knew, and in the places their parents and grandparents once lived. I wonder if such a return is in time to recover what was almost lost out there in the valleys, along the rivers and on the mountain slopes? Is there time yet to restore community to the Japanese inaka? To bring back children, adults and families? To bring back businesses and livelihoods and community? I for one think there is. And I can't wait to see what happens when the Japanese decide it really is time to come home.
Resources for finding a Japan house
Helpful links and resources for finding a property to buy in Japan.