Couple turns an unused Japanese house into an inn | CNN

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After years of traveling the world, Daisuke Kajiyama, a Japanese traveler, decided it was time to fulfill his dream of starting a guesthouse.

In 2011, Kajiyama returned to Japan with his partner, Hila, whom he met in Nepal, to search for the perfect spot for their guesthouse.

However, there were challenges; Kajiyama had little money after years of traveling and was set on a traditional Japanese house, known as kominka, usually passed down through generations.

Kajiyama expressed his desire for a traditional countryside house, envisioning living in one while utilizing the other as the guesthouse. His determination led him to pursue this dream.

Daisuke and Hila Kajiyama transformed an abandoned farming residence in Japan into a guesthouse.

Failing to find a suitable house, Kajiyama expanded his search to include the increasing number of abandoned homes in Japan.

As young people migrate from rural areas to cities for job opportunities, Japan’s countryside is dotted with “ghost” houses known as “akiya.”

With Japan’s population expected to decrease, the number of empty houses in the country is projected to rise significantly.

While exploring Tamatori, a village in the Shizuoka prefecture, Kajiyama came across two abandoned houses – a former tea factory and an old farmer’s house – near a river.

He approached an elderly woman he found farming in the area, inquiring about empty houses, and she directed him towards the neglected properties.

These houses had been deserted for years and needed significant repairs. Kajiyama contacted the owner to explore the possibility of purchasing them.

The owner highlighted the uninhabitable condition, but did not refuse outright, giving Kajiyama a glimmer of hope.

Japan's countryside is littered with ghost houses, known as

Kajiyama visited the houses multiple times before approaching the owner to discuss turning the old green tree factory into a home and converting the farmer’s house into his envisioned guesthouse.

Wanting to acquire both homes, he faced limitations due to Japanese home ownership customs which require the property to be passed down to the current owner’s son before a sale can transpire.

An agreement was reached on paper where he would take full responsibility for the properties, enabling the purchase to proceed.

Knowing there was much work ahead, Kajiyama and Hila, married since 2013, were excited to progress towards owning their dream guesthouse in an ideal location.

Kajiyama praises the location, close to the city yet immersed in the countryside with active local community commuting for work.

The house’s proximity to a river adds to its charm, allowing occupants to fall asleep to the soothing sounds of flowing water.

Preparation for renovation involved the challenge of clearing the 90-year-old house, a daunting task due to the extensive belongings accumulated over the years.

Initial efforts were dedicated to building rapport with locals, gaining insights about the property, and assisting nearby farmers with their agricultural activities.

He spent around ,000 renovating the house, completing much of the work himself.

Despite limited renovation experience, Kajiyama’s background in farming and previous building projects while backpacking, along with miscellaneous home repair jobs, equipped him for the task ahead.

Most of the guesthouse remodeling was done by Kajiyama himself, from floor replacements to adding a toilet, a gift from his parents, at an estimated cost of $10,000.

Not a professional, Kajiyama’s passion for carpentry and creating things, despite lacking formal training, stemmed from his backpacking experiences and admiration for diverse architectural designs.

Embracing authenticity, Kajiyama aimed to preserve the house’s original charm by using traditional building materials.

Seeking cost-effective solutions, he sourced traditional wood from construction companies dismantling old houses, repurposing these materials for his project.

Recognizing the value in discarded materials, Kajiyama salvaged items considered treasures to him, benefiting from building companies’ need to dispose of such resources.

He mentions that the house follows a very old style and believes that introducing modern materials would not complement its authenticity.

He notes that minimal work had been done on the house previously, which is unusual for its age.

He underlines the importance of maintaining the house’s authenticity by avoiding typical renovations seen in traditional homes to preserve its original style.

Yui Valley welcomed its first guests in 2014.

He mentions receiving financial aid from the government, allowing him to hire a carpenter and utilize Japan’s working holiday program when additional assistance was needed.

After researching Japanese guesthouse permits, he found that registering the property as an agriculture guesthouse was a straightforward way to obtain one.

Due to the abundance of bamboo forests in the area, he decided to delve into bamboo farming to complement his guesthouse business.

He shares that his farming journey began with this decision.

Two years after initiating work on the house, the couple welcomed their first guests in 2014.

Reflecting on this milestone, Kajiyama appreciates the restoration journey and the recognition from guests.

His interaction with guests worldwide keeps him connected to his past travels as a backpacker.

Through hosting visitors from various countries, he feels like he is traveling the world while staying in one place.

Guests often invite him to share meals, providing opportunities to experience different cultures and family life.

Sadly, Hila passed away in 2022, and Kajiyama acknowledges her pivotal role in realizing their guesthouse dream.

He emphasizes the collaborative effort in creating the guesthouse and the void left by her absence.

Even after eight years of operation, Kajiyama continues to enhance the guesthouse, driven by his passion for detail and creativity.

Acknowledging the continuous evolution of the guesthouse, he expresses his commitment to perfecting it, underscoring the transformation from its abandoned state.

The guesthouse has three bedrooms, which are available to rent for around 0 a night.

The owner explains that he struggles to work on the home when guests are present. During winter, when the property is closed, he works as a bamboo farmer for two months and travels for a month, leaving little time for renovations.

He admits, “Sometimes I don’t do anything.”

Yui Valley, known for activities like bamboo weaving workshops, has attracted many visitors to the village of Tamatori over the years.

The owner observes, “Most guests arrive after Tokyo, and they truly enjoy experiencing nature and tradition at our house.”

He notes, “People often dream of visiting Japan for a long time but have limited time here.”

“Hosting these guests during their holiday brings me joy,” he says. “It’s a special experience for me.”

The owner estimates he has invested approximately $40,000 in renovations, and positive feedback from guests and locals validates his efforts.

“It’s rewarding to be appreciated for the work I’ve done,” he adds. “It makes me feel valued.”

Hiroko, who initially pointed out the house to the owner over ten years ago, is astonished by the transformation and impressed by the influx of international guests at Yui Valley.

“She is grateful for the remarkable change in the house,” he shares. “Her gratitude is evident as she says ‘thank you’ frequently.”

Yui Valley, 1170 Okabecho Tamatori, Fujieda, Shizuoka 421-1101, Japan

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