Why Australians crippled by the country’s housing crisis are buying MUCH cheaper properties in Japan

By Eliza Mcphee For Daily Mail Australia

01:56 16 Mar 2024, updated 01:57 16 Mar 2024

Australians crippled by the country’s housing crisis have found a new alternative – moving to Japan.

The Asian country has recently become more popular with Aussies looking for a sea change and an escape from skyrocketing rent and property prices.

Unlike many other countries, Japan has no restrictions on foreigners buying properties, meaning Australians can snap up a home or apartment even if they don’t have a visa or residency. 

Jaya Thursfield is one Australian who’s made the move with his Japanese-born wife and their two sons.

The family decided to purchase an akiya – an abandoned or vacant house – in the country village of Ibaraki, about an hour northeast of Tokyo, and his wife’s hometown.

He bought the three-bedroom traditional Japanese-style home on a 1,800 square metre block of land in 2019 for the equivalent of $35,000.

But because the house had been abandoned for five years, it was left ‘filled with junk’ and nearly completely covered by overgrown bamboo and vines.

Tractors and cars had also been left behind. 

The house needed a lot of work – $250,000 to be exact – with Mr Thursfield still adding finishing touches to the home to this day.

Jaya Thursfield is one Australian who’s made the move to Japan with his Japanese-born wife and their two sons. He bought an abandoned home and spent four years doing it up

All along the father-of-two has been documenting the purchase and renovation process, regularly posting videos and pictures to his YouTube and Instagram accounts where he has more than 230,000 subscribers.

‘We decided to come to Japan mainly because the house prices in Melbourne were way beyond our budget,’ Mr Thursfield told SBS Dateline in September last year.

About 14 per cent of homes in Japan are akiya, mostly because the majority of residents have opted for an urban lifestyle in major cities.

The situation has gotten so dire that last year the Japanese government started offering the equivalent of $10,000 per child to families who relocated from Tokyo to the countryside. 

Some local governments are also offering subsidies for renovation costs. 

In a YouTube video describing the process of buying an akiya, Mr Thursfield said he wanted somewhere that had a backyard and was big enough for friends and family to visit.

Mr Thursfield bought the three-bedroom traditional Japanese-style home on a 1,800 square metre block of land in February, 2019 for the equivalent of $35,000
Mr Thursfield has gained a mass following on his social media accounts, regularly updating his fans on the progress of his house

‘I grew up in Australia and have fond memories playing cricket and footy in the backyard with my brothers and cousins and wanted the same for my boys,’ he said.

‘Price was a factor of course but it wasn’t the most important thing.’

It wasn’t easy for Mr Thursfield to find the ‘perfect’ home. Farmhouses required the buyer to be a registered farmer, while other properties were too expensive or didn’t have a garden.

A friend eventually passed on an ad for an akiya that they’d seen in the local paper, which would later become the family’s forever home.

Mr Thursfield said that they had to bid on their akiya at an auction, and in order to do so prospective buyers had to put down 10 per cent of the minimum bid as a refundable deposit.

‘You get one bid and at the end of the time period, whoever has the highest bid is the winner of the auction,’ he said.

‘In our case we took part in the auction at the tax office itself. The auction was held over one hour. 

‘It was a bit nerve-wracking as there were quite a lot of people because they were auctioning many properties at the same time, and we didn’t know who else was bidding for our property, and how much they were going to bid.’

Mr Thursfield did as much of the work he could, while also hiring a team of carpenters to help out, working on the house all year-round even in the freezing snow

Mr Thursfield put down a bid of 3million yen, which is the equivalent of about $30,000, with only one other bidder just below them.

Homes in Japan also come with a one-time property tax on the value of the land.

Mr Thursfield’s home was valued when the land was subdivided five years earlier at about $123,000, so it was taxed at that price.

They had to pay an extra $2,600 to register the home under their name, along with another $1,600 each year for tax.

Mr Thursfield said it was ‘a little eerie’ entering the abandoned house. 

‘It was full of other people’s stuff. You still had pictures of the previous owner’s grandparents on the walls. There were still old noodle bowls in the sink. The kitchen was an absolute disaster, and there were still things in the fridge,’ he told SBS.

But he said the home has given him a life he may never have been able to afford in Australia. 

The current median price for a house in Melbourne is $942,750, according to data from CoreLogic.

‘I do feel like I’ve managed to get the Australian dream here in Japan – and that’s getting harder and harder in Australia now,’ he said.

Mr Thursfield did point out that buying an akiya in Japan was not an investment.

He said akiya should be homes that families live in forever, with the value depreciating immediately once bought. 

The father-of-two also warned that those looking to buy an akiya should always try and check out the property for themselves beforehand.

Homes in Japan are much more affordable than in Australia. Pictured is a cabin in Bizen, Okayama priced at an equivalent of $40,000
This Japanese home with ocean views is priced at $221,000 (pictured above is the US prices). Popular Instagram page Cheap Houses Japan keeps prospective buyers updated with the latest properties available in the country

In some cases people are actually still living in the home but it’s listed as vacant because they’ve stopped paying their property taxes.

Termites are another major issue in Japanese homes, with Mr Thursfield adding the property needed to be strong enough to withstand frequent earthquakes that rock the country.

‘So after hearing all that you may wonder is it really worth it,’ he said in a video.

‘If you’re looking to buy an akiya, I think it’s got to come down to reasons other than price. There are cheaper ways to buy a house in Japan if you just want a roof over your head. 

This property surrounded by lush green forest costs just $57,000

‘But if you’re doing it for lifestyle reasons, or you want to enjoy the process, or want to do something a little bit different, you know it could be a pretty good option for you, particularly if you’re going to stay in Japan long term.

‘Generally, it’s going to be cheaper than buying land and building a new house. And if you’re flexible and can live further out from one of the centres, or live in any part of Japan, then you really might be able to find a bargain.’

Mr Thursfield has gained a mass following on his social media accounts, regularly updating his fans on the progress of his house.

The once abandoned home filled with junk has now become a beautiful home with timber floors and a well-manufactured garden.

His latest video, shared five months ago, showed a timelapse of the house from when the family first moved in to what it is now.

Footage showed the kitchen filled with dirty pots and pans, while other miscellaneous items were strewn around the home.

The garden was completely overgrown and the roof in the adjacent storehouse had holes in it.

Mr Thursfield did as much of the work he could, while also hiring a team of carpenters to help out, working on the house year-round even in the freezing snow. 

The majority of the renovations were completed over four years, but Mr Thursfield is still providing updates on the finishing touches he’s making to the property he now calls home.

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