Questions Answered from the Bitsii in Inaka YouTube channel.
I’m surprised and delighted to have this much interest on the channel. I was planning on doing a Bitsii Q&A video, but decided to answer questions here instead. We can keep on track with Japanese Countryside lifestyle/house updates on the channel. 🙂 I’m going to try and answer as many questions as possible. Feel free to comment with more questions!
- Was it hard to get a visa?
- How long can you stay, Bitsii?
- Why are you renovating a house if you aren’t guaranteed you can stay forever?
- What will happen to the house if you have to leave?
- Are you a YouTuber or do you have another job?
- Where are you from?
- Hey, Bitsii! Can you speak Japanese?
- Can I get an akiya in Japan without speaking Japanese?
- What’s the best way to learn Japanese?
- How did I find my house?
- Why are Japanese houses so cheap?
- Is it possible to find an akiya in an area safe from natural disasters?
- I want a house like the Bitsii house. What do I need to do?
- What about taking over an akiya as my vacation or second home?
- Are there other vacant houses around?
- How much did it cost to become move-in ready?
- What will you keep and what will you throw away?
- Location, renovation plans, layout
- What are the pros and cons of getting an akiya house?
- I want to move to rural Japan and get my own akiya project so bad, but I’m not sure where to start. The numbers and risks have my head spinning. Any advice?
- What is the tax situation like?
- How do I find the perfect akiya?
- Did I miss your question? Drop a comment!
Was it hard to get a visa?
Yes. But part of that was because I wanted a specific job. I started applying for my dream job before the pandemic started and was rejected. I was rejected twice but then finally received an invitation from my desired employer.
The borders were not open to tourists when I moved here. I spent two weeks quarantining in a hotel in Tokyo before coming to my destination. The first week was a welcome respite. The second week lost it’s novelty. My favorite memory of that time was my friend, Miyuki #1 came to visit. As I was prohibited to leave the 18th floor, we were texting while she waved from the street.
The most visceral memory of that time was the quarantine meals. I didn’t have access to a microwave, so all my meals were either cold or room temperature. There was no fresh fruit or vegetable unless you ordered room service, which I didn’t do much because, well, I don’t exactly have piles of money laying around. I think there were many preservatives in the food, and it kind of shocked my body. My breath smelled like trash. As we were given green tea in juice boxes at every meal, it unfortunately ruined the taste of green tea for me. Hopefully, I can enjoy green tea again soon, hah!
There are several visa options available to foreigners who wish to live in Japan. The specific requirements and duration of each visa can vary, but here are some of the most common visa types:
Working visa: This visa is for those who want to work in Japan. To be eligible, you need to have a job offer from a Japanese company or organization, and the job needs to meet certain criteria. The duration of the visa can range from one to five years, depending on the type of job.
Student visa: This visa is for those who want to study at a Japanese educational institution. To be eligible, you need to be enrolled in a program that meets certain criteria. The duration of the visa is typically one to two years, but can be extended if you continue your studies in Japan.
Spouse or child of Japanese national visa: This visa is for the spouse or child of a Japanese citizen. To be eligible, you need to be married to a Japanese citizen or be the child of a Japanese citizen. The duration of the visa can range from one to five years.
Long-term resident visa: This visa is for those who have been living in Japan for an extended period of time and wish to stay longer. To be eligible, you need to have lived in Japan for at least 10 years and meet certain other criteria. The duration of the visa can be up to five years.
Working holiday visa: This visa is for those who want to work and travel in Japan for a limited period of time. To be eligible, you need to be between the ages of 18 and 30 and be a citizen of a country that has a working holiday agreement with Japan. The duration of the visa is typically one year.
The specific requirements and duration of each visa can vary depending on the individual circumstances of the applicant. It’s recommended to consult with the Japanese embassy or consulate in your country for more detailed information on the specific visa options and requirements.
If you are already in Japan, you will want to consult with a Administrative Scrivener (行政書士, Gyōsei shoshi). I recently consulted with the Office of Law Affairs, DOGO in Matsuyama, Ehime. They quickly responded in English with the information that I needed.
How long can you stay, Bitsii?
My work contract is for a few years. Things might change, but right now, I feel like I’m in a place where I would like to stay indefinitely. I am hopeful and optimistic that I will be useful to this community after my current work contract reaches its end. I have been offered help with finding work/visa if I need it and have something else in the works too. But I can’t talk about it yet. But if you stick around, I am sure you will learn about it later.
Why are you renovating a house if you aren’t guaranteed you can stay forever?
A few reasons. First is that it’s what I do. This might sound nerdy, but I’m passionate about building maintenance. I have always done creative projects but officially started working in interior design in 2011.
When I moved to Japan, I was given subsidized housing by my employer. In that apartment, I experienced a termite infestation. There was one moment in spring when I was sitting in the living room. All of a sudden there were hundreds of winged termites making their way from the corner of the floor towards the window. It freaked me out enough to want to move out of that apartment. They said that apartment is still structurally dependable. It apparently is a concrete structure built to certain standards. But I still got freaked out.
Anyway, I felt that it would be a good way to contribute to the immediate community in the way I best know. And amazingly, by fixing up this house, it is possible to spend the same amount of money as renting a similar house in a similar inaka neighborhood. I am very interested in learning about Japanese houses, the different building methods and materials. I like being creative and having projects. Considering the rent for my poor living situations in NY was many many times higher than this, I see no issue in budgeting a bit of money every month to do house projects. If I don’t live here forever, I can feel good that my monthly house expenditures went towards maintaining space in this place that has given me so much.
What will happen to the house if you have to leave?
I have a plan and it will be totally ok, but I don’t think I should share it on the internet out of respect for the privacy of other people who are involved.
Are you a YouTuber or do you have another job?
I’m not a full-time YouTuber at this point in time. I have a different full-time job. The Bitsii in Inaka channel is one of many side projects.
Where are you from?
Born in Calgary, Canada. Lived mostly in the US: Minneapolis, New York City (Brooklyn), Jersey City, and Seattle. I was in New York when I decided to apply to work in Japan.
Hey, Bitsii! Can you speak Japanese?
I try really really hard. I’ve taken classes, online classes, used apps and textbooks, etc. But I’m basically non-functional in Japanese. I used the camera and speak function on my google translate app all the time. I’m sure this is a huge annoyance to people including myself, so I keep studying. I can tell I’m getting better slowly. But it’s a huge challenge and a major inconvenience.
Can I get an akiya in Japan without speaking Japanese?
You definitely can. But whether or not you should is a different matter. I can’t speak Japanese well, but I’ve been working on it for years. I’ve gotten the feedback that trying to speak Japanese is still extremely appreciated. It makes total sense.
In my mind, studying Japanese is just being a proper neighbor. I was not born here. Japan is not required to let me live here. Japan is not required to give me employment or a visa. Those are all privileges. I am a guest. In America, yes, often documents and official paperwork are available with different translations. But that is a different country. It is a young country and a multicultural country. Japan is not so multicultural. No matter how you feel about it, that’s the way it is. People speak Japanese. They work in Japanese. They are not required to give you anything in English. You need to either jump in and swim or sink.
If you can’t speak Japanese, you are going to need help. Maybe it’s from a spouse, friend, neighbor, coworker, employer, or a kind stranger. It can be frustrating misunderstanding or having miscommunication, but most of the time people are just trying to help you out of their own kindness. Please appreciate that. I’ve seen some foreign people here become frustrated because they don’t get what they feel they deserve. Or they get frustrated because they want things to change. We are here as guests.
Especially if you come from a place of privilege, please be extra careful. Thoughts about trying to make this place change, that you aren’t getting enough support, or if you deserve better, take some pause to consider cultural sensitivity.
What’s the best way to learn Japanese?
In-person lessons and immersion are probably the best route, but there are a lot of great instructional channels on YouTube that are free. I would recommend getting a textbook like Genki or Mina No Nihongo, then complementing that work with YouTube lessons. I’m still experimenting to find my favorite sources.
How did I find my house?
Yeah, so there are multiple ways to find vacant houses for sale or rent. Quite often, you might hear about akiya banks. By the way, akiya is Japanese for “vacant house.” Akiyas are so cheap that realtors have no incentive to sell them. The commission is just not there. So to make up for this, individual towns or regions manage their own website – basically like realtor.com for akiyas. If they are not motivated to do that work or if they are AWOL for some reason, that means that there are still many empty houses that you would never know about by just looking on the internet.
My house was not on the internet. In fact, many many things about Japan are just not on the internet. Despite the reputation for tech and robots, my experience here has been heavily paper-based. I found my house by accident. I wasn’t looking for a house. I was looking for friends. I wanted to place myself in situations where I would find people with similar interests as potential friends. I asked the town hall what kind of cultural clubs were around, and then attended a trade workshop. I casually mentioned that it was an aspiration to renovate an old house someday. Two weeks later, I got a message saying they found me one.
I was delighted but skeptical. I visited the house and was overwhelmed by how good it felt inside. Even though it had been empty for I think 8 to 10 years, it was amazingly clean. You could tell that the place had been well-loved and cared for. I originally thought I wouldn’t move in because I would still want to put money into the house. At that point, I had only lived in Japan for a few months and was less sure of what I wanted my future to look like.
Why are Japanese houses so cheap?
Vacant, unneeded houses are a common occurrence in rural Japan. The person who lived here lived to be over 100. Her children are older people now. They are managing their own estates and are not motivated to take on the project of cleaning, renting, or doing anything with this house.
These old houses need a lot of care. The humidity in Japan is often high. In the time I’ve been here, I’d say it usually ranges between 60 to 80%, but is usually around 70%. Mold grows easily. The old approach to prevent mold has been to increase ventilation, which means that the houses can be cold in the winter.
As for the grandkids of the previous resident, a lot of younger people or families prefer to live in more urban areas, or in newer houses. A major building code change happened in the early eighties. Houses built after then have greater safety in case of an earthquake. This house is not earthquake-proof, but I don’t know if I could find anywhere to rent in this area that is.
I think part of the earthquake safety standards is also just differing cultural perspectives. It might be easy for foreign people to judge the fact that there are many houses here of questionable earthquake resistance. But for people who are here, it often doesn’t matter so much. This is their home. This is their hometown. They might not prefer to spend their money that way or they might not have the means. They might rather not see a pleasant and otherwise functional house go to waste.
Regardless of your comfort level, I think this is an opportunity to be sensitive to other cultures and practice putting yourself in other people’s shoes. For myself, I am happier than I have ever been before in my life. I see violence and greed shaping so much of other parts of the world. I would rather be happy, live my life with intention and die at the hands of a natural disaster.
Is it possible to find an akiya in an area safe from natural disasters?
Uh, I doubt it? Not because of housing demand, but because Japan is basically 100% covered in disaster risk. If it isn’t earthquake or typhoon, it’s a flood or mudslide or volcanoes explosion. People are generally more prepared here, I think.
It’s common practice to have an emergency evacuation backpack and stores of food and water. Kids in schools practice earthquake and evacuation drills. There are collapsible helmets at every desk. I’ve asked questions about what to do in an emergency. Quite often the attitude I’ve heard is “we will deal with it as it comes.”
I want a house like the Bitsii house. What do I need to do?
Well, I can only speak from experience, but my recommendation would be to really consider what your priorities are. Yes, I published a video about my house and it’s shockingly low up-front cost. But the purpose of this vlog is to share the interesting facets of my life here with people around the world.
If you want to move to Japan, I would hope it is to learn, listen, pursue curiosity, and be a good member of our international community. There are a lot of opinions about depopulation in rural Japan, but this is not a situation to capitalize on. There may be opportunities for this to be a win-win situation where a foreign person can maintain space if they are welcome.
But my biggest concern would be that people would try to place their agendas on a neighborhood. This is not a place to get a deal. This is a society that values harmony, politeness, and the well-being of the larger group. If Japanese culture and rural living are right for you, try it out here for those things. There might be benefits such as affordable living, but aspirations of getting a free or cheap house should not be your primary goal.
The things that make it frustrating to live here are also the things that make it wonderful to live here. For example, often there might be strict rules about the method of how something is done. That method might not make sense to you, so you get frustrated because you feel there is an easier, faster, funner, whatever way to do it. But when Japan adhered to the way things have always been done, one of the results is that this culture has a deep, strong, and beautiful culture. Some traditions have been held strong for centuries.
And if Japan had been hasty to throw away the way things had been done, it wouldn’t be the amazing culture that it is. That concept really resonated with me and I think has helped to manage challenges and expectations here with less stress.
*October update: this house is for rent! Check out the details.
What about taking over an akiya as my vacation or second home?
I’d say this really depends. These homes need maintenance. They can get moldy, they need to be aired out, they need to be monitored for termite infestations, etc. I’d also be curious how the neighborhood feels about having an absent owner. It might not actually be a step forward for them.
It is worth having real conversations with the community about what they want from a potential neighbor. Or introducing the idea and letting them talk privately and get back to you. And as strangers might be hesitant to have conversations, you will probably need to slowly foster relationships first.
I got lucky in that I landed in a place where I want to be and made good relationships fairly quickly. But I think my situation, being a solo newbie foreigner finding an akiya in the exact desired location within a few months is highly uncommon.
Are there other vacant houses around?
Yes. They are all over the place, especially in rural Japan. Most of the houses next to mine are empty. My location might be extreme. Shikoku doesn’t have a bullet train. It’s already remote and then I live basically as far out as you can get. But akiyas are all over Japan, usually in the country.
How much did it cost to become move-in ready?
I already had appliances. The only main expense before moving in was having some electrical work done. I had a new electrical panel and a remote for the hot water heater installed. That cost about $800 USD, but that will vary greatly depending on the project and the location. Getting a new electrical panel seems smart for safety.
Many improvements though are kind of on this gauge of what your expectations are. If you expect a Japanese home to be like an American home where you can always feel comfortable and warm inside in the winter and everything looks fresh and new, you can spend a lot of money to change a house.
But if you have some flexibility in your expectations, you can spend less money and probably better get in touch with the culture and experience of people here. For example. This house is going to be cold in the winter. The Western perspective of this might jump to “this is a problem that needs to be fixed.” But people have been living in houses like this for a long time. Being really cold is difficult. It is uncomfortable and in my opinion, depressing.
But the way many people around me approach it is as so: get warm long underwear and wear it all the time, and dress in layers. Fuzzy sweatshirts are a common sight when it’s cold. The kotatsu is a common fixture – there is a heater built in underneath and a blanket to keep the warm air in. Sometimes there is another insulating pad-type rug, so you can tuck half your body inside. You are heating a much smaller amount of space than if the whole house had central heating or baseboard heat.
The American perspective to home renovation might be “let’s open this space up – I love open-concept!” But by creating small compartments in the house, energy can be conserved to thermally regulate only the area where you are. In winter, add a table-top hot pot (nabe), a portable stove, and a constant flow of tea, and you will be much better off.
This is all to say that it would have cost a lot more to be move-in ready if I was trying to make this house conform to my standards, rather than occupying it as a guest. Maybe I will want to make more changes later. But for now, I’m going to take my time just seeing how things go before I rush to changes. This is slow living and slow design.
What will you keep and what will you throw away?
I will keep cultural artifacts. The kimono pattern book stays. Some strange knick-knacks stay. Some of the utilitarian tools that I think are beautiful will stay, such as these old rulers. The old yukatas will be upcycled. Some of the nice fabrics will stay. I’ll make use of them somehow but I don’t know how yet. I am going to make copies of some of the photos to display in the house, and then I will be reaching out to the local folk museum to see if they have an opinion about their care. All old pottery will stay.
There were items that feel ok to keep using. As a new foreign resident, I simply didn’t have a lot of daily necessities. For example, there is a huge nabe pot, a portable gas grill, and containers that in my opinion, beautifully hold the evidence of a past life.
There were also basic everyday things that weren’t special but I still can use. For example, plant pots, facial tissues, soap bars, or towels that were still sealed in their original plastic packages. There are insect sprays and detergents that I also have been making an effort to use up.
This was not, however, a house frozen in time. It lived with the resident up through the 2000’s. So it had a lot of old cool stuff but also cheap 90’s and 2000’s-made things from the dollar store, like mugs or cheap silverware. There isn’t a second-hand store in a one-hour radius from here and they also have much higher standards than the American thrift stores I’m used to. So I can’t just drop loads of things off.
Everything will be sorted. I’ve been able to rehome some home things with some of the younger new-ish foreign residents in this region. Foreign people sometimes move here with just their clothes and a few belongings. They can use house things even if they aren’t fancy or to their taste.
The things that are going in the trash or recycling are as follows: old futons and used bedding, moldy fabrics, the large supply of omiyage (souvenir treats) wrapping paper and cardboard boxes, and some of those things that would be strange to reuse or rehome such as a bathroom things.
There were still some clothes here and I have a really nice idea of what I can do with them. Stay tuned. I’m very excited about that project.
I’ve given some things away as gifts. The collection of fans is very interesting cultural objects but common and inexpensive. There are so many, I will never make good use of them all myself, so I give those away as gifts, usually to foreign people who find them novel and interesting. There was a collection of ashtrays but I don’t smoke, so I’ve given some of those away, too.
A lot of this stuff might be more fascinating to the global audience than to the locals who have been familiar with these kinds of things their whole lives, which is part of why it is fun to share this story. This situation is not as exciting to the people in my immediate community. It’s just pretty normal.
Location, renovation plans, layout
These deserve their whole own videos. They are on the way. Stay tuned.
What are the pros and cons of getting an akiya house?
- Depending on the house, it can be very affordable.
- Link to cultural history
- Interesting artifacts
- Depending on the situation, it might be a nice way to be a part of a community. You can patronize local stores and contractors, share in discovery, host neighbors, and be a more grounded fixture in the neighborhood. Some places are used to seeing foreign English Teachers come and go, so they might initially expect you to be a temporary sight. If you start maintaining a house, they might be more likely to want to develop a relationship with you.
- Depending on the house, it might actually be a money pit
- It’s a lot of work
- It can be complicated, especially if you don’t speak Japanese
- You might not be welcome. It might not have anything to do with you, but it’s a possibility. Don’t force it. And before you commit to a lease or purchase, do your best to make sure that your presence is welcome.
- High ongoing maintenance
- Difficult to acquire materials or work with contractors, esp. If you don’t speak Japanese
- There might be many things you find uncomfortable or inconvenient, such as low doorways, no insulation, drafty everything, no central air, steep stairways, or low fixtures. My bathing and toilet “suite” is technically a separate building. I have also heard of someone who needs to light a fire under their metal tub to heat their bath water, and is unable to control how hot it gets.
I want to move to rural Japan and get my own akiya project so bad, but I’m not sure where to start. The numbers and risks have my head spinning. Any advice?
Yeah. The first step is to just get here and spend some time here. I visited for two weeks a few years ago with a question about moving in the back of my head. Two weeks didn’t feel like enough time to figure it out. And the common tourist destinations don’t usually give you a true idea of what its like to live here. I had no idea what expectations and responsibilities I would have towards my community when I first moved here, hence me wanting to share this information with others online. 🙂
If you have the means and opportunity, the dream situation would be to spend several months here traveling. If you can’t do that, getting a job and moving, then making little trips in your off-time or over holidays is a great option. Who knows. You might get here and be completely miserable or realize that you don’t want to live away from your family or whatever. It happens. So no use paining yourself with affordability calculations or all the details if you learn you don’t want to be here at all.
In my opinion, if you have the qualifications to get in, you have the qualifications to make a fine living. If you are trying to get rich here, you picked the wrong culture. Personal acquisition of money is often frowned upon, especially in rural areas.
What is the tax situation like?
Not of major concern in a modest house. I think this also varies from region to region, but I’m not an expert in this realm, so I’m hesitant to share because I don’t want to give you the wrong information. Where I am, some of the taxes and fees from the original transfer can be made in installments over the first few years.
How do I find the perfect akiya?
My opinion is: don’t look for the perfect house. Look for the perfect community fit. Trust me. I love houses. I get it. But finding the perfect house isn’t the most important part of the puzzle. Lifestyle is a bigger picture.