Japan Home

by Kevin R Burns
(Kanagawa, Japan)

The House that Ikumi & Kev Built

Japan Home Sweet Home

After about 8 years of living in Japan in various apartments with paper thin walls, seeing my breath in the morning, watching the tidy bowl man attempting to chip away at the ice in the toilet (poor guy!), we decided enough was enough, we really should consider building a house in Japan.

Japan Home -- We Wanted a Canadian House

We didn`t want just any house, we wanted a Canadian or at least Canadian style home in Japan. We ended up building an actual Canadian house in Kanagawa, Japan.

Even the toilet is from Vancouver! So I guess that means that little, cute tidy bowl man I see every morning is Canadian then!

Much of our lighting comes from a great shop in Richmond, BC, our furniture from Ikea, also in Richmond and the materials for the home--the 2x6 frame the oak flooring, pine panelling and cherry planks for the stairs were from a company called Westwood in Cloverdale,BC.

Westwood no longer exists. Most of their business was done in Japan and when the bubble economy burst, Westwood was in big trouble.

We wanted to not only build a home for our family but have a business out of the home. We already had a small thrift store and a small chain of English schools, but we considered having a store, restaurant, bar or another English school out of the home.

Land is so expensive in Japan, that it makes a lot of sense to have a business out of your place of residence. You can also deduct a considerable portion of the house, electricity etc. from taxes as well. Japan is pretty good overall to small business people that way.

Our Japan Home

So we wanted to make a home that would stand out. You can see it pictured here the one on the left.

Japan Home -- How did we get this crazy idea?

We had seen a similar house in a magazine and my wife and I both liked the style of it. However it was just two stories tall. I get stared at everywhere I go. I am over 185 centimetres tall and while I have gotten use to the attention, I wanted a home I could truly call my castle; a place I could enter and lock the world away for a while. I didn`t want two stories for our growing family (now three children).

I wanted at least three stories. Moreover I wanted to make a house with style, yet take into consideration the threat of earthquakes. So a chimney was out, a basement was in--stronger foundation with a basement. To make a home safe against earthquakes you need a simple style. That was too boring! We would risk the BIG one!

We can almost see the fault line where the last HUGE earthquake occurred in the Kanto area of Japan. The earthquake that killed over 100,000 people in 1923 and is overdue to strike again.

Japan Home: I have done my best to bolt down the heavy furniture.

My wife is quite artistic and she was able to modify the design of this two story house to better suit what we wanted--two stories plus a half-basement and a half loft. However the half-basement and half-loft almost feel like full ones. They seem big. We have about a 2800 square foot home I think. It would be a good sized home in Canada and has more than enough room for the five of us.

We have a classroom for our English school near the back of the house and we share a bathroom with the classroom. We can lock the door from the classroom to the rest of the house if we want to.

I love our house! Although we don`t have central heating it is almost as if we do. We have double paned windows all around, it is insulated with Canadian insulation so it is much warmer in the winter than a Japanese home (in which they like the elements to blow through). There is a lot of wood in the home which I really like. It makes it feel warm and homey.

Our students love studying here too, as they really feel like they are in Canada, and in a way they are!

Would we do it again this way?

Probably not! We were young and idealistic about what we wanted. But it was a lot of stress especially for my wife. The Japanese had their own ideas about how a Canadian home should be built. They didn`t want to seal the insulation like we do in Canada. They wanted the wind to blow through the walls like a Japanese home--giving it that Japanese airiness (that I absolutely did not want) in the wintertime! Neither did my wife!

So my wife went around doing damage control, making sure the builder was doing what he had been asked, and not what he thought should be done.

It was a bit comical at times, with my wife acting as a spy in her own future home.

We moved in in 1998. My wife and I were in our early thirties when we moved in to this beautiful Victorian. We were very happy!

It is in a great area to bring up children. Not such a great area for an English school but we had to compromise on that. And the ground is pretty solid for when that overdue BIG one hits.


My wife Ikumi says:

After 12 years of living and using Canadian things: You have to make sure you can get them fixed. It is great to have foreign things in a foreign home, but it is a hollow feeling when they break. You often cannot get parts and if you can they are expensive.

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Aug 29, 2014
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by: Anonymous

We, too, built our own house in Japan, but in Gunma. My wife's grandparents died and left their mountain farm to the family, none of which wanted it! Being Tokyo-ites, they didn't have any desire for farm life. So with 5 acres of free land, a beautiful location free of neighbors (100 meters away), and a great view of mountains on three sides, we jumped on the opportunity.
I studied architecture and always wanted to design and build my own house, so we took 3 years to plan and design while living in California. No US bank was going to loan us money for an overseas home, and no Japanese bank was going to give a loan to a fresh gaijin without a job. So we carefully used a nest egg to buy new materials in the US and ship them over in a 40' container. I spent a year buying doors, windows, decking, appliances, cabinets, counter-tops, tile, flooring, paint, stains, varnishes, radiant floor heating system, furniture, hand tools, and power tools. Stored everything in a warehouse and pulled the trigger in 2009 when the container arrived and loaded it up. That took a careful plan and a weekend. And US$3000.
I padlocked the container and didnt see it again until six weeks later in Yokohama. I went through a customs inspection, had small niggly issues about whether I was reselling the stuff, had the drug beagles sniff my lot, and paid US$6500 for fees, taxes and to get everything moved to the farm. But I saved that many times over buying the materials in the US.
I built the house myself working with a welder (steel frame), and for two years this was my 8-5 job, six or seven days a week. I finished six weeks before the 2011 earthquake and it still stands without a crack!
I too, had arguments with the company that I was buying the exterior material from about insulating and sealing the place. "Nobody does that here", I was told. I did it anyways, and happy I did. Flashing was another non-existent material in Japan.
I did buy drywall, steel, plywood, rigid insulation, the exterior, and a steel roof locally, as well as hired a local plumber and electrician. To please the prefecture building office, I did have to hire a local architect to validate my plans for seismic events. US$5K. But after that there were no inspections or permits to buy. Property taxes are 10% of what I paid in California.
I kick myself for not bringing a wood stove, certain power tools, and more wine. Would I do it again? Certainly! My wife still loves me.

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