The price you pay

The following is an article I wrote in 2004 for an occasional column that I and several other non-Japanese wrote for the Asahi Evening News about the “expat” experience in Japan. In a way it explains our skittishness about buying property today.

Naive days: The land when it was pure

In the early 90s, my partner and I discussed the possibility of buying a condominium or a house. Both of us had recently become self-employed and our financial situation wasn’t assured, so we talked about buying property as if it would occur sometime in the middle-distant future, meaning not soon enough that we needed to start looking right away.

Our friends knew of this vague plan, and once, while visiting a couple we knew in Nagano prefecture, they told us of a housing scheme being promoted by a nearby local government. The city was developing a large piece of land on the top of a hill and offering plots by lottery at below-market prices. The stated aim was to attract new people to the city, which had been losing population over the past decade.

We went to the lottery drawing not thinking that we would participate, but our friends talked my partner into picking a number out of the hamper just for fun. The odds against actually winning were almost ten-to-one. But she did.

Everything suddenly changed. The prospect of buying property had so far been theoretical, but now we had to face the decision head on because we had been given an opportunity.

We returned home and agonized over whether or not we should buy the land. On the plus side, it was very cheap and the lot we had “won” was located on a corner of the hill with an unblocked view of a green valley. On the minus side, we would have to move to Nagano and we would have to build a house, but as we talked these negatives slowly moved over into the positive column. Because of the nature of our work (mostly writing and translating) we didn’t need to live near Tokyo, and having to build our own house meant that we could build the house we wanted. Read More