Minka defy Japan’s new-home desires
Buying a used house in Japan has the connotation of buying a used car in the United States.
The overwhelming preference is to start fresh. About 87 percent of homes sold in Japan each year are new, government data shows. In the United States it's the reverse, with used homes accounting for 85 percent of sales.
But the renovation market is growing, and along with it interest in Japan's centuries-old farmhouses, or minka. In the last few years, a flurry of television shows, news articles, magazines and books have highlighted ways to revive minka.
The Japan Minka Reuse and Recycling Association, founded 10 years ago, educates the public on minka preservation and maintains a "minka bank" listing unwanted farmhouses free for the taking. New owners just have to pay to move their powerful timber frames.
Even some big players in the housing market are getting involved. Sumitomo Realty & Development Co. began restoring minka three years ago in response to customer demand, and has completed more than 600, said spokesman Naotaka Ushigome. Like many Japanese, he wasn't aware of the possibilities a decade ago.
"I actually destroyed a minka," he admitted sheepishly in an interview. "My grandfather was living there alone, and when he died we broke it down. It's a waste, really."
Fingering his company's glossy brochure with "before" and "after" photos of restored minka, he added, "If we had had this, it would have been very different."