Here is an amazing guesthouse in a place that a Japan travel guide will tell you to visit and stay – a traditional home in the countryside.
Daisuke Kajiyama proves that a bit of money and resourcefulness are all you need to renovate an old house and start an Airbnb business.
Daisuke spent seven years traveling the world before returning home to open a guesthouse with his late wife, Hila, Insider noted.
Daisuke, 40, met his Israeli wife in Nepal, and they decided to come to Japan.
Daisuke, a Japanese national, left Japan soon after finishing college to travel the world and find employment in places as diverse as Portugal, Thailand, and Canada.
He had not returned to his hometown of Tamatori, a scenic hamlet in the Shizuoka prefecture known for its bamboo forests and rice fields, in a long time.
“We didn’t know what it would be like, so it was a mystery for the both of us,” he said. “I’ve been out of it for such a long time that it didn’t even feel like it was my country.”
Daisuke had always dreamed of having a guesthouse out of a traditional Japanese home.
However, finding the ideal house to renovate took work.
He explained that many people are hesitant to sell their empty homes because their families still use them as storage, so the idea of looking for an abandoned traditional house entered his mind.
While wandering around the neighborhood, an old lady helped him find his needed house.
She told him there were two empty structures nearby: a former green tea factory and an old farmer’s home.
Daisuke met the owner, who thought the house was too dilapidated to be used.
“But he didn’t say no, so I thought I had a chance,” Daisuke said.
He negotiated with the owner for the following month until he agreed and let him use the green tea factory and the old farmer’s house.
He decided to live at the factory and use the old farmer’s house as the guesthouse.
Daisuke does not pay rent to the initial owner, who still retains ownership of the properties.
The deal is for him to take full responsibility for the house, including the expenses for the renovation.
Daisuke says their agreement is typical of local customs in the region.
“It’s not about business. It’s not about money,” he said. “For many abandoned houses, as long as someone can take care, the family will be happy.”
Daisuke claims that he and the proprietor get along well and would continue working together without any financial transactions.
However, Daisuke had lofty goals for his guesthouse.
It had been abandoned for seven years, and the home had been left exactly as it was on the day it was deserted.
He said that even though the house looks run-down, the wooden parts are all original.
Nothing in the home has been altered in its entire 96-year existence, he continued.
Daisuke claims he has some knowledge of construction thanks to the odd jobs he took during his travels.
“I already had the thought of opening a guesthouse while I was traveling, and so I shifted my focus to jobs that were related to the plans I had, like agriculture and roofing,” he said.
He also took advantage of Japan’s working holiday program to hire seasonal help.
Japan’s working holiday information is typically found in any Japan travel guide.
Daisuke explained that participants in the program would help him fix his house in return for free food and lodging.
Because of his limited funds, Daisuke recycled as much of the old house’s furnishings as possible.
“The things I don’t need, I throw, and the things I thought I should keep, I kept,” he said.
He also used materials from other homes that would be demolished and repurposed them.
“I didn’t have a lot of money, so usually, I would look for another traditional house. Before anyone demolished the home, I would get old wood, doors, and windows from them,” Daisuke said.
It took Kajyama and his late wife about two years to restore the abandoned house that they began working on in 2012.
Daisuke says he spent between $40,000 and $50,000 on the job, including fixing up the guesthouse and the old green tea factory where he lives.
“We didn’t have a toilet. It was outdoors, like a big hole,” Daisuke said. “It cost almost $10,000 just to build the toilets.”
Airbnb renters can spend $120 per night at Daisuke’s three-bedroom residence.
Daisuke’s guesthouse, Yui Valley, has a 4.97-star rating on Airbnb based on 387 ratings.
It also has excellent reviews from other Japan travel guide sites like Top-Rated.
He said he has been running the guesthouse for the past eight years under Airbnb along with his wife until she died of cancer last year.
“I didn’t know I was going to be a bamboo farmer,” Daisuke said, adding that Japan had no rules on Airbnb when they started it.
He thought he needed a permit for the guesthouse, and the best way to do that was to run a “farm guesthouse.”
It worked out well for him that there were numerous bamboo forests in the area.
“I combined the businesses, so now I do bamboo farming while running the guest house,” Daisuke said.
Meanwhile, the Yui Valley is closed from mid-November until the end of March due to harsh weather.
Daisuke decided to keep his guesthouse’s original structure rather than update it with modern insulation techniques like most traditional homes do these days.
As a result, the walls did not have enough insulation to endure the freezing temperature.
“I’m still a bamboo farmer, and only in winter can we cut the bamboo trees and treat the bamboo,” he said, adding that he wants to go on a vacation outside Japan, and closing the guesthouse in winter allows him to do it.
Daisuke also offers bamboo weaving workshops for two or more guests where they can craft bamboo products like coasters, rings, and baskets.
The guesthouse can be found midway between Japan’s two largest towns, Tokyo and Kyoto, on the Tokaido Shinkansen line, Japan’s bullet train network’s route.
The guesthouse is in the Shizuoka region, roughly an hour’s bullet train ride from Tokyo and 95 minutes from Kyoto.
Hikers could see Mount Fuji in the distance from the peak of a nearby mountain named Mount Bikuishi, Daisuke said.
He also mentioned that guests could swim in the river in front of the house.
According to Daisuke, the natural surroundings are the best part for the guesthouse, which is common among positive reviews of Yui Valley on Japan travel guide sites.
“What I like about the traditional house is that the inside and the outside have a beautiful connection,” Daisuke said. “It’s so quiet.”