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He’d spent years backpacking around the world, and Japanese traveler Daisuke Kajiyama was finally ready to return home to pursue his long-held dream of opening up a guesthouse.
In 2011, Kajiyama arrived back in Japan with his Israeli partner Hila, who he met in Nepal, and the pair set about finding the perfect location for their future venture.
However, there were a couple of major stumbling blocks in their way. To start with, Kajiyama had very little money to speak of after years of globetrotting around destinations like Korea, Taiwan, India, Nepal, Guatemala, Cuba and Canada.
He also happened to have his heart set on a traditional Japanese house, typically known as kominka, which are usually passed down over generations.
“I wanted to have a traditional house in the countryside,” Kajiyama tells CNN Travel, explaining that he was determined to find two houses located next to each other, so that he and Hila could live in one, while the other would be a guesthouse that they’d run together. “I had a vision.”
When he was unable to find anything that met his requirements, Kajiyama decided to shift his search to include the growing number of abandoned homes in the country.
As younger people ditch rural areas in pursuit of jobs in the city, Japan’s countryside is becoming filled with “ghost” houses, or “akiya.”
According to the Japan Policy Forum, there were 61 million houses and 52 million households in Japan in 2013, and with the country’s population expected to decline from 127 million to about 88 million by 2065, this number is likely to increase.
Kajiyama was driving around Tamatori, a small village located in the Shizuoka prefecture, between Kyoto and Tokyo, surrounded by green tea plantations and rice fields, when he came across an elderly woman farming, and decided to approach her.
“I said ‘Do you know if there are any empty houses around here?’ And she just pointed,” he recalls.
He looked over at the area that she was signaling to and spotted two neglected houses side by…
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