Work opportunities, a love for travel and a natural draw toward the mountains led Kevin and Andrea from the UK to Japan.
A few years on and they've managed to combine these passions into an exciting new accommodation business in Furano. We caught up to discuss their journey to finding, purchasing, renovating and now operating Yukari Cabins.
Uchi - Thanks for catching up, guys! Tell me a little about yourselves and what drew you to Japan?
Andrea – I was actually born in Yokohama and I lived here until I was 14. I still have family in Japan and have always been interested in returning at some point. My job in ski tour sales presented me with the opportunity to move over here on a full time basis and work remotely. So the idea began with me, all I needed to do was convince Kevin to leave the UK and join me.
Kevin – I’ve always been up for travelling and love the idea of living abroad. Plus, I’ve taught snowboarding for over 20 years and have always gravitated towards the mountains. So it didn’t take too much to convince me to move to Hokkaido – it was a no-brainer!
Andrea – First we moved to Niseko and just as we were settling into Hokkaido life… COVID hit and forced us to rethink what we wanted to do to stay in Japan. That’s when we began looking at buying something that we could turn into a business - and our journey towards owning Yukari Cabins began.
Uchi - So what is Yukari Cabins?
Andrea - It’s a group of log cabins in a secluded piece of forest in Furano. It's our magical escape to nature. Rustic at heart but modernized and comfortable.
Uchi - What was it before you bought it?
Kevin - It was built 25 years ago by the maintenance man from the Prince Hotel at the time. It was called Rider House and it was a motorcycle hang-out. Very simple, very low budget, basically a place where motorbike-riders could turn up on the day, get a bed, get a meal and get a beer. It had two dorms and four cottages that he rented out.
Andrea - It changed hands about 6 or 7 years ago. Aside from renaming it to Log Yukari, we don’t think those owners made many significant changes.
Uchi - What did you change about it first?
Andrea - We scrapped the dormitories. With the COVID situation playing out, it was becoming increasingly clear to us that shared accommodations in close quarters might not be particularly attractive to travellers moving forward. We are confident that the future trend is likely toward detached, self-catered accommodations.
Kevin - This worked well for us too as we want to attract guests on longer stays. Dorms lend themselves to one-night stays, two-night stays and lots of guest turnover. The cabins were all in pretty good condition too so it made sense to flip them first.
Uchi - Had you always set out to find something you could convert into a guesthouse?
Andrea - We always had in our mind that we wanted to open an accommodation business. We were open-minded about what the property might look like, be it an Airbnb-style guesthouse, a lodge where we live on-site, or what we’ve ended up with, a collection of log cabins.
Kevin – As soon as we saw it, we knew it was perfect. We can live on-site but in our own cabin, meaning we have privacy and our guests have privacy too.
Uchi - How did you find it?
Andrea - We got quite lucky actually. An agent in Furano took us around for a day, showing us about four or five properties. As we spoke more and more and he began to get a feel for what we were truly after, he introduced us to this property, which wasn't on the original list!
Kevin - At the time, the previous owner had only recently decided to sell, so the official listing for the property hadn't been advertised. We were the first to see it.
Uchi - What were the key considerations in choosing it?
Kevin - Location. We want be close to the mountains, to amenities, to restaurants and so on, for our own lifestyle. And we know that guests desire quick and easy access to the Furano ski hill too. We are less than a 5 minute drive to both the Furano and Kitanomine sides of Furano Ski Resort.
Andrea - Obviously price was the other factor and we think we found a good and fair deal.
Uchi - What were the main hurdles to jump in the buying process?
Kevin - The trickiest part at the time was that neither of us were employed, so to remain in the country, we’d need to start a company and seek business manager visas. To do so required us to prove we had the funds to run the business, all at a time when we had significant start-up costs and nothing coming in!
Andrea - But once that was sorted, we actually found the whole process to be easier than it was to purchase a property in the UK. Settlement and handover was much quicker.
Kevin - Once we began the renovations, the biggest challenge was sourcing materials and building supplies. Often we’d need to make a full trip down to Sapporo to pick up something fairly insignificant in the grand scheme of the build. But other than that, fairly easy going!
Uchi - You have made significant improvements and renovations – was that always the plan?
Andrea - Yes, if you saw the place when we bought it, you’d know the answer to that question right away! Thankfully, Kevin is really handy and could do a lot of the building work himself. We used electricians and plumbers for some of the more complicated things but we did the bulk of the work ourselves.
Kevin - COVID was a blessing in disguise when it came to that. We knew international tourists would be unable to visit right away, so we didn’t feel a sense of urgency to get things completed quickly.
Andrea - Seeing the change from what it was then to what it is now has been quite amazing.
Uchi - Is there a guiding theme for the design of the cabins?
Kevin - Log cabins are beautiful in their simplicity and we wanted to retain that when renovating. We have simply modernized them and in doing so, made them friendlier to the international traveler.
Andrea – We replaced a lot of the old-school Japanese interior design features with simple, clean, European style design. We’ve added more comfortable bedding, a standard Western-style kitchen, a tiled wet-room and a nice toilet to each cabin, painted them and tidied it all up. The rest of it is just about celebrating the wood and leaving it rustic and as part of nature.
Kevin - We’ve deliberately not put TV’s in any of the cabins either. And the furniture is laid out to take in a view of nature rather than a screen hanging on a wall!
Uchi - Any funny, quirky stories or interesting things happen during the entire process?
Kevin - There is one!
Andrea - The biggest shock was when we walked in on the first day we owned it and it literally had not changed at all from our final inspection. Sheets on the beds, dirty laundry in the baskets, it looked like they’d left but simply forgotten to take the keys! Perhaps it was lost in translation but clearly the previous owner thought we were simply taking over the existing business and running it exactly as he had for all these years!
Kevin - That was pretty funny... until we found out he wanted us to take on his existing supplier contracts and monthly invoices too (laughs!).
Uchi - Would you do it again?
Andrea - Absolutely! It’s been such a rewarding experience and we are super excited now to welcome guests from within Japan, and hopefully from the rest of the world soon, too!
Interested in owning in Furano too? Check out our Furano resort profile and listings here.
Or, read our interview with the young couple who made their dream of owning a cabin in the Niseko woods a reality.