American family buys cheap abandoned home in Japan for a better life


Angle down icon An icon in the shape of an angle pointing down. Leika and Brandon Hansen bought a home in Japan and plan to move there from Washington. Courtesy of Leika Hansen. Leika and Brandon Hansen bought a vacant home in a small town in Japan for $30,000.The Hansens are leaving the Seattle area for more land, safer streets, and public transportation.The two are looking forward to a change in pace and a more inviting environment to raise their son.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Leika and Brandon Hansen, two educators living in a suburb of Seattle with their newborn baby, who plan to move to Okayama, Japan, this summer. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Leika: We have stable jobs and we’re trying to do our best in the US, but the area that we want to live — in Seattle — we could easily get priced out pretty fast.

Thinking about places where we want to be with our family, it would be tough to keep living here and be able to afford things comfortably.

My mom is from Japan, but she immigrated to the US when she was in her 20s. I had chances to be in Japan for good stretches of time growing up, but I don’t think I ever really expected to move there. It was a really fast-paced lifestyle — I didn’t love it.

If you told me five years ago I would be planning on moving to Japan, I’d be like, “What? Why?” I never really thought I would want to go back.

Brandon lived in the countryside when he was there, so he had a different experience and then shared that with me. I was like, “OK, maybe it’s not all that bad.”

Brandon: I was in Japan from 2014 to 2016. It was really just small towns around the Okayama and Osaka area — the outskirts.

The places where I lived were in the countryside. They were really chill towns or were quiet, cute towns and not busy and bustling. That was my perspective of Japan, and I was like, “I would live here.”

The Hansens said they chose a small town in Japan that’s close to a city. Courtesy of Brandon Hansen.

Leika: I was there for a little over a year, more toward Tokyo. That was 2017 and 2018.

They were both missions for our church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was a little bit of evangelical stuff, but mostly we taught English and did community service while we were there.

Japan is more family-friendly, plus we feel safer there

Brandon: Japan seemed like a slower pace of life. I know that’s not the image you may have of Japan, but it just seems really nice.

Also, the public services that Japan provides, like schools, are really regimented. They have safety, they have public transportation. It’s easy to live here. I heard that when I was there and thought it was true.

Leika: Japan is probably more family-centered, and it’s very safe. There’s a lot of community support and community engagement.

As a woman — and now having a kid — I don’t always feel safe in every situation in Washington. For example, my car got broken into a couple years ago.

Brandon: When her car was broken into, she confronted the people while it was happening. The risk here in the States is, “Are they carrying?” Who knows, right?

That’s a little less of a concern in Japan. Our kid will be able to run errands and do a little more.

Leika: And walk to school on their own, and go grocery shopping. You don’t have to have your tracker on them, always monitoring and making sure they’re OK.

We are getting more for our money in Japan

Leika: We had started looking for a house in January of 2023, and we purchased in June.

Real estate in Japan is a different vibe. It has a first-come-first-served system, which we weren’t used to. We are used to bidding and negotiating.

Leika with the keys to their new home. Courtesy of Brandon Hansen.

Brandon: In the hot Seattle market, we had to go through so many different condos and bidding wars. The first house we looked at in Japan, they were like, “We can give you a house tour, but we have other buyers who are interested, so we’re waiting for them.” So it wouldn’t be polite or customary for us to just walk in and be like, “We’ll give you more.”

Leika: The houses, in general, are a little different. We had to learn a little bit about construction and some things to avoid.

The house we bought is a traditionally built home and is about 100 years old.

Brandon: It’s a Kominka-style little farmhouse.

Leika: That was part of our search. We were looking for a little bit of land, too, because I wanted to do some hobby farm work. The house itself is smaller, about 900 square feet, which is not a big change from what we have in Washington.

Brandon: But it comes with lots of land — like rice fields, a couple of sheds, and other actual storage space. Land was our big motivation.

In Washington, for what we could afford, we were pretty lucky to get the condo where we’re at. We did some property searches in Washington, but everything was so expensive for the smallest plot of land.

Monthly, we pay about $1,550 between HOA and mortgage for a two-bedroom, 1 ½-bath condo in Washington.

The interior of the Hansens’ Japanese property. Courtesy of Brandon Hansen.

Leika: We ended up paying $30,000 for the house in Japan. The house itself is only worth about $2,500 or $3,000, but the property altogether was $30,000. It was unoccupied by the previous owner for 11 years.

Brandon: It was eventually sold to a real-estate group. They buy houses and maintain them, so it was in pretty good condition.

We chose a quiet and convenient neighborhood

Brandon: Our house is about 30 to 40 minutes outside the city of Okayama. They call them “bed towns” or commuter towns — just a town where people mostly commute to the big cities.

Leika: It’s not out in the mountains with nothing around.

Brandon: We wanted to take advantage of Japan’s public transportation and walkable lifestyle.

Leika: We’re pretty car-centric in the US. When we were living in Japan, we liked being able to bike or take the train to places. When we were looking for a house, we didn’t want it to be super far away, especially since we’re planning on having a family there. We wanted it to be close to schools. Even though I would consider it more rural, we still have amenities close by.

Brandon: The place we found is about a mile from the nearest train station, and there’s a bus stop a five-minute walk away. That was really important. Trying to find a place where we could take advantage of the walkable lifestyle — or at least a less car-dependent lifestyle.

Leika: We’re excited to have our own space — indoor and outdoor. We’re not bunched up with other people nearby, sharing walls and worrying if the baby is crying too loudly. I’m excited to have a lot of little projects to work on, for the farm or otherwise.

Some sheds on the Hansens’ property. Courtesy of Brandon Hansen.

Brandon: I really want honeybees. I’m super passionate about pizza and having an outdoor pizza oven. These are things that we think of as retirement dreams.

It’s like, “Why can’t I have these sooner? Why wait when we can try this out, and see how it goes?”

We could probably make it work in the Seattle area, but the timeline would be a lot longer. We value having a hobby farm and raising our kids with that.

We’re starting to have a family now. If we stayed here, it’d probably be another seven to 10 years before we had a home where we could have a hobby farm on it. And by that point, the kids would be halfway through their time with family.

It was really about getting a head start on that timeline.



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