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Image: Bethany Nakamura

Bethany 'Bitsii' Nakamura on breathing new life into abandoned homes in Japan


Taking the plunge to leave a job that doesn’t align with your values is a difficult choice. Yet, Bethany Nakamura’s choice to leave her corporate day job to move to Japan is a testament to the courage it takes to pursue one’s true calling. After relocating to teach English in the rural countryside of Shikoku for what was meant to be a temporary sabbatical, Nakamura found herself unexpectedly drawn back into design, eventually settling in an akiya (abandoned homes in Japan).

Image: Bethany Nakamura

In sharing her story, Bethany, also known as Bitsii, emphasizes the importance of finding value in the things around us. She shares her experience in sustainability and restoring abandoned homes in Japan.

How did you get into interior design and eventually move to Japan?

Growing up my dad ran a charity and my mom stayed home to care for us. We often moved in and out of houses, and most of the homes we lived in needed some extra care. I’d watch my mom patch up these homes and I eventually started to show an interest in it too, especially with paint colors. I honestly hated moving into these houses, but what I internalized from it was that there’s freedom and opportunity to change your home spaces. I concluded early on that I wanted to do interior design. Simultaneously, I stumbled on a VHS of Hayao Miyazaki’s Tottoro at a flea market. The story stayed with me and my interest in Japan began from that point on. Those two things were important constants in my life—my budding interest in Japan and my knack for design.

I eventually became an interior designer and worked for a big corporate company. Yet, I found myself working on projects that did not align with my values. As my mother would say, these jobs were not “life-giving.” Being a corporate zombie changed things for me. In the end, I decided to pull from my childhood curiosity to re-kindle my sense of self. This brought me on my path to moving to Japan.

Was the idea of living in an akiya already on your mind before coming to Japan? 

It was just something I had heard about, especially through YouTubers like Tokyo Llama or reading articles about ghost towns. There were also rumors going around that houses were being given away. Or occasions where if you lived in a house for five years, you’d eventually get it for free. It was all interesting, but I didn’t see myself getting into it. When I eventually arrived in Japan and did get into it, I thought it would be temporary, but it wasn’t.

How did you end up living in an abandoned home? 

I had only lived in Shikoku for six or seven months, and at the time I was living in a teacher’s apartment. By chance, through a neighborhood contact, I was given the opportunity to live in a very special house. I have experience in homeownership, so the idea of taking on a house like this was a little bit daunting. Especially one that I didn’t choose myself. Yet despite my hesitations, I walked into this house and knew right away that I had to stay.

From the concrete floors in the genkan (entryway) area, and the different levels to the overall design, there was something incredibly moving and different about this place. Learning about the woman who had lived there before made me realize how special this home truly was. I knew I needed to spend time in this space and renovate what needed to be renovated.

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© Savvy Tokyo

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