April 13, 2010
by kazuho gofuku; mika suzuki
Have you heard the term “machiya”? The word “machiya” is composed of “machi” and “ya.” “Machi” means town, and “ya” means house, so in English we often refer it as a Kyoto townhouse. Machiya were used for living, the operation of business and manufacturing by townspeople during the Edo period. The machiya is distinguished by its rectangular layout. Because of its long, narrow form, the machiya was often referred to as a “bed for an eel.” This strange originated with the tax system during the Edo period. Taxes were set by the entrance width of the building. So people built houses on lots that were long and narrow to save taxes.
Recently in Kyoto, some machiya have been converted into pensions for travelers. We would like to present one pension which is beautiful, interesting and exciting, and its surrounding area. You should experience Japanese traditional house architecture and enjoy the neighborhoods around these machiya.
We hope that this article will add to your travels.
History of Machiya
The origin of machiya was in the Edo period. When the government shifted to the Tokugawa shogunate, machiya in Kyoto ware already refined and unified.
But, twice big fires and earthquakes in the occurred and most of Kyoto was burned down. Most machiya were rebuilt in the Meiji and Taisho periods.
From Meiji, brick houses became popular and the second floors of machiya become westernized.
In WWⅡ, Kyoto could escape bombing because it had a lot of cultural assets. So now, we can still view old machiya.
Pension manager: Mrs. LeBacquer
“Warakuan” is a machiya guest house located in Shogoin, Sakyo ward near Marutamachi street. This location is marvelous because Ginkaku temple, Nanzen temple, Heian Shrine and Eikando are nearby. Besides these, there is also Kyoto University, the Philosopher’s Path, and Okazaki Park within walking distance. Warakuan is managed by Mrs. Le Bacquer.
We asked her about her business
What kind of people stay at Warakuan?
Of course, mostly people from foreign countries, but some Japanese people also stay here. We especially have many guests from Taiwan. Japanese people, not only those who come from a distant place, but also many living in Kyoto, have interest in machiya and stay at our guest house intentionally because it ismachiya.
Why did you start a machiya pension?
The simple reason is that I like things that are old. And I wish that when foreign people come to Japan, they will experience wonderful, beautiful old Japanese things.
Do you have any interesting stories about your visitors?
Visitors who stay in the dormitory often make friends there. And the day after they meet, they go sightseeing together. I often hear such stories about making friends.
What do visitors think or say about machiya?
“I could experience typical Kyoto!!!” Visitors often say that. They seem to be satisfied with staying in a machiya.
We also spoken to an employee, Ms. Miwa. Ms. Miwa is 25 years old and from Gifu Prefecture. She recommended a single deluxe room:
This room is our biggest room. And the room has an engawa, which is narrow wooden passageway just like a veranda. So you can make yourself comfortable there while looking out at a courtyard garden. In the garden, there is a maple tree, bamboo grass and a small statue of Buddha who holds a beautiful lotus. You can see that the maple tree will turn red in autumn.
Why did you come to Kyoto and work here?
I live Kyoto. In a simple way, I work at Warakuan which makes me feel “Kyoto-like.”
How about working at Warakuan?
When I work here, I feel it to be a mysterious place. Such as on a rainy day, the inside of the building is so quiet and there is only the sound of the rain. This place is special.
Is there a place you recommend near the Warakuan?
“Well…Nanzen temple. Of course you can enjoy it, not only on a sunny day, but also on a rainy day. Even it is rainy, it could be appraised as beautiful!”
Single room 5
Dormitory for men
Dormitory for women
Dormitory is 2620 yen
Single room is set from 3150 yen
(These include consumption tax)
Shower room is free
Dryer is free
Rental bicycle is 500 yen per day.