April 17, 2004
What are Machiya?
Machiya style buildings allude to a type of architecture, whereby the structure was planned and erected in order to connect with the next building and face onto the road. Machiya can be divided into roughly three styles. Firstly, that which was designed to serve as a large shop, with a commercial space in the front and a living space to the rear. The second was purely for residential purposes, with a two-story dwelling being the basic style. The third was designed to house those businesses connected to weaving and the textile industry. There would be a workroom in the rear of these premises.
In Kyoto, machiya were often commoner’s houses from the middle of the Heian period, however the style of machiya changed little by little in relation to each subsequent period in Japanese history. Most of the machiya still in existence today were built in the Meiji period, following on from the more traditional style of the Edo period.
Features of Machiya
Machiya have many distinctive features, of which one of the most prominent is the framework. In normal houses the pillars and the timberwork are hidden behind the wall coverings. However, in machiya, the pillars and timberwork remain visible to serve as a decorative enhancement. In particular, the ceiling of the ground floor, or ”doma” (compacted earth floor), which passes through from the front to the rear of the
house, is exceptionally beautiful. Another structural feature of Machiya are the elaborately tiled rooves and lattice windows. Good examples of this are de-goshi (latticed windows), which are for excluding prying eyes from outside without shutting out light and soft breezes, and mushiko-mado, which are small lattice windows fixed into the earth walls on the second floor. Also, there are certain peculiar features in the interior, with rooms generally built off the narrow, earth floored “doma” These houses were called unagi-no nedoko (an eel’s bed), because the frontage of the house tended to be very small, with the depth of the house being very long.
Machiya in Recent Times
Machiya have many beautiful and quaint aspects. However, these days, many machiya have been demolished or lie vacant, because they are difficult to manage, clean or maintain. Despite the extensive demolition, there is a project underway, by which people try to utilize machiya more successfully. For example, many machiya are now converted for use as restaurants, hair salons, clothes stores, grocery stores and so on, rather than just residences. Here are some notable examples:
Bond & Savon･･･
Bond is a hair salon, and Savon is a café. Bond faces onto
Fuyamachi St. and Savon is situated behind Bond. In Savon,
you can eat food made with delicious Japanese ingredients.
For example, they have soybean paste, Japanese pickles
(tukemono), green tea, bean paste, and so on.
〒604-8075 438 Shirakabe-cho, Sanjyo-sagaru, Fuyamachi,
In the front part of this Machiya, there is an Asian grocery store, with a clothes store
on the second floor. In back of the Asian store, there is also a café, and a store,
which sells dyed goods. You can enjoy many things on a visit to this Machiya.
〒604-8276 Higasigawa, Ogawadori-Oikesagaru, Tuboya-cho,
This is now a restaurant, in what used to be an eye clinic. In this restaurant,
you can eat Kyoto vegetables, tofu, yuba, and so on. The exterior of the
restaurant has a true grace fullness, but the inside is functionally modern.
Ebisuawa-agaru, Kawaramachidori, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto
This is a café. Until few years ago, it was an Ochaya (the place where people can
eat foods and talk with apprentice geisha.) The view is best from the window.
〒605-0087 61 Motokichi-cho, Shinbasi, Gion, Higasiyama -ku, Kyoto
Certainly, the houses and stores being built nowadays are more solid and designed to provide greater access, but new buildings simply do not offer the same charm or effect. Machiya provide us with a glimpse into the Japan of bygone days. When we visit these living treasures of Japanese history they fill us with a sense of timeless pleasure.
Please take the opportunity to visit and enjoy the unique and subtle beauty of Kyoto Machiya.