SBP Blog

Keeping Kyoto Timeless: Restoring and Preserving Kyoto’s Traditional Machiya

Intern Intern - Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Japan’s ancient imperial city and former capital, Kyoto captures the country’s rich cultural history and abounds with relics and monuments of Japan’s long and storied past.

One of the few large Japanese cities to emerge from WWII relatively unscathed, the city’s seemingly timeless old district is home to tens of thousands of machiya, traditional two-story wooden townhouses replete with street-front lattice facades, tatami mats, elevated timber floors, tiled roofs, enclosed courtyard gardens, shoji paper-covered windows, fusuma patterned-paper sliding doors, and other defining elements of Japanese architecture.

Both residential and commercial, machiya housed generations of merchants and artisans and came to define the architectural atmosphere of Kyoto from as early as the Heian period all the way up to WWII.
“The rise of the merchant class in the 16th century necessitated larger shops and storehouses with street frontage to enable customer access,” writes Judith Clancy, author of Kyoto Machiya Restaurant Guide, “The family lived in back of these long narrow dwellings while the front rooms were devoted to business.” The aesthetics and practical functions of machiya reflect pre-modern Japanese society and how Japanese people lived for centuries.

Today, machiya are steadily falling into disrepair and dilapidation, with many of them disappearing due to poor structural maintenance, earthquakes, fires, and, most of all, urban redevelopment. Unfortunately, the high cost of renovating and preserving machiya has increased the financial incentive to demolish and replace them with modern housing and commercial buildings.

“Newer is better” has largely been the motto of Japan since the end of WWII, prompting urban developers to eschew machiya renovations in favor of inexpensive modern redevelopments.
As Clancy asserts, “Japan’s desire to show the world and itself as a ‘modern’ postwar society meant destroying this gracious, traditional architecture and replacing it with unsightly boxy concrete buildings.”
Over the past few years, however, a growing number of individuals and advocacy groups have stepped up to reduce and optimally end the razing of these culturally invaluable structures. “Many people began to reject the simply new,” Clancy writes, “and to cherish instead the disappearing roof lines, the intimacy of neighborhoods, and the intricate interplay of material and motif.”
In 2010 and 2012, the World Monuments Fund deemed Kyoto’s remaining machiya at risk and established the Kyomachiya Revitalization Project to restore and preserve the city’s historic cityscape.
According to the World Monument Fund, “The project aims to work for model solutions to some of the common threats that challenge the survival of machiya through community action, preserving, and revitalizing machiya in Kyoto.”
Following this announcement, public interest in machiya conservation surged and banks began offering tailored restoration loans for these bygone architectural artifacts. Such loans are made possible by the Machiya Machizukuri Fund, a public-private cooperative agency that certifies structures as legitimate machiya, provides banks with estimates of the necessary restoration work, and subsidizes each restoration project.

While such efforts have been arduous, necessitating special training from architects and craftsmen well versed in traditional Japanese structural design and carpentry, the payoffs have been well worth the challenges.
Not only have demolitions of machiya significantly decreased since 2010, saving Kyoto’s culturally irreplaceable cityscape from imminent destruction, the restoration endeavor has provided the ancient city with new financially rewarding prospects.
Hundreds of machiya have been turned into shops and restaurants or converted to quaint rental accommodations. According to Clancy, “More than two hundred newly established small restaurants and cafes, as well as shops specializing in traditional crafts, have joined the trend and taken over and repurposed old midtown homes.”
A fusion of old and new Japan, Kyoto’s machiya are testaments to the revered architectural heritage of Japan as well as the capacity for any given culture to protect the monuments of its historical past and retain its sociocultural roots.
And with the number of visitors to Japan estimated to rise above ten million people this year, the residents of Kyoto are not the only ones who will reap the benefits of the machiya restoration efforts.

For more about Kyoto’s machiya, Judy Clancy’s book Kyoto Machiya Restaurant Guide details over 130 restaurant listings (food, decor, hours, addresses, prices, maps, and index) and offers a photographic guide to machiya architecture, culture, and aesthetics.
If you would like to contribute to the preservation of Kyoto’s machiya, you can donate to the Kyomachiya Machizukuri Fund by clicking here. Back in 2012, Stone Bridge Press donated ¥120,000 to the cause, but anything will help!
Don’t forget to subscribe to the Stone Bridge Press mailing list to receive bi-weekly newsletters detailing our latest upcoming books, special deals, promotions, book giveaways, excerpts from our newer titles, and other SBP related news.
When you sign-up, you’ll be automatically entered to win a free copy of one of our books. This week we’re giving away a copy of Womansword: What Japanese Words Say About Women, an intriguing portrait of Japanese womanhood that offers linguistic, sociological, and historical insight into issues central to the lives of women everywhere—don't miss out!
For daily content and news on East Asian culture as well as info on our latest titles, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.
Written by Nikolas Bunton

Like our blog? Please share it!


Subscribe to the SBP Mailing List

New Releases

Amy’s Guide to Best Behavior in Japan

Going to Japan? This unfussy modern guide guarantees you keep it polite and get it right!

Easy and Fun Katakana

Learn the second key Japanese syllabary from every angle: reading, writing, and real-world examples.

Exploring Kyoto

This revised and updated edition of the Japan travel classic and cultural guide gets you wandering from downtown quarters to remote mountaintop temples and features expanded information on new museums and gardens now open year-round for viewing.

The Fourth String

Two women. Two cultures. One music.

Tag Cloud

classic japanese literature Christianity etiquette chinese comics eastern and western philosophy henry kiyama China university of chicago travel to japan learning in japan haibun kinokuniya event living in japan book publicity nichi bei weekly, naomi hirarahara ningen shikkaku foreword reviews student teacher dazai brad hawley dark horse stone bridge press t.k. nakagaki religion announcement will eisner the japan times benjamin franklin award osaka Korea photography center of east asian studies bookstore asian review of books japanese japan food japan custom Okinawan literature hiroaki sato 2020 Olympics Olympics journal of a zen monks wife in japan Art/Design how to travel in japan ex pat literature japan behavior in the woods of memory Japanese literature 1960s Korea Japan literature Anime/Manga/Comics walt disney UCLA Tokyo Olympics the buddhist swastika gaijin pot japan restaurant Chinese New Year disney eating in japan astrology asia american shamisen literary prize monk wife Poetry a shameful life AAS nara journal' monks wife lions roar kyodo news the fourth string PEN AWARD performance amys guide to bes tbehavior in japan zen monk Chiune Sugihara what do in japan Travel understandind china through comics wife buddhist symbols visitor new release classic michael emmerich tea japan travel Culture jared cook Chinese culture book blurb bowing in japan book award diary graphic novels comic history behavior shamisen performance traditional japanese instrumenet poetry of consciousness shamisen review china history Japanese holidays Children's Literature hitlers cross danica davidson holocaust japanese etiquette japanese culture swastika journal of a zen monk's wife suehiro maruo japan trip jing liu books Spring Festival sensei and me shun medoruma Christianity in Japan amy chavez Chinese history suicide min kahng VIZ polite no longer human photography koun Spirituality author tour nazi hitler haiku japanese instruments huffpost washington dc Shoah fantasy literature tokyo hippocampus magazine otakuusa World War II Ukiyo-e my year of dirt and water takuma sminkey the hidden writer japan today zen memior Japanese art comics hooked cross japan book Chinese Astrology four immigrants tricycle magazine Language japanese book tourist Alexandra Johnson book japanese books in english huffington post tracy franz publicity Basho blurb japan guide purification janet pocorobba leonard koren politics and prose Interview zazen forewrod reviews indies memoir, tracy franz, zen monk, buddhist book reading buddhism osamu tezuka japan memoir damian flanagan astro boy world literature today donald keene frederik schodt japanese drunk Nikolas Bunton WWII ritual manners japanese customs japanese books 2019 best behavior in japan green tea Japanese aesthetics fred schodt seppuku author musical book hoarding evil buddhist monks wife finalist Basho's Narrow Road 1960's Japan gratitude in japan giajin Year of the Dog japanese classic expat state of belief japanese instrument mark gibeau Second World War kyoto History amys guide to best behavior in japan memoir anime juddhism internment japan etiquette buddhist priest matcha jun hazuki Children's Books japanese cutlure yukio mishima IBPA illustration Asian Studies sensei Coming of Age Day japanese travel pottery how to the japan society how to order in japan a memoir learning shamisen traditional japanese instrument award World War Two kansuke naka gaijinpot book talk ancient symbol japan culture verticle peace book tour new york drinking in japan tk nakagaki william f sibley buddhist swastika catcher in the rye hate The Colorado Review japanese bath ancient symbols alan brill alan moore publishing Korea reviews japan books the silver spoon holden caufield foreword indies welton gaddy literary review guide monk author event black jack traditional the millions event manga biography stone bridge cafe book signing book review rachel manley japanese people author signing journal tea garden Translation manga new books non-fiction travel Japan osamu dazai