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An Overview of the Kyomachiya Revitalization Project

It has been 20 years since we celebrated the inauguration of the Kyomachiya Council. Despite the continued demolition of traditional wooden houses in the central districts of Kyoto, we have experienced a great surge of regenerative efforts to restore and preserve the isolated examples of these houses that are still remaining. Although 20 years is quite a long period of time, we have been able to achieve a wide variety of activities.

Through a survey conducted in 1995 of traditional machiya townhouses located in the central districts of the city, we have been able to verify the existence of only 8,000 such structures still remaining. These findings have left a deep impression on us of a need to act to preserve this vital aspect of the urban landscape of Kyoto. This work was continued in the two years following this survey. In this time, project members were able to visit many of the remaining machiya identified in our research to engage in a dialogue with the residents and owners. The relationships with communities that these interactions have fostered have been the greatest value of this council.

Regrettably, despite the progress the Kyomachiya Council has achieved, we cannot forget that there are many machiya that have already been destroyed.

As a result of the findings from our surveys, we have taken measures to ensure the management of the future upkeep of the remaining machiya. Toward this goal, various organizations have been established to build a support network for machiya residents in preserving and passing on their homes to future generations. Kyomachiya Architects functions to organize technical experts for machiya repair. The Friends of Kyomachiya organization is composed of current and future machiya residents in addition to people who have an appreciation for machiya. Finally, Kyomachiya Real Estate was established to connect a core group of real estate agents who can provide services focused on the specific needs of existing and potential new machiya owners and residents.

Today, the situation surrounding the remaining Kyomachiya has become quite severe. Their numbers have been gradually yet relentlessly disappearing over the last few decades. Currently there are approximately 28,000 Kyomachiya remaining in central Kyoto and approximately 48,000 Kyomachiya in the greater Kyoto metropolitan area. Despite these numbers, they are disappearing at a pace of about 1.6% annually.

In New York in 2008, at a symposium sponsored by the Kyoto Center for Community Collaboration and the Japan Society of New York, we had the opportunity to learn of the enthusiastic efforts carried out by the World Monuments Fund to support preservation efforts around the world. Following this meeting, an application was submitted to the 2010 World Monuments Watch in cooperation with the KCCC for the preservation of Kyomachiya. Incredibly, a supporter emerged that enabled the restoration of the Kamanza Cho-ie, identified as a suitable pilot restoration project, to become a reality. With the start of the Kamanza Cho-ie revitalization project, many people have come to visit the site. Activities at the site have included an earthen wall plastering workshop where even children in the neighborhood were able to actively participate. Through the contributions of everyone working together, the regenerated machiya has been beautifully restored back to life. The secretariat of the Kyomachiya Architects, the group in charge of the restoration work, has commented on the great number of people who have recently come to take part in the machiya restoration efforts. This project will be used as a local community meeting place. For people studying the restoration of machiya, the Kamanza Cho-ie serves as a model house. The Kyomachiya Architects, as members of the neighborhood association, continue to take active part in community functions.

After our nomination to the 2012 World Monuments Watch, we immediately received support and the Furaibou Machiya Museum and Gallery came into being. In this machiya, traditional architectural features from natural materials to the ambience created by natural light have been preserved. This has created an invaluable gallery space providing a wonderful setting in which to appreciate a work of art in a relaxing environment that local residents and tourists alike can enjoy.

As a result of the support provided by the WMF, we have been able to achieve a variety of results. Thanks to some forethought in recognizing the necessity to document the machiya restoration and regeneration before the project began, we were able to capture and record the entire Kyomanza Cho-ie restoration on video DVD and booklet which proved to be a great achievement. This DVD and booklet will serve to provide visitors to Kamanza Cho-ie (from Japan and many countries throughout the world) with an excellent overview of the project. Additionally, tea ceremony gatherings and other community outreach activities offer social events that introduce people to machiya. Symposiums and other such events held in Kyoto and Tokyo have received considerable support. In the past few years, as a result of all of these efforts combined, the activities of the Kyomachiya Council in collaboration with the KCCC have proved to be very fruitful.