The machiya of Kyoto are traditional townhouses dating from the Edo period (1603–1867). Born out of the city’s growing merchant class, they functioned as both residences and workspaces. Deep and narrow, with a shop in the front and a variety of living spaces in the rear, they once lined Kyoto’s streets. Incorporating interior gardens and inviting light and air, the machiya fostered a culture that integrated urban living and commerce. Kyoto, the capital of ancient Japan for over a millennium, was fortunate to weather the storm of World War II with relatively little damage. Unlike many cities along Japan’s southern coast, the historic layout of streets and neighborhoods in Kyoto survived intact, as did many of its wooden buildings. Nevertheless, as development in the city has intensified and has separated commercial and residential uses, the machiya are disappearing.
How We Helped
Recently, groups of concerned citizens have called for efforts to protect the machiya and to create incentives for their preservation. WMF included the Kyoto machiya in the 2010 Watch to focus attention on local efforts. Following the 2010 Watch announcement, WMF partnered with the Kyomachiya Revitalization Study Group and the Kyoto Center for Community Collaboration for the restoration of a model machiya. The building is owned by the Kamanza neighborhood association, in the central area of Kyoto, and is a representative example of most surviving, individually owned machiya. The project demonstrated to private owners that even heavily altered houses can be restored to their traditional form. The building now houses a resource center for machiya owners. The restoration project was followed by a series of public events, designed to share the lessons learned from the project and to strengthen the network of stewards of machiya in Kyoto and in Tokyo, where some surviving machiya can also be found. WMF is now working to encourage long-term policy changes to alleviate threats to these buildings and promote their sustainable stewardship. The second phase of the machiya revitalization project finished in spring 2012 with the restoration of another machiya, Furaibou, which was converted into a museum.
Why It Matters
Thoughtful restoration and upgraded amenities can breathe new life into this historic building type, which has suffered from alterations and demolition. With construction of new machiya prohibited since the end of World War II, restoration of historic machiya is the only way for Japanese carpenters and craftsmen to maintain a link with a rich building tradition.