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TOPMachiya & kanazawa GuideAll About MachiyaWhat is a ‘machiya’ townhouse? Learn about its history and unique features

machiyagram MACHIYA RESIDENCE INNAll About Machiya

What is a MACHIYA?

Even if you’re just dreaming of planning a vacation in Japan or searching for where to stay in Kyoto with family, you will see this word pop-up during your searches. To put it simply, ‘machiya’ (町家・町屋) are traditional Japanese wooden townhouses that once served as both a place of residence and business. In particular, you will see many machiya in Kyoto, as the city was relatively untouched during the war. Known as ‘kyomachiya’ (Kyoto machiya), there are still many of these historical machiya houses still standing in the city.

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    A machiya is a traditional wooden townhouse. It has over a thousand years of history, dating back as far as 794 AD, or the Heian time period in Japan.
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    Machiya can be found throughout Japan, but are most famous in the cities of Kyoto and Kanazawa. They not only served as homes, but were favored by merchants and craftsman and also served as storefronts.
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    Each element of a machiya's design has a specific purpose for which it was included. With narrow streets and limited space in which to build, nothing went to waste in the design and all spaces were used to their full potential.
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    The machiya is often referred to as 'unagi-no-nedoko', or as a 'bed for an eel'. This nickname came about due to one of the most common design shapes of a machiya. It featured a narrow front and a deep interior, narrow and long like an eel.
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    During the Edo period, stores were taxed according to the size of the storefront facing the street. The narrow build of the machiya was designed to give merchants as small as possible a storefront, while providing plenty of space behind the shop for living quarters.
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    The first room in a machiya, which faced the street, was called the mise-no-ma, or the shop space. It had the ability to open up to the street to display wares during the day time by opening either sliding doors or shutters.
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    Lattices on windows were a favored design for many machiya. Although sunlight could be let in, it shielded the interior from the public eye. Since many machiya were built to face the street, this aided in self-defense and privacy.
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    Most machiya were built where the walls were either shared or were directly next to a neighboring machiya. The niwa, or garden, was an indispensable design element to aid in air circulation and allow sunlight into the house.
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    Land was very expensive, especially in cities like Kyoto and Kanazawa. Many spaces served more than one purpose in order to save space. Stairs, for example, often doubled as storage space and was usually built with drawers on one side or with a hollow area underneath that could be used for other purposes.

While protecting the history and culture of the machiya, MACHIYA RESIDENCE INN strives to maintain the traditional design aspect while also bringing updates to meet the modern needs of our guests. By staying in one of our machiya, you will have a piece of Japanese history all to youself!

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