Kyo-machiya, traditional townhouse-style low-rise buildings in Kyoto, largely contribute to the beautiful townscape of Kyoto. Strolling around the area would never be so enjoyable without the quaint machiya buildings. Stay at a machiya-based guesthouse and enjoy walking around the city. This article introduces some machiya guesthouses located in the area west of the city center.
What Is a Kyo-machiya?
The definition of a kyo-machiya or machiya is a wooden house built from around the 19th century to before the Second World War. It is typically characterized by a small entrance and narrow street frontage with a deep interior. A long, thin corridor from the entrance to the backyard is called “tori-niwa” (passage garden), and a kitchen and back rooms are located along this tori-niwa. A tori-niwa also serves as an air passage when the windows are opened. With unique koshi-do lattice doors and mushikago-mado windows, people inside can see outside well whereas people outside cannot see much inside the building.
As its maintenance takes lots of effort, the number of kyomatchiya has been steadily declining. However, the number of guesthouses utilizing repaired and reformed old machiya houses and inn buildings is going up in Kyoto. Guesthouses offer selfcatering accommodation for less money than staying at a hotel. Machiya-based guesthouses often offer dormitory-style shared guestrooms, which may be convenient for solo travelers.
Kyo-machiya guesthouses are increasingly popular as they offer an opportunity to experience a local environment for less money, but there are some points you should remember when staying there. Since the buildings are old, the air conditioning and sound control may not be up to the standard of regular hotels. While hotels in Japan usually offer yukata cotton kimono for use in the facility and other amenities, the guesthouses don’t. The washrooms and showers are usually shared among the guests.
Each guesthouse is unique with different features, such as “the guests are mostly Japanese,” “the guests are mostly overseas travelers,” “a quiet environment,” and “a bustling environment.” Try different ones and you may find the best one for you. One of the attractive points of a guesthouse is that you can enjoy interacting with other guests in a common space like a living room. On the other hand, some guesthouses have started offering private guestrooms with a lock for guests who prefer a quiet environment, attracting older travelers. The price per person per night is typically 2,500 yen and up. Machiya buildings are basically located in areas crowded with lots of houses. So, when staying at a machiya guesthouse, you should remember not to disturb the local people with thoughtless behaviors such as making a lot of noise very early or very late. It is also important to be careful with fire as the buildings are mostly made of wood.
Known as a big producer of quality fabric called Nishijin-ori, Nishijin’s name goes back to the Onin War in 1467. In that civil war, the Eastern Army led by Hosokawa Katsumoto and the Western Army led by Yamana Sozen fought against each other fiercely, and many Nishijin-ori craftspeople left Kyoto to escape the war. After the 11 years of war, those craftspeople came back to Kyoto and re-started their work in one area, which is called Nishijin. Nishijin isn’t an administrative district, but it is usually referred to as the area defined, although not strictly, by Horikawa-dori Street to the east, Shichihonmatsu-dori Street to the west, Nakadachiuridori Street to the south, and Kuramaguchi-dori Street to the north.
Kyoto Guesthouse KIOTO
The wooden building used to be a residence of a yarn merchant (itoya).
202 Arima-cho, Jofukuji-dori St. Itsutsuji-sagaru, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto City
Private guestrooms, a dormitory guestroom for women, and a dormitory guestroom for men are available.
243 Kankicho, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto City
Kyoto Nishijin Guesthouse Itoya
This guesthouse offers a quiet environment.
100 Mizomae-cho, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto City
Nijo-jo Castle Area
The Ninomaru Goten palace (a National Treasure) consists of six separate buildings connected with aisles in the shoin-zukuri style. The masterpiece drawings on the fusuma sliding doors in the palace were created by a group of eshi painters called Kano-ha led by one of the most famous Japanese eshi, Kano Tan-yu. Ninomaru Garden (a
Special Place of Scenic Beauty) was designed by Kobori Enshu, one of the most notable Japanese artists in the reign of Tokugawa Ieyasu, a founder of the Edo Shogunate. The castle has been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Hostel MUNDO Kyoto
Private guestrooms and a dormitory guestroom for women are available.
596 Tenbin-cho, Higurashi-dori St. Shimodachiuri-agaru, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto City
The owner of this guesthouse renovated the 70-year-old house of his grandparents to open the guesthouse.
442-5 Inaba-cho, Shimodachiuri-dori St. Sembon-nishi-iru, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto City
Shijo/ Gojo Area
This central area of the city gives convenient access to wherever you want to go.
It features a fancy Japanese interior with a hint of Western accents. A dormitory guestroom is available only for women. A machiya-based Bed and Breakfast, Tsukiya, in the same area is a branch of Kazariya.
184 Higashi-Kazariya-cho, Gojo-dori St. Muromachi-nishiiru-minamigawa, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto City
This nagaya-style (low-rise townhouse) machiya was designed and constructed in 1905 by the 14th Omiya Kichibe, the great-grandfather of the current owner. Contact is available in Japanese and English. If you wish to cancel a reservation, please be sure to inform the guesthouse of the cancelation.
326 Kagiya-cho, Kagiyamachi-dori St. Karasumanishiiru, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto City
Strolling around Nishijin
The Nishijin area has shops and stores in renovated machiya buildings in a traditional townscape. This area features not only Hirano Shrine, a famous site for beautiful cherry blossoms, Kamishichiken, the oldest hanamachi geisha district in Kyoto, and Kitano Tenman-gu Shrine, but also is very accessible to many famous sites, including Daihouon-ji Temple, also known as Sembon Shaka-do (National Treasure), Kinkaku-ji Temple, Daitoku-ji Temple, Ryoan-ji Temple, and Imamiya-jinja Shrine. The area also has Funaoka Onsen, a public bathhouse designated as a national cultural property with its gorgeous retrostyle tile decoration. In early November, an annual illumination event called Miyako Light under the theme of lights leaking out from machiya houses is held around the Nishijin district. It will be held on November 6 and 8 in 2015.