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Traditional Kyoto Townhouses Enjoy a Revival (August 3, 2005)

Traditional townhouses in Kyoto (PANA)
The old townhouses of Kyoto are attracting renewed attention. There is a growing movement to reappraise the value of these machiya as monuments to traditional architecture and to preserve them as they are or give them new forms and functions. Some are being used again as homes, while others are being remodeled into inns, cafes, restaurants, and boutiques. While these efforts have been led by citizens, there is increasing government support, and the city of Kyoto has included the preservation of traditional townhouses as one of the goals of its Urban Renaissance Project, which is supported by Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro.

Citizens Take the Lead
Machiya were built in downtown areas of Japanese cities between the Edo period (1603-1868) and the end of World War II in 1945. The people living in them usually worked there as well, running businesses or handicraft workshops, but purely residential structures known as shimotaya are also included in the classification. Machiya were built by a traditional technique called mokuzo jikugumi koho, or wooden post-and-beam construction. According to a survey by the city of Kyoto there are roughly 28,000 machiya in the four central wards of Kamigyo, Nakagyo, Shimogyo, and Higashiyama. The challenge of preserving and renewing them has been addressed in a variety of ways.

The proprietress of a rice shop in Kyoto's Sakyo Ward runs boarding houses, named Machiya Stay, in the four townhouses that she owns. Hoping to offer tourists the experience of machiya life, she welcomes guests from near and far. She is confident that visitors will appreciate the lodgings. "I'm sure my guests will be able to understand Kyoto better than if they stayed at a hotel," she says.

The Tamaki cafe/restaurant opened near Nijo Castle in May 2005. The beautiful machiya that houses the restaurant is a typical example of early Taisho-era (1912-1926) architecture, complete with an inner courtyard, a garden, and a back courtyard. Many private organizations were involved in its renovation, including the Kyo-Machiya Restoration Study Group, consisting of machiya owners and architects; the Kyo-Machiya Information Center, a partnership between the study group and real estate agents; and the Kyo-Machiya Constructors' Group, organized by carpenters to maintain traditional construction techniques.

Meanwhile, in August a new boutique stocking designer clothing will open in a refashioned century-old machiya along bustling Shijo Street. "We hope to create an understated atmosphere while leaving a taste of machiya architecture, like the posts and beams," explains the boutique's planning director.

City and National Government Join In
Spurred into action by the efforts of its citizens, the city of Kyoto embarked on a new undertaking in June: soliciting donors for the Kyo-Machiya Urban Planning Fund, which will be used to preserve and renew Kyoto townhouses that retain their traditional form. The fund is the result of a ¥50 million ($454,545 at ¥110 to the dollar) endowment that a frequent visitor to Kyoto made to the city in June 2004. The donor from Tokyo asked that the money be put toward the preservation of machiya.

The city of Kyoto, concluding that it could generate even greater momentum if it enlisted the help of machiya fans across Japan, increased the fund to ¥150 million ($1.3 million) by investing ¥50 million out of its pocket and obtaining a national subsidy. The city hopes to grow the fund to ¥500 million ($4.5 million) with donations from individuals and corporations. Beginning in fiscal 2006, it has plans to give grants of up to ¥1 million ($9,090) or ¥2 million ($18,181) per project.

Citizens and the city authorities are joining hands to preserve and renew Kyoto's traditional machiya.

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Copyright (c) 2005 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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