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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Machiya Restoration

Kyoto is probably the only major Japanese city with so many standing wooden structures. And these wooden homes and offices called machiya are one of the main charms of strolling through the Old Capital.

Machiya Restoration.

Starting in the 1960's, machiya townhouses were disappearing at an increasing rate. The reasons for the destruction of what many regard to be one of Kyoto's finest attractions - its old sense of character - were many and varied.

First and foremost, many people simply don't want to live in a machiya: they want something brighter, bigger and more comfortable. Another reason is Japan's heavy inheritance tax, which makes it very difficult to avoid selling a property when the owner dies. Another reason is the high cost of maintaining or restoring a machiya property. But not all was lost. There are still plenty of machiya, and some of them are sure to survive for a long, long time, thanks in part to the advent of Airbnb, with many prospective landlords converting their machiya into guesthouses and apartments for the increasing numbers of foreign visitors to Kyoto.

According to a huge survey done by a volunteer organization trying to preserve machiya, there are about 20,000 machiya left in downtown Kyoto. Of this total, 3% were built in the Edo Period (1600-1868), 24% in the Meiji Period (1868-1912), 21% in the Taisho Period (1912-1926), 29% in the early Showa Period (1926-1940), and 13% after the war. Nearly 50% of machiya in the downtown area are still used as residences, often by generations of the same family.

As well as converting machiya into holiday homes, an increasing number of restaurants, shops and galleries have been set up in old machiya.

Here are just a few places that are well worth visiting, even if you only admire them from outside.

Altrettanto, Kyoto, Japan.

Altrettanto (www.altrettanto.com) - This excellent, well-established Italian restaurant is located in an exquisitely redone machiya. Many machiya are left in the surrounding area. Open 11:00-23:00. On Sakaimachi, north of Sanjo. Tel: 075 253 3339.

Second House Higashinotoin (www.secondhouse.co.jp) - this relaxing cafe and casual restaurant, located opposite a small park, is an excellent example of how a machiya can be put to use. The first floor cosy, all-wooden interior design, overlooking a traditional garden, deserves high marks. Open 11:00-22:30. On Higashinotoin, just north of Takoyakushi. Tel: 075 241 2323.

Shiorian Museum (www.shiorian.gr.jp) - Valuable large folding screens are exhibited through the year which is a tradition called Byobu Matsuri in Gion Festival in July; kimono exhibitions and cultural events are held too; reservation required; closed irregularly; 10:00-17:00; on the west side of Shinmachi, north of Rokkaku; Tel: 075 241 0215

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