Kyoto’s traditional townhouses, machiya, were built in a unique architectural style and remain an enduring symbol of the city’s cultural heritage. These long, wooden houses are made up of a succession of rooms, connected by a single corridor, sometimes stretching as far back as 100m from the front. Their design is a result of the taxes that were levied on buildings during the Edo period according to the size of their street frontage. Machiya were generally built by merchants, encompassing a front shop space, living quarters in the middle and a warehouse at the rear. A courtyard garden was also included to aid the flow of light and air through the centre. Their long, thin shape lead to their colloquial name, unagi no nedoko, or “bedroom of eels”.

Machiya were built almost entirely out of wood, which means that because of fire and earthquakes few that remain today are more than a century old. Some of the best examples are protected by law, but this has not stopped others being demolished at an alarming rate (some figures estimate by more than ten percent a year) since the end of World War II as land values increased and modern development was encouraged. However, you can still walk along Sannen-zaka, Shinbashi or through the Nishijin weaving district in Western Kyoto and find some almost complete rows of these beautiful old houses, each dark facade showing subtle variations on the same overall design. Note the distinctive gutter-guards made of curved bamboo, and the narrow-slatted ground-floor windows, which keep out both the summer heat and prying eyes.

Encouragingly, though they are still being demolished, many machiya now seem to be experiencing a period of revitalization, having been remodelled as restaurants, guesthouses, boutiques and galleries, particularly in the central area north of Shijō and west of Kawaramachi.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Japan features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Japan House: a new cultural crossroad between Britain and Japan

Japan House: a new cultural crossroad between Britain and Japan

Travel to Japan has boomed over the past year, with over 300,000 UK visitors rushing to the country in 2017. But if you want to experience the country's exquisi…

22 Jun 2018 • Eleanna Zanga insert_drive_file Article
In search of the secret to long life in Nagano

In search of the secret to long life in Nagano

People in Nagano, Japan, live longer than virtually anywhere else on earth. But what’s the secret of this success? Our writer Shafik Meghji travelled across…

16 May 2018 • Shafik Meghji local_activity Special feature
Kyushu's living stories: exploring Japan's unsung corner

Kyushu's living stories: exploring Japan's unsung corner

This year Japan celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Meiji Restoration – the event that returned the emperor to the throne, and set the country back on th…

09 May 2018 • Neil McQuillian local_activity Special feature
View more featureschevron_right

Privacy Preference Center

Necessary

Mandatory - can not be deselected. Necessary cookies help make a website usable by enabling basic functions like page navigation and access to secure areas of the website. The website cannot function properly without these cookies.

PHPSESSID,aelia_cs_selected_currency,cookie_notice_accepted,RS,bp-message,bp-message-type,id,UIDR,w3tc_logged_out,__cfduid
__cfduid

Statistics

Statistic cookies help website owners to understand how visitors interact with websites by collecting and reporting information anonymously.

__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid,__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xt
__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid
__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xtc

Marketing

Marketing cookies are used to track visitors across websites. The intention is to display ads that are relevant and engaging for the individual user and thereby more valuable for publishers and third party advertisers.

__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID,__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll,c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs
__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID
__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll
c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs