Kyoto’s Endangered Historic Townhouses Being Revived to Accommodate Foreign Tourists

Tojuro performing Kabuki in Tokyo

Staying in a Machiya historic townhouse gives tourists an opportunity to become immersed in Japanese culture and heritage, such as the Kabuki theater (© 2010 Karen Rubin/

Living history takes on new meaning in Kyoto, Japan’s city most famous for its ancient temples. Thousands of Machiya, Japan’s historic townhouses, are being turned into inns to accommodate foreign tourists, affording visitors an incomparable opportunity to be immersed in Japanese culture and heritage.

The historic townhouses were listed under the “2010 Watch List of Cultural Heritage Sites at Risk” by the World Monument Fund, a private organization dedicated to saving the world’s historical heritage, but a company, Machiya Residence Inn Group, has found a way to sustain them, and keep them from the wrecking ball, through a new use as accommodations for tourists.

Serving as both residences and workspaces for merchants and craftsmen, Machiya are Japan’s traditional townhouses that developed after 794 AD predominantly in Kyoto. There are approximately 48,000 Machiya within Kyoto, and most of them are more than 100 years old.

However, much like many other traditional architecture throughout the world, Machiya are rapidly disappearing. Every year, around 1,000 Machiya are demolished and replaced by new buildings due to maintenance being difficult and expensive, and their style considered outdated and old-fashioned in the minds of many. Unfortunately, reconstruction of Machiya is extremely difficult under the current Japanese building regulations, and as a result, the traditional townscape of Kyoto is on an inevitable path to extinction.

Amid mounting concerns in the local communities over the destruction of Kyoto’s traditional townscape, Machiya Residence Inn Group is refurbishing the Machiya that are about to be demolished and reviving them into life as accommodation facilities for foreign tourists.

Kohakuan, their latest accommodation facility, opened July 14, 2010. The facility rents out one entire townhouse for one group, and it is fully equipped with kitchen, washing machine, cloth dryer, computer and Internet, making it suitable for both short and long-term stay. In addition, English-speaking staff will be on hand to attend reservation and customer service inquiries.

The facility plans to organize various cultural activities for the guests such as tea ceremony, pottery class enabling foreign travelers to experience Japanese culture on request.

Machiya Residence Inn Group aims to revive the number of Machiya by developing five of these accommodation facilities each year, ultimately offer them in the real estate market as investment properties and, using refurbished Machiya as a model, promote usage and utilization of Machiya.

For further information on Machiya or reservation, contact via telephone, fax or e-mail: Mahchiya Residence Inn /AJ InterBridge Inc., tel: +81-75-708-5610, fax: +81-75-708-5611, email:, or visit

See also:

How to Tackle One of the World’s Great Cities With Only Two Full Days
Day One: Hitting Tokyo’s Tourist Highlights

How to Tackle One of the World’s Great Cities With Only Two Full Days
Day Two: A Day in Tokyo Spanning all the Days of Japan

–Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate

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