Endangered historical Japanese townhouses being turned into accommodation for tourists


KYOTO, Japan – Machiya, Japan’s historical townhouses, are being turned into accommodation facilities for foreign tourists. These townhouses are registered under the “2010 Watch List of Cultural Heritage Sites at Risk” as announced by the World Monument Fund, a private organization dedicated to saving the world’s historical heritage.

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demolished and replaced by new buildings due to maintenance being difficult and expensive, and their style considered outdated and old-fashioned in the minds of many.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 currently left 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 endeavors to combat such a degenerate trend by 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, is scheduled to open its doors on July 14.

The facility rents out one entire townhouse for one group, and it is fully equipped with kitchen, washing machine, clothes dryer, computer, and Internet, making it suitable for both short- and long-term stays. Plus English-speaking staff will be there to attend reservation and customer service inquiries.

Furthermore, the facility plans to organize various cultural activities for guests such as a tea ceremony, pottery class, and other experiences of 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 setting them afloat in the real estate market as investment properties and, using refurbished Machiya as a model, promote usage and utilization of Machiya.