are traditional wooden townhouses found throughout Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...
and typified in the historical capital of Kyoto
is a city in the central part of the island of Honshū, Japan. It has a population close to 1.5 million. Formerly the imperial capital of Japan, it is now the capital of Kyoto Prefecture, as well as a major part of the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto metropolitan area.-History:...
(townhouses) and nōka
(farm dwellings) constitute the two categories of Japanese vernacular architecture
Vernacular architecture is a term used to categorize methods of construction which use locally available resources and traditions to address local needs and circumstances. Vernacular architecture tends to evolve over time to reflect the environmental, cultural and historical context in which it...
known as minka
are private residences constructed in any one of several traditional Japanese building styles.In the context of the four divisions of society, minka were the dwellings of farmers, artisans, and merchants , but this connotation no longer exists in the modern Japanese language, and any traditional...
(folk dwellings). Machiya
originated as early as the Heian period
The is the last division of classical Japanese history, running from 794 to 1185. The period is named after the capital city of Heian-kyō, or modern Kyōto. It is the period in Japanese history when Buddhism, Taoism and other Chinese influences were at their height...
and continued to develop through to the Edo period
The , or , is a division of Japanese history which was ruled by the shoguns of the Tokugawa family, running from 1603 to 1868. The political entity of this period was the Tokugawa shogunate....
and even into the Meiji period
The , also known as the Meiji era, is a Japanese era which extended from September 1868 through July 1912. This period represents the first half of the Empire of Japan.- Meiji Restoration and the emperor :...
housed urban merchant
A merchant is a businessperson who trades in commodities that were produced by others, in order to earn a profit.Merchants can be one of two types:# A wholesale merchant operates in the chain between producer and retail merchant...
s and craftsmen
An artisan is a skilled manual worker who makes items that may be functional or strictly decorative, including furniture, clothing, jewellery, household items, and tools...
, a class collectively referred to as chōnin
was a social class that emerged in Japan during the early years of the Tokugawa period. The majority of chōnin were merchants, but some were craftsmen, as well. Nōmin were not considered chōnin...
(townspeople). The word machiya
is written using two kanji
Kanji are the adopted logographic Chinese characters hanzi that are used in the modern Japanese writing system along with hiragana , katakana , Indo Arabic numerals, and the occasional use of the Latin alphabet...
(町) meaning “town”, and ya
(家 or 屋) meaning “house” (家) or “shop” (屋) depending on the kanji
used to express it.
in Kyoto, sometimes called kyōmachiya
(京町家 or 京町屋) defined the architectural atmosphere of downtown Kyoto for centuries, and represent the standard defining form of machiya
throughout the country.
The typical Kyoto machiya
is a long wooden home with narrow street frontage, stretching deep into the city block and often containing one or more small courtyard gardens
, that is, gardens in traditional Japanese style, can be found at private homes, in neighborhood or city parks, and at historical landmarks such as Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and old castles....
incorporate earthen walls and baked tile roofs, and could be one, one and a half, two, or occasionally even three stories high. The front of the building traditionally served as the retail or shop space, generally having sliding or folding shutters that opened to facilitate the display of goods and wares. Behind this mise no ma
(店の間, "shop space"), the remainder of the main building is divided into the kyoshitsubu
(居室部) or "living space," composed of divided rooms with raised timber floors and tatami
A is a type of mat used as a flooring material in traditional Japanese-style rooms. Traditionally made of rice straw to form the core , with a covering of woven soft rush straw, tatami are made in standard sizes, with the length exactly twice the width...
mats, and the doma
(土間) or tōriniwa
(通り庭), an unfloored earthen service space that contained the kitchen
Daidokoro is the place where food is prepared in a Japanese house. Until the Meiji era, a kitchen was also called kamado and there are many sayings in the Japanese language that involve kamado as it was considered the symbol of a house. The term could even be used to mean "family" or "household"...
and also serves as the passage to the rear of the plot, where storehouses known as kura
are traditional Japanese storehouses. They are commonly durable buildings built from timber, stone or clay used to safely store valuable commodities....
(倉 or 蔵) are found. A hibukuro
(火袋) above the kitchen serves as a chimney
A chimney is a structure for venting hot flue gases or smoke from a boiler, stove, furnace or fireplace to the outside atmosphere. Chimneys are typically vertical, or as near as possible to vertical, to ensure that the gases flow smoothly, drawing air into the combustion in what is known as the...
, carrying smoke and heat away and as a skylight, bringing light into the kitchen. The plot's width was traditionally an index of wealth, and typical machiya
plots were only 5.4 to 6 meters wide, but about 20 meters deep, leading to the nickname unagi no nedoko
, or eel beds.
The largest residential room, located in the rear of the main building, looking out over the garden which separates the main house from the storehouse, is called a zashiki
(座敷) and doubled as a reception room for special guests or clients. The sliding doors which make up the walls in a machiya
, as in most traditional Japanese buildings, provide a great degree of versatility; doors can be opened and closed or removed entirely to alter the number, size, and shape of rooms to suit the needs of the moment. Typically, however, the remainder of the building might be arranged to create smaller rooms including an entrance hall or foyer (genkan
are traditional Japanese entryway areas for a house, apartment, or building—something of a combination of a porch and a doormat. The primary function of genkan is for the removal of shoes before entering the main part of the house or building. Genkan are often recessed into the floor, to contain...
, 玄関), butsuma
(仏間), and naka no ma
(中の間) and oku no ma
(奥の間), both of which mean simply "central room".
One occasion when rooms are altered significantly is during the Gion Matsuri
The takes place annually in Kyoto and is one of the most famous festivals in Japan. It spans the entire month of July and is crowned by a parade, the on July 17. It takes its name from Kyoto's Gion district....
, when families display their family treasures, including byōbu
are Japanese folding screens made from several joined panels bearing decorative painting and calligraphy, used to separate interiors and enclose private spaces, among other uses.- History :...
(folding screen) paintings and other artworks and heirlooms in the machiya
also provide space for costumes, decorations, portable shrines (御神輿, omikoshi
), floats, and other things needed for the festival, as well as hosting spectators along the festival's parade route.
design addresses climate concerns. Kyoto can be quite cold in winter, and extremely hot and humid in the summer. Multiple layers of sliding doors (fusuma
In Japanese architecture, fusuma are vertical rectangular panels which can slide from side to side to redefine spaces within a room, or act as doors. They typically measure about wide by tall, the same size as a tatami mat, and are two or three centimeters thick...
In traditional Japanese architecture, a shōji is a door, window or room divider consisting of translucent paper over a frame of wood which holds together a lattice of wood or bamboo...
) are used to moderate the temperature inside; closing all the screens in the winter offers some protection from the cold, while opening them all in the summer offers some respite from the heat and humidity. Machiya
homes traditionally also made use of different types of screens which would be changed with the seasons; woven bamboo screens used in summer allow air to flow through, but help to block the sun. The open air garden courtyards likewise aid in air circulation and bring light into the house.
The front of a machiya
features wooden lattices, or kōshi
(格子), the styles of which were once indicative of the type of shop the machiya
held. Silk or thread shops, rice sellers, okiya
An is the lodging house in which a maiko or geisha lives during the length of her nenki, or contract or career as a geisha.A young woman's first step toward becoming a geisha is to be accepted into an okiya , a geisha house owned by the woman who will pay for her training. The proprietress of the...
, Geiko or Geigi are traditional, female Japanese entertainers whose skills include performing various Japanese arts such as classical music and dance.-Terms:...
houses), and liquor stores, among others, each had their own distinctive style of latticework. The types or styles of latticework are still today known by names using shop types, such as Itoya-gōshi
(糸屋格子, lit. "thread shop lattice") or Komeya-gōshi
(米屋格子, lit. "rice shop lattice). These lattices sometimes jut out from the front of the building, in which case they are called degōshi
(出格子). Normally unpainted, the kōshi
A hanamachi is a Japanese courtesan and geisha district. The word's literal meaning is "flower street". Such districts would contain various okiya . Nowadays, the term hanamachi is commonly used in modern Japan to refer to the areas where modern-day okiya are still operating. In Kyoto's Gion...
(geisha and oiran
were courtesans in Japan. The oiran were considered a type of "woman of pleasure" or prostitute. However, they are distinguished from the yūjo in that they were entertainers, and many became celebrities of their times outside the pleasure districts...
districts) were frequently painted in bengara
(紅殻), a vermillion
Vermillion is an alternative spelling for Vermilion, a red pigment and color. It may also refer to:-Locations:*Vermillion, Kansas*Vermillion, Minnesota*Vermillion, South Dakota*Vermillion County, Indiana*Vermillion River...
or red ochre color.
The facade of the second story of a machiya
is generally not made of wood, but of earthwork, with a distinctive style of window known as mushiko mado
(虫籠窓, lit. "insect cage window").
The main entrance into a machiya
consists of two doors. The Ō-do
(大戸, lit. "big door") was generally used only to transport goods, or large objects, into the building, while the smaller kugurido
(潜り戸), or "side door", was for normal, everyday use, i.e. for people to enter and exit.
communities can be compared to the hutong
Hutongs are a type of narrow streets or alleys, most commonly associated with Beijing, China.In Beijing, hutongs are alleys formed by lines of siheyuan, traditional courtyard residences. Many neighbourhoods were formed by joining one siheyuan to another to form a hutong, and then joining one...
Beijing , also known as Peking , is the capital of the People's Republic of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of 19,612,368 as of 2010. The city is the country's political, cultural, and educational center, and home to the headquarters for most of China's...
. Small neighborhoods made up of closely grouped homes organized on both sides of a narrow street, sometimes with small alleyways (路地, roji
) in between the homes, help to create a strong sense of community. In addition, many areas were traditionally defined by a single craft or product. The Nishijin
is a traditional textile produced in Kamigyō-ku, Kyoto, Japan.-History:Nishijin weaving was created in Kyoto over 1200 years ago by using many different types of colored yarns and weaving them together into decorative designs...
neighborhood, for example, is famous for its textiles; sharing a craft contributed greatly to a sense of community among fellow textile merchants in this area.
Much like forms of traditional architecture throughout the world, machiya
are rapidly disappearing; their destruction has a powerfully adverse effect on the historic and traditional cultural atmosphere of Kyoto, and of the other neighborhoods and cities where they are being destroyed. Machiya
are difficult and expensive to maintain, are subject to greater risk of damage or destruction from fire or earthquakes than more modern buildings, and are in the minds of many simply outdated and old-fashioned. In a survey conducted in 2003, over 50% of machiya
residents noted that it is financially difficult to maintain a machiya
Between 1993 and 2003, over 13% of the machiya
in Kyoto were demolished. Roughly forty percent of those demolished were replaced with new modern houses, and another 40% were replaced with high-rise apartment buildings, parking lots, or modern-style commercial shops Of those machiya
remaining, over 80% have suffered significant losses to the traditional appearance of their facades. Roughly 20% of Kyoto's machiya
have been altered in a process called kanban kenchiku
(看板建築, lit. "signboard architecture"); they retain the basic shape of a machiya
, but their facades have been completely covered over in cement, which replaces the wooden lattices of the first story and mushikomado
windows and earthwork walls of the second story. Many of these kanban kenchiku machiya
have also lost their tile roofs, becoming more boxed-out in shape; many have also had aluminum or steel shutters installed, as are commonly seen in small urban shops around the world.
There are groups, however, which are taking action to protect and restore machiya
in Kyoto. One such institution, the "Machiya Machizukuri Fund," was established in 2005 with the backing of a Tokyo-based benefactor. The group works alongside individual machiya
owners to restore their buildings and to have them designated as "Structures of Landscape Importance" (景観重要建造物, keikan jūyō kenzōbutsu
); under this designation, the structures are protected from demolition without the permission of the mayor of Kyoto, and a stipend is provided by the city government to the owners of the machiya
to help support the upkeep of the building. Many of these restored buildings serve, at least in part, as community centers.
- People :*Miyamoto Iori , famed swordsman from the Edo period of Japan*Manuel Iori , Italian footballer who plays for Serie B side Livorno- Characters :*Iori Yagami, an SNK character in the King of Fighters video games...
, a company founded by art collector, author, and traditional culture advocate Alex Kerr
Alex Kerr is an American writer and Japanologist.-Life and career:Originally from the Bethesda area in Montgomery County, Maryland, Kerr’s father, a naval officer, was posted in Yokohama from 1964 to 1966. Kerr returned to the states and studied Japanese Studies at Yale University...
in 2004 to save old machiya
, owns a number of machiya
which it restored, maintains, and rents to travelers. The company's main office, itself located in a machiya
, houses a traditional arts practice space, including a full-size Noh
, or - derived from the Sino-Japanese word for "skill" or "talent" - is a major form of classical Japanese musical drama that has been performed since the 14th century. Many characters are masked, with men playing male and female roles. Traditionally, a Noh "performance day" lasts all day and...