Kyoto/ The Kyo-machiya Boom

Kyoto/ The Kyo-machiya Boom
Street front of a typical kyo-machiya

Kyo-machiya is a vernacular Japanese housing prototype. Machiya  means “town house” and refers to any traditional urban commoner dwelling in Japan, but prefixing kyo, recognizes a number of locally specific features such as the particular facade details and the basic module layout.

Twenty years ago, when urban land prices soared in the late 1990s, kyo-machiya was widely regarded as nothing more than an economic liability, best torn down to make room for more profitable modern buildings and parking lots. Building regulations show little sympathy to these flammable structures. Besides, modern demands for lighting, heating, air conditioning, sanitary facilities, etc could hardly be coped with in kyo-machiya. The perceived difficulty and costliness of maintenance; and the demise of organization in favor of smaller families all contributed to the decline of the houses. In the 1980s, demolition and replacement with high-rise office buildings and  prefabricated single-family houses,  accelerated greatly.

Around 1990, however, there appeared a wave of kyo-machiya renaissance and it continues to today. Hundreds of houses have been renovated for commercial usage mainly as cafes, restaurants and shops. Kyo-machiya was no longed fixed as a model but was allowed to evolve. Modern building services were introduced into the structures to cope with modern life. Moreover, the architectural elements of kyo-machiya were integrated into modern, non woodden buildings  such as high-rises and even a  garbage incinerator.

Nevertheless, kyo-machiya continue to disappear, and high-rises remain vastly more profitable. Yet everyone in Kyoto wants them preserved as they all engaged substantially with the town houses as residents, property owners or customers. Kyo-machiya is no longer an urban fossil for public display but something that can redefine the urban landscape of the city.

The booming of kyo-machiya reminds me of similar cases in China such as the Shikumen(石庫門) in Shanghai and Hutong(胡同)in Beijing. Though ancient they are, the cultural heritage can surely make a great difference to a city.

Street front of a typical kyo-machiya
Street front of a typical kyo-machiya
A classical kyo-machiya is converted into a pastry shop
A classical kyo-machiya is converted into a pastry shop
The entrance to a high-rise building resembles a kyo-machiya.
The entrance to a high-rise building resembles a kyo-machiya.

 

References:

BRUMANN, C. (2009) Outside the glass case: The social life of urban heritage in Kyoto. American Ethnologist. 36 (5). p.277-299.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.