Kyoto Landscape Policy 2007/ Criticism on Preservation of Kyomachiya II

The form of the traditional house 町屋(“machiya”) is not fixed but kept changing after its emergence. When studying Kyomachiya, we should bear in mind that this term refers to a certain style of machiya so that it only captures one moment of the development of it. Most of the Kyomachiyas, especially in tourist districts, are the reflection of machiya style around the 1790s with some new decorations. While the preservation of Kyomachiya was mainly conducted in terms of the facade, regulated by the 2007 Landscape Policy, we can see that the facades of those machiyas include the elements that were included in the1790 machiyas, such as 桟瓦(“tile roofs”), 出格子(“lattices”) and 虫籠窓(“insect cage windows”). As the form of machiya kept changing, we can see the adoption and discard of components like firewall and western style elements coming later.

Machiya in 16th (top left), 17th (top right) and 18th (bottom) century

Also, the city area of Kyoto varies from the establishment of  Henan-Kyo in 794 to recent years, during which at least 8 considerable changes took place. With the continuous expansion, some new areas, which haven’t experienced the history of Kyoto argued by the government, were incorporated into the city area and defined as historical districts by the Landscape Policy to facilitate the development. With a lack of the corresponding stage of Kyoto history, in spite of the adoption of Kyomachiya as the basis of urban design in these districts, the preservation work turned out to be a groundless profit-seeking move instead of pure preservation of history. At the same time, the over-emphasis on a single kind of machiyas should be changed to a comprehensive consideration of the complex Kyoto history in order to remain the diversity of forms as well as complete city images, helping not only non-local but also Kyoto people to understand Kyoto as a whole.

Kyoto city plan, 15th century
Kyoto city plan, 18th century
Kyoto city plan, 1994

Plans showing the transformation of Kyoto’s city area


Tsuyoshi Tamura. “Designing Kyoto’s Scenery Plan: Kyo-machiya Developing as a Design Standard for the Entire Townscape”. The Journal of Asian Arts & Aesthetics, Vol. 4, 2010, pp. 113-122.

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