Kyoto – People in Kyoto are looking to preserve traditional kyomachiya wooden houses, which had lined the streets of the western city but are now dwindling in number.
Many have been torn down due to old age, the aging of owners and high maintenance costs. People have voiced disappointment that this long-standing aspect of local culture is disappearing.
Most kyomachiya houses were built before Japan’s building standards law was implemented in 1950 and are often referred to as “unagi no nedoko,” or “bed of eels,” because of their long, narrow structure.
Many are adorned with mushikomado windows made of hardened dirt and kyogoshi lattices, which obscure the view from outside without entirely blocking the view from inside.
According to the Kyoto city government, there were about 40,000 kyomachiya houses in the city in fiscal 2016, down roughly 15% since surveys began in fiscal 2009.
Many owners let go of the buildings when they receive the homes as inheritance.
The Kawaike Residence, Kyoto’s oldest kyomachiya, dating back to the Muromachi Period (1392-1573), was sold to a real estate developer and demolished.
Amid the decline, many people are trying to preserve and revive kyomachiya.
The group that manages the Sugimotoke Residence, a government-designated important cultural property with a history of over 150 years, began a crowdfunding drive to partially cover the costs of a ¥200 million renovation project scheduled for autumn.
The group, struggling to cover maintenance costs, has paid for minor renovation work with subsidies from the Kyoto Prefectural Government.
However, the building is suffering from leaks in the roof, and the upcoming project will include replacement of the entire roof.
“We want to pass on the lifestyles and cultures of kyomachiya to the next generation,” a senior member of the organization said.
A kyomachiya house built in the early part of the Meiji Era (1868-1912) was revived as the Yamorido craft beer pub. The building interior was designed to maintain the history of the wooden home, reinforcing existing columns and beams.
“Once it’s destroyed, the town scenery never comes back,” said the owner, Teruya Hori, 53. “I want to preserve the history.”
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