Machiya, Traditional Japanese Living


Daily Life Centuries Ago…

Kanazawa is one of those places called “Little Kyoto” for its historical cityscape. The Japanese castle, the tea houses of the Geisha Districs, the fortified residences of the Samurai District . . . You may already have researched those beautiful heritage spots in Kanazawa, so I’d like to recommend the lesser-known buildings, the traditional Japanese townhouses we call machiya.

The Outside of a Machiya, the traditional style of townhouse for Japanese residents of the pre-modern eras

Natural Materials & Natural Living

Onside a machia, you can easily imagine how Japanese people of the pre-modern eras used their knowledge of climate and craftsmanship to build a home.

Today’s housing throughout Japan uses new building materials such as vinyl chloride wallpaper and resin flooring. However, in the machiya, natural wood composes the ceiling and the floor, and partitions such as tatami straw mats, painted walls, and shoji paper windows are also used, each with their own characteristics.

Paper windows called shoji and wood flooring are common in machiya homes

The changes in the lifestyles of the Japanese have also influenced craftsmen to forego tatami, shoji, and so on, in favor of modern materials and styles. In order to maintain the beauty of this particular heritage of Japanese culture, we must take great pains maintain and protect these historical buildings.

Tatami straw mats keep the floor of the machiya soft and cool

Protecting the Past

Over 200 machiya are destroyed every year in Kanazawa. Some are simply too old to be fixed. Finding people to live in them is also difficult. Wintering in them is too cold. They don’t provide enough storage for the modern family with a lot of stuff. Some people feel that machiya are useless and high maintenance.

Living in them means accepting some inconveniences, but those of us who love them believe we can find a balance.

Sliding doors, wood floors, and shoji paper windows are common in traditional machiya homes in Japan

These days, many people renovate and live in machiya or convert them into a restaurant and bar, as at Yasaburo or several stylish pancake shops. Often the skeleton of the building is preserved, and the bath, kitchen and toilets are renovated. Some places have restored the old style, while others mix the modern and the traditional.

If you have the time, find and spend it in a machiya. Within these buildings, you can imagine the lifestyle of the Japanese centuries ago. And should you see a historical area in Japan falling to disrepair, you might share my sentimentality, even a little bit.

Machiya look best when decorated with items that share its style: simple, detailed, and finely made

Make a Memory in a Machiya

A special machiya event, Machiya Jun’yu, happens in mid-September around Silver Week, when many of these typically private homes open their doors for visits and tours. Check out this complete map of machiya in Kanazawa, or see my own, hitonoto.

Machiya information center
Ibaraki-machi 53, Kanazawa
5 minutes on foot from Kaname Inn Tatemachi

photos by Nik van der Giesen (hitonoto)

Notice concerning COVID-19: Information and services for the above sites may be temporarily suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. Please check again close to the dates of your visit. Guests of Kaname Inn Tatemachi may also use our concierge service to make inquiries as necessary. Thank you for your understanding, and we eagerly look forward to your stay.

Nao can tell you anything you need to know about crafts, music and sake and was herself a singer in Tokyo for nine years. She is now living in a machiya, a kind of old Japanese townhouse, for her project, hitonoto. insta@yasutanao