Matsuda: Machiya Preservation Activist
say that Ms. Midori Matsuda became involved with Machiya preservation
activities by chance. She was born into a family that has lived
in Kyoto for many generations. Ms. Matsuda worked at a bank for
two years after graduating from college, and then quit in order
to help her father with his business.
At that time there were plans
to build modern apartment buildings on the site of several nearby
abandoned, unlivable Machiya houses . Having been raised in a traditional
Japanese-style wooden house, and having experienced the contrast
of living in a concrete condominium in Tokyo, Ms. Matsuda had come
to appreciate the virtues of living in wooden houses. She began
receiving inquiries from local artists and writers who were interested
in occupying in these old abandoned houses. All of these factors
inspired Ms. Matsuda to work towards re-creating a Machiya townscape
that would unite the past with the present, bringing young and old
people together and so forth, creating a way of living in harmony
with nature and the local community.
Ms. Matsuda repaired nine ruined
Machiya in two years with the help of friendly carpenters, plumbers
and some other volunteers. These Machiya are currently inhabited
by a hairdresser, a student, several artists and a writer. After
one of the new residents asked an older lady in the neighborhood
to teach her how to wear kimono, it became clear that this project
could help restore a sense of unity within the local community.
Ms. Matsuda strives to do more
than just preserve these old houses, she also wishes to restore
the atmosphere of the old city townscape based on the principles
of 食(shoku),住(ju), 遊(yu) and 学(gaku), creating a neighborhood that
has places for "Eating, living, playing and learning". These rows
of Machiya houses are the lifeblood of Kyoto culture itself, but
it is very difficult to keep thetraditional culture alive when there
is pressure from developers to build economical modern condominiums
in place of the Machiya. Ms. Matsuda realizes that the Machiya preservation
movement must become economically viable in order to survive.
Ms. Matsuda has managed to
find a solution through the "Dai Dai Project" (橙プロジェクト), her plan
of renovating Machiya not only for use as private residences, but
also as accommodations for visitors longing for the traditional
Kyoto experience. She gives her guests a chance to experience life
in a Machiya in various ways, such as providing ingredients for
yudofu (boiled tofu) for the guests to try cooking themselves. Of
course, Ms. Matsuda has special preferences for the tea and sweets
that she serves to the travellers staying at her Machiya. She specially
orders Japanese style sweets modeled after the daidai orange (her
project's namesake), from a traditional Japanese sweet shop. The
daidai orange has a special meaning to Ms. Matsuda because a daidai
tree grows in the yard of the home she grew up in, and she would
pick the fruit with her family every year. Daidai (代々) also has
the meaning "to continue for generations", thus passing on the legacy
of the Machiya. The kanji for daidai (橙) has the original meaning
of climbing up onto a wooden platform- Ms. Matsuda has interpreted
this to mean the gathering of people within her Machiya houses.
Ms. Matsuda wants her guests
to experience the kind of lifestyle that people in Kyoto have held
dear for hundreds of years. She has many other plans, include taking
guests to visit local public bath houses, or sento. Lately she has
been receiving a lot of attention from magazines, TV, the Kyoto
City government and non profit organizations who are interested
in promoting her.
Kyo Machiya is the Japanese word describing the traditional wooden townhouses
built before World War II that still remain in areas of Kyoto City.
Various groups and individuals in Kyoto have been working towards
renovating these traditional Machiya houses. One such group is Kyo
Machiya Sakujigumi (京町家作事組), one of the four non-profit organizations
headed by the Kyo Machiya Kenkyukai （京町家再生研究会: "Kyo Machiya Research
Group"）. Kyo Machiya Sakujigumi is a group of construction related
companies (38 companies at present), supplying the demand for professional
know-how and craftsmanship for renovating and maintaining Kyo Machiya.
Some of the other organizations involved with Kyo Machiya preservation
(connected through the website kyomachiya.net) are The Kyo Machiya
Joho Center (京町家情報センター: Kyo Machiya Information Center) and The
Kyo Machiya Tomo nokai (京町家友の会: Kyo Machiya Friendship Circle).
In order for Kyo Machiya to survive into the modern age, people
need to live in them and use them as part of their daily life. The
Kyo Machiya Joho Center (京町家情報センター: Kyo Machiya Information Center)
was organized to facilitate an exchange of information between people
who want to buy, sell and rent Machiya. The Kyo Machiya Tomonokai(京町家友の会:
Kyo Machiya Friendship Circle) was organized in order to share information
about Machiya and the traditional culture of Kyoto with people from
all over Japan.
What makes Kyo Machiya so fascinating?
Kyo Machiya are made entirely from natural materials like wood,
earth, and paper. These houses exist in harmony with the environment
and climate in Kyoto, and allow people to live a more natural lifestyle.
However, Kyo Machiya are constructed differently from modern houses,
and the people living in them need to take these structural differences
to heart. The main characteristics of Kyo Machiya are wooden support
posts that are placed directly upon a stone foundation, long eaves
that block sunlight from entering the house, and an open ventilation
passage between the front entrance and the back garden, where hot
air can be shut out by closing the sliding doors. By using bare
wood posts, it is easy to tell whether the wood has disintegrated
due to termites or rot, and the damaged portion can be easily replaced
with new wood. Since Kyo Machiya are constructed using the same
techniques and materials as ancient temples, it is possible to preserve
Kyo Machiya for hundreds of years if they are properly maintained.
However, there are many inconvenient
aspects of living in a Kyo Machiya. It is necessary to change the
shouji and fusuma sliding panels for yoshizu screens woven from
reeds in summer, which improves ventilation and helps the house
appear cooler. The people living in the home will tend to gather
in one heated room in the winter time, for a more efficient use
of resources. When people live in a Kyo Machiya, they must coexist
with the change in the seasons, and have less privacy, since rooms
are separated using only removable shoji and fusuma panels. Although
this may be inconvenient in some respects, there are some benefits,
such as facilitating communication within the family and teaching
children to be considerate of the people around them.
Unfortunately, it is nearly
impossible to build new Kyo Machiya due to restrictions within governmental
building codes and fire prevention laws. Therefore, an effort must
be made to repair the Kyo Machiya that already exist. In order to
repair these old houses, it is necessary to train carpenters in
the traditional methods of construction, and secure lumber that
matches the surrounding environment. There has been talk of establishing
a school to train carpenters in the traditional methods, but there
are environmental issues to consider when selecting building materials,
as it takes a many years to replace the lumber taken from trees.
The current Machiya renovation
boom has taken off with great popularity, but it is also important
to consider the deeper meaning of renovating and preserving these
→Kyo Machiya Net website: http://www.kyomachiya.net