September 2004

Ms. Matsuda MidoriMidori Matsuda: Machiya Preservation Activist
         You might 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.Orange

      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.

  Daidai Project  
  Email contact:  
  Telephone: 075-811-1601  
  Fax: 075-811-1661  
-Akiko Tara

Kyo Machiya       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 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 old houses.

→Kyo Machiya Net website:

-Akiko Tara

Note:This list is by no means exhaustive. Information is subject to change without warning.
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