Monday, 8th December 2014
In General Japan News,
New drive to save Kyoto's historic narrow homes
Renewed efforts are being made to save some of Kyoto's oldest, and most interesting homes, before they disappear for good.
Machiya are traditional wooden townhouses that date back to the start of the Heian period. While they can be found across much of Japan, the best examples are located in the country's historic capital, Kyoto.
While they may vary in size and style, this type of home is usually long with a narrow front facing onto the street and a small courtyard at the back. In many cases, and especially with the oldest examples, the front of the property was used as a shop or a workshop, while several generations of the same family lived behind and above this space.
However, as the city has been transformed into a thriving modern metropolis, many of these traditional dwellings have been knocked down and replaced with modern alternatives. In fact, according to some estimates, as many as 80 per cent of Kyoto's machiya have disappeared over the past few decades.
Now, however, fresh efforts are being made to hold onto this piece of Japanese history. According to a new report from CNN, private individuals are working alongside experts from the University of Kyoto to identify and then protect these tall, thin homes.
Notably, while in the past historical conservation efforts tended to focus on keeping the machiya as they were when they were first constructed, these days the emphasis is on renovating them and making them a living part of a modern city.
One leading figure in the rejuvenation project, American designer Geoffrey Moussas, told the American news network: "There is a great satisfaction in taking something that was going to be thrown away and creating something that people admire, something that people appreciate. There is an unbelievable amount of culture in these houses."
The old houses are just one of a number of historic sites found in the old city of Kyoto. Indeed, with more than 1,600 Buddhist temples alone, the city, which dates back to the year 700, is widely-regarded as a must-visit destination for anyone with an interest in the history of south-east Asia.
Just recently, however, the temples needed to take action to protect themselves from the growing numbers of both domestic and international tourists heading to the city.
Over the past few months, more and more temples have been banning visitors from taking photographs after monks complained that too many visitors were failing to show sufficient levels of respect.
As well as being site of historic interest, many of Kyoto's temples remain active sites of worship, with visitors advised to recognise them as places of religious importance and observe the rules that are in place.