Japanese Word Today - Kyōmachiya 京町家
Machiya in Kyoto, sometimes called kyōmachiya (京町家 or 京町屋) defined the architectural atmosphere of downtown Kyoto for centuries, and represent the standard defining form of machiya throughout the country. The typical Kyoto machiya is a long wooden home with narrow street frontage, stretching deep into the city block and often containing one or more small courtyard gardens or tsuboniwa. Machiya incorporate earthen walls and baked tile roofs, and could be one, one and a half, two, or occasionally even three stories high. The front of the building traditionally served as the retail or shop space, generally having sliding or folding shutters that opened to facilitate the display of goods and wares. Behind this mise no ma (店の間, “shop space”), the remainder of the main building is divided into the kyoshitsubu (居室部) or “living space,” composed of divided rooms with raised timber floors and tatami mats, and the doma (土間) or tōriniwa (通り庭), an unfloored earthen service space that contained the kitchen and also serves as the passage to the rear of the plot, where storehouses known as kura (倉 or 蔵) are found. A hibukuro (火袋) above the kitchen serves as a chimney, carrying smoke and heat away and as a skylight, bringing light into the kitchen. The plot’s width was traditionally an index of wealth, and typical machiya plots were only 5.4 to 6 meters wide, but about 20 meters deep, leading to the nickname unagi no nedoko, or eel beds. The largest residential room, located in the rear of the main building, looking out over the garden which separates the main house from the storehouse, is called a zashiki (座敷) and doubled as a reception room for special guests or clients. The sliding doors which make up the walls in a machiya, as in most traditional Japanese buildings, provide a great degree of versatility; doors can be opened and closed or removed entirely to alter the number, size, and shape of rooms to suit the needs of the moment. Typically, however, the remainder of the building might be arranged to create smaller rooms including an entrance hall or foyer (genkan, 玄関), butsuma (仏間), and naka no ma (中の間) and oku no ma (奥の間), both of which mean simply “central room”. One occasion when rooms are altered significantly is during the Gion Matsuri, when families display their family treasures, including byōbu (folding screen) paintings and other artworks and heirlooms in the machiya. Machiya also provide space for costumes, decorations, portable shrines (御神輿, omikoshi), floats, and other things needed for the festival, as well as hosting spectators along the festival’s parade route. Machiya design addresses climate concerns. Kyoto can be quite cold in winter, and extremely hot and humid in the summer. Multiple layers of sliding doors (fusuma and shōji) are used to moderate the temperature inside; closing all the screens in the winter offers some protection from the cold, while opening them all in the summer offers some respite from the heat and humidity. Machiya homes traditionally also made use of different types of screens which would be changed with the seasons; woven bamboo screens used in summer allow air to flow through, but help to block the sun. The open air garden courtyards likewise aid in air circulation and bring light into the house.