The Kyo-machiya is a type of traditional wooden house that still exists in some parts of Kyoto. Kyo-machiya usually has a tsuboniwa, an inner garden that, while small, imbues residents' daily life with extra charm.
Many old merchant houses and other traditional wooden houses can still be found in Kyoto City. These houses (machiya) are known as "Kyo-machiya." A prominent feature of the Kyo-machiya is their so-called "eel's bed" structure, where the front-facing road is narrow, but the building expands far back. Moreover, although the layout of each house differs, a tiny garden called a "tsuboniwa" is built inside each structure.
For example, the Kyoto Living Craft House Mumeisha (Yoshida Family Residence) was built in 1909 and designated a national registered tangible cultural property. It was owned by a merchant family dealing in undyed kimono fabric, an establishment known as a "shirokiji tonya" (white fabric wholesaler). It is a typical Kyo-machiya structure: a two-story building with a front of about 10 meters and a depth of about 40 meters. It has two tsuboniwa, one large and one small.
Yoshida Kojiro, who works to revive Kyo-machiya, among other activities, says, "The gardens of Kyo-machiya were not built simply to look nice. Having a tsuboniwa allowed residents to live comfortable lives, and we can see the worldview of Kyotoites."
The Kyo-machiya, lined up on their long and narrow plots, have only a tiny space between each house. With buildings packed together in this way, a function of tsuboniwa was to create passages for air to flow and ensure light and ventilation.
One of the tsuboniwas of the Yoshida Family Residence is a small "inner garden" measuring 4.6 meters x 3.3 meters right behind the store. Further back, beyond the tatami room, lies the "interior garden", which is twice as large as the inner garden. The tsuboniwa are skillfully decorated with various rocks and stone lanterns and trees and plants, such as lady palms, Japanese maple and wabisuke camellia, allowing residents and visitors today—to appreciate the changing seasons. This expresses Kyotoites' time-honoured desire to live constantly with nature, even in the middle of the city. Kyo-machiya is referred to as "retreats within the city," which evoke the air of a thatched hut in a mountain village, even while in the city. Through the tsuboniwa, residents or visitors can sense the shifting seasons in the changing greenery and subtle air movements. Their thoughts may turn to the simple elegance of the mountain village. The garden offers a glimpse of a traditional Japanese worldview of living with nature and the aesthetics of Kyoto life.
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