Kyo-machiya (京町家)

Machiya or Choka (町家) is a term used to refer to popular style houses in Kyoto in which residence and retail store functions are combined. This architectural style is called "Machiya-zukuri" style. When it is pronounced "Machiya," it can also be written as "町屋." When it is regarded as a retail store, it is often written as "町屋," and when it is regarded as a residence, it is often written as "町家." Historically, however, "Machiya" had been written as "店屋." The history of the term "町家," which means a residence," is not very long. Until the early Showa period, "町家 (Choie)" was a term used to refer to meeting places of towns.


The Machiya style was originally invented in the middle Heian period, and had been modified almost to the present style by the middle Edo period.

The external appearance of the style is characterized by a red color lattice called "bengara-koshi," Mushiko windows, Inuyarais, etc. Although some of them are one-story or three-story houses, most of them are two-story houses.

Housing lots for machiyas are sometimes called "Unagi-no-nedoko (bed for eel)," because the width is small and the depth is large. It is said that this is because the amount of Chohi (fees for maintenance of shared facilities and administration) was determined based on the width of the housing lot. However, this is not correct. In order to arrange as many houses as possible along a street, the width and the depth of each house necessarily become small and large respectively.

Most surviving machiyas in Kyoto were built after the great fire, "Dondo-yaki," caused by the rebellion of Hamagurimon in 1864. According to a survey carried out by Kyoto City in 1998, about 28,000 machiyas exist in the central area of the city and about 1000 of them are disappearing every year.

Types of kyo-machiyas

This type of machiya includes a low second-story ceiling and a Mushiko-mado (a type of window containing a lattice of mushiko goshi). It was popular in the Edo and Meiji periods. Because looking down a daimyo's processions was not allowed, the second story was only permitted to have a low ceiling and to be used as a store room.

The second-story ceiling is almost the same as the first-story ceiling in area, and glass windows are included. This style was popular from the late Meiji period to the early Showa period.

Hiraya (平屋)
It is a one-story machiya. Most machiyas built in the middle ages were single-story buildings. According to modern architectural terminology, they are often written as "平家 (Hiraya)."

It is a three-story machiya.

It is a machiya that has only residential function. The term Shimotaya literally means a "仕舞った店 (shimattamise)," or closed store.

One variation of the style is called "Daibei-zukuri," which is a house with fences.

It is a machiya whose front face has been reformed in a modern manner.


Unlike modern methods of construction, kyo-machiyas employ stone bases (hitotsu-ishi, tama-ishi) and lime plaster walls of Okabe-zukuri or Makabe-zukuri. Tsugite, shiguchi, and hozo techniques (techniques to connect members) are used for structural members of the building, and the building is reinforced with daizen, dabo, kusabi, etc. (parts to reinforce the structure). According to the modern method of construction, a continuous footing is built from concrete as the base, and walls, such as curtain walls built from synthetic building materials or wood plates and mortar-finished Okabe-zukuri walls, are often employed. Tsugite and shiguchi portions are reinforced by metallic connecting parts.


Mushiko-mado is a term used to refer to standard windows used in the second-story portion of machiyas until the Meiji period.

Inuyarai is a term used to refer to arcuately shaped fences which are located in front of external walls facing a street. While many of them are made of bamboo or wood, recently metallic ones are also often used. They are installed to protect machiyas from mud scattered by running horses and urination of dogs and cats that run through passages under the eaves, which are called Inubashiri. It is said that inuyarais are originated from Komayose (surrounded areas under eaves), and they also have an effect to make it difficult for thieves to enter the house.

Battari-shogi is a term used to refer to foldable benches. They are also called Battan-shogi.

Shoki-san is a term used to refer to ceramic images of the god of examination and illness prevention. They are placed on the roof of the entrance.

When Emperor Xuan Zong of the Tang dynasty suffered from malaria, a general appeared in the emperor's dream and killed the devil that had agonized the emperor. When the emperor asked the general about his identity, the general replied that he was a person named Shoki who failed the imperial civil service examination and committed suicide, but revived to reciprocate the favor of the emperor who kindly buried the dead reverently. The term Shoki-san is originated from this fable. They are also used to celebrate Boy's day.

Many machiyas have a back yard. Furthermore, an earthen floor connecting the entrance and the back yard is called Tori-niwa (passage garden). For a large machiya, there is a small garden, called Tsubo-niwa, in the middle of the Tori-niwa.

Each of these gardens combines daylighting and venting functions.

Koshi (lattice)
Kyo-machiyas are characterized by Koshi. They are installed in portions of house that face a street. They can introduce light from outside, and allow persons inside the house to see outside while preventing the passers-by from seeing the inside. With the advent of glass, they are disappearing.

They are also called "Bengara-koshi" because many of them are painted with a paint produced by mixing a material containing, as a principal component, particles of ferric oxide (red rust) called "Bengara," and egoma seed oil. The bengara has an effect of anticorrosion and insect proofing. A pigment called "Bengara" is named after the north-eastern area of India, Bengal, where the pigment is produced.

Shapes of Koshis can be classified based on their structure, form, owner's occupation, etc.