For those inclined to soak up as much Japanese culture as possible, a stay in a machiya, or traditional townhouse, is a highly unique and one-of-a kind experience. A long, narrow wooden home made primarily of natural materials, the machiya has typified the architectural style of Kyoto since the 1500's. Traditional machiya are still present to this day, available for anyone who wants to experience Japanese historic ways of life.
Kyomachiya (literally "capital town house") have served as places of business and residence in Kyoto for over five centuries. Merchants and artisans would show off their wares in the front of their machiya so passers-by could easily browse various products as they shopped along the busy streets of Kyoto. Behind this viewing area are the owner's family quarters, and in the very rear, a workshop, warehouse or craft area would be set up. These minimalist yet beautiful machiya extend for miles down the city blocks, their wooden facades inviting all visitors to experience commercial business and trade as it has existed for centuries.
The philosophy behind machiya architecture is also worth exploration due to its implementation of primarily natural materials. The emphasis on the perfection of craftsmanship is seen in every structure as sustainable materials like wood, earthwork, clay, and other resources found in nature is seen in every part of the machiya, from the edifice to the latticework, the walls, and the roof. Today, travelers may experience rustic, domestic Japanese living by walking the streets of Kyoto that are lined with block after block of machiya. An ethereal connection with nature is subsequently absorbed through exploring and living in these structures, which has left a lasting impression on traditional Japanese culture.
Thanks to the restorative efforts of activist groups that fight to preserve the historic value of Japanese architecture, there are still machiya and other traditional homes that exist for visitors to explore. One notable figure in the restoration effort is American activist Alex Kerr, who first began reconstructing traditional homes in Kyoto to preserve their history and heritage. Later, Kerr discovered an abandoned Japanese village in the Tokushima Prefecture and purchased an old thatched farmhouse in which he lived in for decades. After naming the house Chiiori (or "House of the Flute"), Kerr set up a trust that has aimed to reinvigorate the Tokushima Prefecture with sustainable materials, tourism, and organic agriculture which has since attracted visitors from all over the world.
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