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Kyoto’s Machiya

In this three-part series in the Asahi Shimbun, I surveyed the architectural features of the traditional wooden townhouses once ubiquituous in Kyoto, which acted as both dwelling and storefront for urban merchants and craftspeople. Incorporating courtyards, these long, deep structures typify distinctions Japanese hold dear, between public and private, work and private life, and the various points in the elaborate heirarchy of Japanese society, particularly that in the once-capital of Kyoto. Although I lived in Kyoto Prefecture, our little mountain village was one of farmers and those who once supported the kimono industry; as was common in prior centuries, the former owners of our house supplemented their meager income with the growing of silkworms. This foray into the more sophisticated merchant culture, through an exploration of traditional architecture, was a personally enriching journey.