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article imageA distinctive Machiya — ‘Misuya-Bari’ in delightful Kyoto Special

By Igor I. Solar     May 31, 2013 in Travel
Kyoto - Machiya traditional townhouses may be found in many places in Japan; however, they are especially noteworthy in Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital, the location of some of the finest examples of machiya architecture and gardens.
Following the devastation caused by the Ōnin War (1467-1477) in central Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of Japan’s great unifiers, redesigned the city of Kyoto. In an effort to provide for suitable dwellings and to facilitate the development of commerce, Hideyoshi promoted the concept of the residence and workplace under the same roof. Business-residences, however, were assessed taxes according to the building’s frontage to the road. Thus, shop-houses were very narrow but deep, and most often a pleasing, small inner garden (called tsuboniwa, in Japanese) separated the work place and the living quarters.
Machiya townhouses
By the 17th century, a merchant class developed within the city and along with it, a particular architectural style of craftsmen and shopkeeper’s homes known as machiya. Machiya houses are wooden buildings, which being long and narrow, generally rely on an inner garden to bring in natural light and air. The garden also allows the owners to appreciate the passing of the seasons and enjoy the presence of birds and butterflies.
These inner gardens follow the general style of the larger Japanese gardens, but being much smaller, they usually feature just a small fountain, a stone lantern, a few small trees and bushes and, always include several flat rounded stones, and gravel paths, arranged in a way that reveals the owner’s budget, taste and aesthetic sense.
Small Japanese-style garden (tsuboniwa) in the Misuya-Bari store  Kyoto  Japan.
Small Japanese-style garden (tsuboniwa) in the Misuya-Bari store, Kyoto, Japan.
Small Japanese-style garden (tsuboniwa) in the Misuya-Bari store  Kyoto  Japan.
Small Japanese-style garden (tsuboniwa) in the Misuya-Bari store, Kyoto, Japan.
Machiyas are disapearing
Modern times and the development of the city have caused separation of commercial and residential uses. Today, particularly in the city of Kyoto, many machiya still function as private residences in the traditional way, but some have been renovated and modified to serve as restaurants, teahouses or museums. The machiya townhouses are disappearing. But, those that still remain have come to be recognized as treasures.
Small Japanese-style garden (tsuboniwa) in the Misuya-Bari store  Kyoto  Japan.
Small Japanese-style garden (tsuboniwa) in the Misuya-Bari store, Kyoto, Japan.
Misuya-Bari  needles and handicrafts  a traditional Machiya townhouse in the Sanjo district of Kyoto...
Misuya-Bari, needles and handicrafts, a traditional Machiya townhouse in the Sanjo district of Kyoto, Japan.
Misuya-bari, needles and handicrafts
Wooden sewing boxes for sale at Misuya-bari store in Kyoto.
Wooden sewing boxes for sale at Misuya-bari store in Kyoto.
Japanistic
The machiya in the pictures illustrating this article correspond to a place called “Misuya Bari”. It shows the garden and the building of what is considered one of the most venerable stores remaining in a machiya house. It is located in Sanjo Shopping Arcade, north-east of the commercial section of Kyoto known as Nishiki Market, a four-hundred-year-old food market.
Misuya Bari has been owned and run by the same family for 362 years, since 1651. They
Handcrafted pins for sale at Misuya-bari  a traditional needles and handicrafts store in Kyoto.
Handcrafted pins for sale at Misuya-bari, a traditional needles and handicrafts store in Kyoto.
Japanistic
manufacture and sell fine needles and sewing accessories, including sewing boxes and handcrafted pins.
I did not visit Misuya Bari looking for needles or cute pins, but while exploring the Sanjo area of Kyoto, I was lucky enough to wander through a very narrow alleyway that ended in a tiny, but very beautiful garden with a small round water barrel, a sigle stone lantern and just a couple of low trees. Behind the pretty garden, there is a small one-story red building that houses Misuya Bari, perhaps the oldest and prettiest needle and handicraft store in Kyoto.
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