A Modern Machiya in Kyoto
Traveling in Japan is expensive, an unfortunate truth due largely to overnight accommodation rates that are calculated based on the number of people in the party - rather than the number of rooms booked. While the extra cost is warranted by ryokans - typical Japanese inns that prepare breakfast and dinner for their guests - it's not always desirable to be locked down to dining at your hotel for two out of three meals each day.
In Kyoto, a city overflowing with both delectable cheap eats and world-renowned kaiseki restaurants, you might want options. Which is why I was thrilled to discover Machiya Residence Inn, a collection of historic machiya (traditional Japanese wooden townhouses) that have been thoughtfully restored and repurposed as holiday house rentals. All the charm of a ryokan, but with more freedom and less cost.
Sure, there's no attentive room service here - like the magical unfolding of your futon at night - but I didn't miss it. On this Kyoto trip I was accompanied by my mother and younger brother, first-time visitors to Nihon who couldn't wait to stake out their sleeping quarters and unfurl the quilted floor mattresses.
Our machiya rental, Sumire-an, featured both a Japanese and Western-style bedroom, with space to sleep four guests. A shared living area downstairs provided room for an additional two mattresses, making it possible to comfortably accommodate a total of six adults in the house.
We spent most of our time at the machiya huddled around the living room horigotatsu, a large table which sits over a heated, sunken floor (side note: I'm determined to recreate this room's cozy set-up in a future home). It was the perfect place to perch with a cup of tea and map out the day's adventure.
My favorite room in our machiya was easily the bathroom. I have quite the love affair going on with Japanese bathrooms in general, but this particular spa-like slice of heaven stole my heart with its deep hinoki (Japanese cypress) soaking tub. My brother and I hit up the nearby 7-11 for bathtime beverages, and we all took turns warming ourselves and imbibing whilst soaking in the steamy tub.
We didn't put it to much use, but our machiya did include a full kitchen (stocked with gorgeous Japanese tableware, of course). Although we didn't cook during our stay, we certainly appreciated having a fridge on hand for late-night ice cream cravings and storing of the aforementioned bathtime beverages. And since I now drink insane amounts of tea, I can never be without access to a kettle (true story).
I chose Sumire-an for its convenient central location in Kyoto, with easy access to both train and bus lines. This area also happens to be flat and therefore great for exploring by bicycle or on foot. Sumire-an is just around the corner from major sights like Nijo Castle, but on the quiet stone-paved back streets of Kyoto's ancient residences, you'll feel a world away from it all.
NIJO SUMIRE-AN MACHIYA HOUSE
Located at: 172-8 Kajichō, Nakagyō-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-fu 604-8267
Getting there: 5-minute walk from Nijo-jo Mae Station on the Tozai Line
Cost: Rates start at ¥29,000 JPY per night for 2 guests ($250 USD)
Click here to reserve Sumire-an for your Kyoto visit, or call 075-708-5610 (+81-75-708-5610 for those residing outside of Japan).
Machiya Residence Inn operates over 30 rentals across Kyoto. For a comprehensive list of all machiyas, click here.