Machiya Living in Kyoto

I’ve borrowed the title to this post from Senraku House, which is where we stayed on our most recent visit to Kyoto. As I’ve said in a previous post, when we stay in Kyoto we like to do self-catering because Mr. H and I are both vegetarians and because it makes life easier for us to come and go as we please.

I found Senraku House on the Home Away website. A couple of different options came up, including two in the Gion area, but we have stayed in the Karasuma-Oike/Nijo part of Kyoto before, using Japan Stay Club, so we settled on Senraku. Booking and paying was really straight forward, and we dealt directly with the owners throughout. They were very helpful and made sure that we had all the information we needed.

When we arrived at the house, following the perfect directions from the owners, we found that they had left us a welcoming letter with suggestions of places to see cherry blossom, as well as leaflets and an invaluable bus timetable and map.

The house is charming, down a narrow alley off Nishino Toin Dori. A Tanuki-san umbrella holder greets you outside the front door, and inside the old building has been beautifully renovated and decorated with traditional Japanese artworks. I was already excited to be staying on Nishino Toin Dori, as it’s the route taken by Fujitsubo when she decides to become a nun following the death of the Emperor (Genji’s father) in The Tale of Genji (源氏物語). The house was the icing on the cake!


The house is on two floors. The ground floor (first floor in Japan) consists of the genkan, a living room, kitchen and bathroom, and the first floor (second floor in Japan) has a lounge area, bedroom and dressing room. The living room and bedroom are large tatami rooms. The doorways from room to room, with the exception of the bathroom, are traditional sliding doors with wooden frames and paper inserts. The windows are covered with shutters, the doorways are low, and to a pair of tall Westerners it felt like being in another world! We suffered a few bumps to our heads until we got used to bending slightly when we passed from room to room, and down the very steep staircase, but it was such a change from the Western-style apartment we had stayed in before that we didn’t really mind!


A couple of times during our stay, we woke in the morning to the sound of monks chanting in the temple across the alley from the house. With the sunlight streaming in through the shuttered windows, it was a lovely way to wake up.

One thing we noticed on this trip was that Japan gets very cold at night, and so do the houses. We were very glad of the thick duvets that covered our futon at night. That was an aspect of traditional Japanese living that we weren’t prepared for…!

Our Western limbs also weren’t used to sitting and sleeping at floor level. After a long day of walking around Kyoto, sometimes we stiffened up while sitting on the legless chairs in the living room, trying to kneel as we ate and wondering what to do with our legs as we tried to stretch them out in front of the tv. We were thankful for the traditional Japanese bath in the bathroom, where we could soak our aches away following a shower.

Along Nishino Toin Dori, there are a couple of places to eat. We tried Il Pozzo, which serves Japanese Italian food. The owner was very accommodating of our vegetarian needs and taught his chef how to make spaghetti pomodoro for us. It was delicious. Afterwards, we went to a bar on Oike Dori and drank European beer, which was a little disappointing, given our love of Yebisu, Asahi and Kirin! We made up for it, though, by popping over to Teramachi and partaking of a Japanese beer in Samboa Bar – a place I’ve wanted to visit on previous trips but been afraid to enter, in case it was a Japanese bar that only lets you drink if you’re a local or a regular. It wasn’t – we were more than welcome, and the sight of my Hello Kitty purse prompted a belly laugh from the bar tender and the proferring of souvenirs.

At the corner of Nishino Toin Dori and Shijo Dori is a Freshco 24 hour supermarket, which served our catering needs very well, and up on Oike Dori is a huge Family Mart as well as a pharmacy (やっきょく/薬局), should you need cold remedy or headache pills! The wonderful Nishiki Ichiba is only a 15 minute walk from the house, as well. And if you stretch your legs a little further in the evening, you can eat delicious vegan food at Mikoan. We also took advantage of the handy sewing and knitting shop on Shijo Dori when Mr. H’s puffa jacket sprang a downy leak. Plus there was a Citi Bank on Shijo Dori for us to change our travellers’ cheques into Yen.

If any travellers reading this blog are in the market for some traditional Japanese accommodation, I can recommend staying in a machiya at least once for the experience. It beats staying in a hotel! And if you want somewhere central in Kyoto, close to lots of amenities and tourist attractions, Senraku House is definitely worth a look.


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