Staying in a traditional Kyoto Townhouse on a budget!
Have you ever wandered through Kyoto and marveled at the gorgeous old townhouses? And secretly imagined yourself staying in one and feeling like you're part of Memoirs of a Geisha? Well, I confess, I have! But did you know, you actually can stay in one of these typical Kyo-Machiya (Kyoto Townhouses) and you don't have to bust your budget for it? No? Then let me tell you all about it so you can experience this for yourself!
When I traveled to Kyoto for the first time, I decided to make my personal dream come true and stay in one of those gorgeous houses by booking myself a room at Kyo-Machiya Guesthouse Makuya.
Conveniently located near Nijo-Station, as well as Nijo Castle, I was intrigued not only by the guesthouse's traditional charm, but also by the fact that I would be provided with a bicycle free of charge!
On top of that, I was greeted by the lovely couple that runs the guesthouse like I was part of the family! The atmosphere is very welcoming and they assist you with any queries you might have, whether you need some advice on where to eat dinner or how to get to any part of Kyoto by bicycle or public transport.
What makes a Kyo-Machiya (and therefore the Guesthouse Makuya) special, is it's architecture, which instantly creates an atmosphere of the old Kyoto, with its merchants and craftsman, geishas and fine arts.
The building usually has a smaller, narrower street frontage, which traditionally serves as a shop of some sort. This area, called mise no ma, can usually be accessed through big sliding doors and has no wooden floor or tatami mats; here you can actually enter with your shoes on! You will be greeted by the lovely owners of the Guesthouse Makuya when you arrive; a big table with chairs invites you to spend some time with fellow travelers over a cup of tea.
The earthen floor of this part of the house extends into the kitchen area, followed by a passage that leads you outside to the toilet and bath/shower facilities. In case of the Guesthouse Makuya, you are welcome to use the kitchen at your leisure as long as you keep the area tidy and clean up after yourself.
The passage will lead you outdoors, to the garden area, where you need to change your shoes for slippers to enter the toilet and shower facilities, which are built on a raised platform, that oversees a gorgeous small garden area on one side.
The center of the house is the living area, kyoshitsubu, which is a raised timber platform with tatami mats, surrounded by fusuma, (sliding panels), that can be closed in winter to keep the warmth contained within the living area. This space alone is filled with so many gems from days past, such as an old chest of drawers, hapi (kimono jackets) and dainty paintings. During the colder days you can use a kotatsu to warm up before heading to your room.
Kyo-machiya are between one and three stories high and usually feature at least one courtyard garden. In summer you can see woven bamboo screens hanging outside the windows, to block the sun but allow air circulation to beat the extreme Kyoto heat and humidity. But don't worry, the rooms are all equipped with air conditioning, to cool you down in summer and keep you warm in winter.
The Guesthouse Makuya has three rooms upstairs, as well as two larger rooms on the ground floor, with one overlooking the garden area. Futons and bedding is of course provided and for a small fee you can rent bath towels, if you need to. An area with sinks and mirrors for brushing your teeth and getting ready is located next to the kitchen, opposite of the two downstairs rooms.
Some ryokan and guesthouses ask you to leave the premises during certain hours for cleaning purposes and also have a curfew in the evening before which you have to return. The Guesthouse Makuya however allows you to come and go as you please, as long as you act respectfully and considerately towards the other guests and neighbors.
If you want to experience the old Kyoto for yourself and stay at the Guesthouse Makuya, visit their website here (Japanese only) http://kyotoikkenmakuya.com/.
I hope you get to enjoy your stay in Kyoto in one of these amazing old townhouses and get to feel transported a bit back in time!