Slumber Party in a Traditional Kyoto Machiya

Everyone needs a good slumber party once in a while. Recently some friends and I had a rather unconventional slumber party: in a traditional Machiya-style building in Kyoto. After a full day of traipsing around Kyoto shrines and shops, instead of catching a bus back home, we checked into the Machiya we had rented and kicked back for the evening.

A Machiya is a traditional wooden townhouse (literally: ‘machi’ means town and ‘ya’ means house), built with a narrow front, but stretching back into the city block. The main reason for many Kyoto buildings being narrow and long like this is that real estate costs were, and in some places still are, based not on square footage, but on how much of the street the front of the building takes up.

The front of the machiya inn is very unassuming, there’s not even a sign. You just have to know where it is, apparently! Good thing our sempai did!

Inside the Machiya were many small rooms, furnished and decorated in the traditional style, as well as a couple of small gardens. This particular Machiya, Iori Machiya in Nishioshikoji-cho, used to serve as a kimono shop, and the front rooms served as the reception and fitting areas.

The reception area, with the important papers table. The most important thing on this table – the air conditioner remote – is probably not as traditional an artifact as the rest of the room.

A classically decorated alcove.

An open-air garden in the middle of the building.

Another open-air garden. This one was large enough to sit in – carefully – and a few of us took advantage of that later in the evening.

One of the big highlights of the Machiya, which made our stay more like an epic slumber party of legend and less like crashing on someone else’s floor, was the giant フワフワ”Fuwa fuwa” (Japanese sound effect for “fluffy”) downe futons and comforters. Spread out through the many tatami rooms, these provided all the motivation I needed to not stay up too late. The private cedar baths were also a highlight.

This is the room I slept in.

My room through an inner window.

The room next to mine.

The attic room. Apparently ghosts live here. Must have been rather nonchalant ghosts because nobody seemed to have any problems with them. Although come to think of it the air conditioner in the kitchen did come unfastened and almost fall from 15 feet up… WOOoooOOOoooOOOhhh!

One of two private cedar baths. I snuck in here early, as there were 14 of us total, and I didn’t want to miss out on this action.

Our Machiya was in a very nice neighborhood near the Sanjo shopping arcades. By far the highlight of the neighborhood, and possibly our entire trip, was the AMAZING pie shop a few blocks away. I cannot emphasize enough how much you need to go to this place if you are in Kyoto, or will ever be in Kyoto. A good pie in Japan is very, very hard to come by, but the owner of this pie shop, Matsunosuke, studied baking in New England, and their pies are legit.

They had a variety of flavors, including sour cream apple pie, banana cream pie, and cheesecake, most of which our group happily devoured on more than one occasion. They also served the best pancake breakfast I have ever had in Japan, or possibly anywhere. The owner, Akiko Hirano (at least I think it was her) came out to see our group, and when we told her that her pie shop is famous in Mie-ken (at least amongst us), she was so happy she gave us all free scones!

The riverside seen from Sanjo Bridge near the Sanjo shopping arcades, about a 10 minute walk from our Machiya.

Banana caramel pancake breakfast. Probably the best pancake breakfast I’ve ever had. Also the biggest and fluffiest pancake ever.


Related Posts:

A Tunnel of Torii

Related Links:

Matsunosuke – Akiko Hirano’s New England Sweets

Iori Machiya – Nishioshikoji-cho