If you really want to experience Kyoto, you should consider a night or two in a machiya (traditional Kyoto townhouse). Machiya combine all the advantages of a vacation rental with the authenticity of a ryokan. Here, we introduce the best machiya rentals in Kyoto.
Exterior of Amber House – image © Amber House
Scroll down to the Kyoto’s Best Machiya Rentals section if you just want to get busy booking a machiya. If you want to learn more first, read the following sections.
What is a machiya?
Machiya are traditional wooden townhouses that were popular with Kyoto merchants and craftspeople until just before WWII. Because Kyoto wasn’t bombed during the war, many fine machiya have survived until the present day. While some Kyotoites continue to live in machiya, many surviving machiya have been converted to restaurants, shops and, best of all, vacation rentals.
What are machiya like?
Machiya are long (deep) and narrow. They often contain a beautiful enclosed courtyard garden near the back. These tsubo-niwa are open to the sky, and sitting under the roof watching rain fall into the garden is a magical “only-in-Kyoto” experience.
The interior of a typical machiya is traditionally Japanese, with tatami mat floors, spare decoration, exposed wooden beams, and sliding shoji or fusuma doors between rooms. The materials used in a machiya are exclusively organic, which make them extremely pleasant and healthy to live in.
What’s it like to stay in a machiya?
Staying in a machiya is like staying in a very Japanese vacation rental. Like other vacation rentals, you essentially have the whole house (or, in some cases, half a house) to yourself. All of the machiya listed here have laundry facilities and wifi. Some also have kitchens, cookware and tableware.
The best thing about the machiya listed here is that some changes have been made to accommodate foreign guests, which means beds instead of futons (but you can always choose a futon if you wish), floor heating and air-conditioning, and chairs. Finally, the operators of the machiya listed here offer simple concierge services, which can really make your stay in Kyoto special.
Kyoto’s Best Machiya Rentals
Kyoto has several excellent machiya that welcome foreign guests. I’ve personally inspected all of these and even stayed a night in some of them. I strongly recommend these places to my consulting clients, family and friends – and everyone loves them. So, why not try a night or three in one of these excellent Kyoto machiya?
- Amber House Gion
Amber House is a stunning former “ochaya” (geisha entertainment house) on a quiet street on the border of Gion. Read more
- Indigo House Gion
Indigo House Gion is a sumptuously restored classic Kyoto machiya on a quiet street within easy walking distance of Gion, downtown and the sightseeing district of Southern Higashiyama. Read more
- The Gion House
The Gion House is a lovely traditional house with a brilliant location on the edge of Gion. The house contains two units, each of which has been beautifully restored and decorated. It’s a truly stylish traditional oasis in the city. Read more
- The Old Modern
The Old Modern is the former home of a famous Kyoto architect that has been converted into four unique suites, each of which is an architectural and design marvel. It’s one of the most interesting places to stay in the city.
- Iori Machiya Stay
Iior Machiya Stay is a collection of 11 beautifully restored totally traditional machiya all centrally located on quiet streets and lanes in downtown Kyoto. They range from cozy, intimate houses that are perfect for couples, to larger houses that can accommodate families or groups. Read more
- Aoi Kyoto Stay
Aoi Kyoto Stay is a group of 6 machiya spread around downtown Kyoto. Five of the properties are very traditional, while one is totally modern and backs onto the Takasebune Canal (I’ve stayed in this one and I can assure you that it’s magical). Read more
- Koto Inn
Koto Inn is a wonderfully restored small machiya situated down a quiet lane within easy walking distance of both the northern Higashiyama and southern Higashiyama sightseeing districts. I’ve stayed here with my family and I can tell you it’s wonderful (not great for small kids, but fantastic for older kids). Read more
This simple little machiya on the border of Gion is a great place to be based in Kyoto. It’s within easy walking distance of downtown and southern Higashiyama. Read more
Other Machiya In Kyoto
There are other machiya available in Kyoto. I have not personally inspected the following, but they get generally excellent guest reviews.
Kyoto Vacation Checklist
- For all the essentials in a brief overview, see my First Time In Kyoto guide
- Check Kyoto accommodation availability on Booking.com - usually you can reserve a room with no upfront payment. Pay when you check out. Free cancellations too.
- Need tips on where to stay? See my one page guide Where To Stay In Kyoto
- See my comprehensive Packing List For Japan
- Buy a data-only SIM card online for collection when you arrive at Kansai International Airport (for Osaka and Kyoto) or Tokyo's Narita Airport. Or rent an unlimited data pocket wifi router.
- Compare Japan flight prices and timings to find the best deals
- If you're visiting more than one city, save a ton of money with a Japan Rail Pass - here's my explanation of why it's worth it
- A prepaid Icoca card makes travelling around Kyoto easy - here's how.
- Get travel insurance for Japan - we recommend World Nomads (and here's why)