By Bonson Lam
Are you interested in an authentic Japanese experience on the outskirts of Kyoto?
Matsui House in the textile district of Nishijin may be the perfect place for you.
It is said that Japan is an eclectic mix of modern and traditional, and that can be said of Kyoto as well. It is the home of Nintendo, the modern gaming company bringing anime culture into the twenty-first century, as well as the torch bearers of many traditional Japanese arts and crafts, like doll making, kimono weaving and the tea ceremony, one that carries the elegance and charm of the past.
When you alight from Kyoto station, however, tradition may be the furthest thing on your mind. A modern cathedral of glass and steel, it is a hub of activity of shopping. However, once you take the bus for the twenty minute trip to Nishijin in the North West, you will slow down to a quieter period. Shopkeepers delivering sushi or groceries on bicycles, neighbours talking to each other on narrow laneways, and narrow century old townhouses called machiya; these are all characteristics of this mainly residential neighbourhood.
Many of these townhouses were crafted and built by hand; some not requiring any screws or nails at all, a marvel of Japanese carpentry. Designed before the advent of air conditioning, the placement of their courtyards and the roof structure allow them to cool naturally in the hot and humid Kyoto summers. Inside many machiya, an old wood fired cooker sits on the long kitchen, while tatami mat rooms give a feel of simplicity and comfort.
Mrs. Matsui’s family home was previously a workshop that produced hand-woven obi sashes. Today, the guest room is open for guests to experience an authentic side of Kyoto, with views of the courtyard garden on two sides. Experience sleeping Japanese style on the futon bedding, laid out on a tatami straw mat. There is air conditioning and heating, as well as tea making facilities. Like many old houses, the shower and bathroom are located in the courtyard. Alternatively, walk down to the public bath or sento, or try the bicycle to explore further afield. Kinkakuji, or the Golden Temple is a short ride away, as is the Ryoanji stone garden.
Accommodation here starts from 4,000 per person per night (including breakfast), While the Matsuis speak very little English, they are the warmest couple you could ever meet, and are sure to make your stay an unforgettable one.
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