Old machiya houses in Japan's Kyoto given new lease of life by niche loans

Tue Aug 30, 2016 5:52am EDT
 
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By Lisa Twaronite

KYOTO (Reuters) - For generations, artisans and merchants in Japan's ancient capital of Kyoto lived in thousands of traditional "machiya" townhouses that are steadily disappearing or falling into disrepair.

To help restore the wooden-and-tile-roof structures, banks in Kyoto have tailored loans to help contribute to the preservation of architecture in a city that was once Japan's ancient capital and boasts a number of World Heritage sites.

While borrowers are encouraged to preserve classic machiya features, such as latticed wood exteriors, they are allowed ample leeway in renovating their homes.

Thanks to a loan from Kyoto Shinkin Bank, Sae Cardonnel and her French husband Sylvain outfitted their machiya with a modern kitchen and heated floors, as well as ample open space inside for their family of five.

"We wanted to live in a home, not a history museum," she said. "The neighborhood children gather here to play on rainy days."

The Cardonnel's nearly century-old home is now flanked by modern structures. While Kyoto survived World War II bombings as the city was spared, many machiya were wiped out afterward by modernization and development.

Machiya were included in both the 2010 and the 2012 Watch lists of most at-risk assets compiled by the World Monuments Fund, a U.S. nonprofit organization aimed at preserving and protecting endangered architectural and cultural sites.     

Derelict machiya are common in Kyoto neighborhoods. About 13 percent of Kyoto's machiya were destroyed between 1996 and 2003 alone, and the number has declined since then. Over 80 percent of the surviving buildings have lost at least some aspect of the their traditional appearances.   Continued...

 
Sae Cardonnel and her French husband Sylvain stand in front of their traditional Kyoto "machiya" townhouse, which was restored with a specialized loan from a Kyoto Shinkin Bank, in Kyoto, Japan, June 26, 2016. REUTERS/Lisa Twaronite