Traditional Japanese house (Machiya)

Traditional Japanese house (Machiya)

The animation shows the traditional Japanese wooden townhouse, the machiya.

Visual Arts


machiya, dwelling, merchant house, kyomachiya, wooden house, Kyoto, koshi, mushikomado, Shoki-san, tatami, house, lifestyle, architecture, traditional, Japanese

Related items


  • What is the tokonoma?
  • Why was the storehouse a separate building?
  • What was the function of the zashiki?
  • What is the primary function of the Shoki-san?
  • Machiyas of how many storeys did not exist?
  • Which of the following is not part of a machiya?
  • What is the Shoki-san's origin?
  • Where was the shop located?
  • Which material was not used to cover the floor of the rooms?
  • Is it true that we can still find traditional machiyas in Kyoto?
  • Is it true that the style of the latticework on the facade depended on the type of merchandise the owner was trading in?
  • Which one of the following is not a type of sliding door?
  • What material was typically used to cover the roofs of machiyas?
  • Which room's floor was made of rammed earth?
  • How were townhouses built?



Street view


  • white plastered walls
  • smoke hole
  • koshi - A latticework typical of merchant houses, decorating the front of the house. People could see the street from the inside but it was impossible to see in the house from outside. Its style indicated the type of merchandise the owner was trading in.
  • mushikomado - A window with a moulded grill, a traditional feature of townhouses.
  • Shoki-san - A spirit of Chinese origin, protecting against demons. Its statuette serves as an amulet, placed on roof tiles above the entrance to provide protection for the inhabitants.
  • tsubo-niwa - A small indoor garden used to separate rooms of different functions in the house.
  • okuniwa - A back garden located between the zashiki and the storehouse.
  • storehouse - It is usually separated from other parts of the house.

Ground floor

  • stairway - In order to maximise the use of space, storage compartments are built into the stairs.
  • fusuma - A typical Japanese sliding door, often decorated with paintings of different scenes.
  • tokonoma - A decorative alcove. Its wall is decorated with a hanging scroll that may contain calligraphy, a landscape or painting depicting the change of seasons. A vase or a bonsai may be placed under the scroll.
  • inner room
  • zashiki - A traditional Japanese room, which has two types. The one in the animation is the okuzashiki, or inner sitting room, where family members gathered.
  • entrance hall
  • kitchen
  • itama - A room with a boarded floor.
  • shoji - A room divider covered with special Japanese washi paper.
  • miseniwa - A hallway leading to the shop.
  • genkan no niwa - An entrance hall leading to the living quarters.
  • hashiriniwa - A long external hallway, located between the entrance hall and the back garden. The stove was usually placed here along with cooking utensils.
  • tooriniwa - An earthen floored area between the entrance and the back garden.
  • misenoma - The shop.

First floor




Machiyas are typical Japanese merchant houses, which also function as dwelling houses. Nowadays, most of these are found in Kyoto, the former capital of Japan, where they are sometimes called kyomachiyas.

Machiyas are built close together and they present a unique image of the street. Usually, a typical Machiya is a two-storey building but one-, one-and-a-half- and three-storey houses are also common. The merchant house can be easily recognised by the mushikomado, which is a window with a moulded grill, and the koshi, which is a latticework. The style of the latticework indicates the type of merchandise the owner trades in.

Before the 1950s, the wooden-frame house had white plastered walls. An interesting feature of the Machiya is that a statuette of Shoki-san, who was a spirit of Chinese origin, is placed on the roof tiles above the entrance to provide protection for the inhabitants.

Machiyas are divided into several parts. The shop is located on the front and it is separated with a small indoor garden from the living quarters. In most rooms, the floor is covered with tatami, but there are rooms with a boarded floor as well. Because of fire safety, the storehouse is separated from the living quarters by a back garden.

Japanese people are making major efforts to preserve their traditional houses. Sadly enough, the number of Machiyas is decreasing since they are expensive to maintain.

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