Kyoto’s traditional boathouses to be rented out

Kyoto Ine Funaya 2To combat the growing number of empty and unused traditional boathouses in Kyoto’s Ine Town, the local government is considering plans to rent these houses out to new residents.

The scenic area is designated as an Important Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings by the Agency for Cultural Affairs. 

Called ‘funaya’, these houses are built at the waters edge and have a boat mooring and storage downstairs and living quarters upstairs. Boathouses were first built in Ine in the middle of the Edo period (1603 – 1868). Many of the earlier structures had thatched rooves.  The houses line a 5 kilometre stretch of Wakasa Bay.

‘Funaya’ in 1951. Boathouses with thatched rooves could be found lining the shore until the 1960s.

The area has suffered from a shrinking and ageing population. The old fishing families are disappearing as the younger generation move away to cities. The town has the highest percentage of aged residents in Kyoto Prefecture, with 41.4% over the age of 65.

Of the 230 boathouses, approximately 10% are now vacant.

This is a close-knit community and owners of these empty homes are cautious to rent them out or even sell them to strangers. In 2009, some owners did try advertising their boathouses for sale or rent online, but only one has sold to date.

Under the proposed plan, the town would purchase the empty homes and rent them out to new residents who plan to permanently settle in the area. Tenants will be chosen in accordance with the wishes of the former owners.

The mayor of Ine hopes that by taking a more assertive approach, the houses and character of the town will be preserved.

Source: The Yomiuri Shimbun, August 12, 2013.