Kyoto Nijo Castle Machiya Project – Part 3


Follow our journey as we renovate a traditional machiya townhouse in Kyoto. Once complete, the renovated machiya will be offered for sale.


Now that we have the keys to the house, we can start the planning stage. After having some measurements taken, we found that the house was a lot larger than its registered size – almost twice the size. This was a welcome surprise, although not unusual with very old homes.

With a general idea of the changes we wanted to make, our architect arranged bidding from local contractors. With all of the various guest house projects underway in Kyoto, I was a bit nervous that we might have trouble securing a contractor. We were lucky to find one that was available and had experience renovating machiya to a style we liked. With the contractor lined up, our architect put together very detailed plans of the work.

Until we start tearing out the interior, we really don’t know what we will be working with beneath and what work will be needed. The general concept is to create an open-plan interior, and clean up the inside while still retaining as much of the original architectural elements and features of the old structure as possible.

Design aside, the main priorities are structural integrity and comfort. These homes are over 100 years old and nothing is ever straight, so the wooden beams will need reinforcing and the roof and exterior walls will need repairs. In an old and draughty wooden house, winters are cold and summers are hot, so all of the 1970s single-pane glass windows will be replaced with double-glazed fire-resistant glass. The single-pane glass with wire mesh is more common, but we elected to go with the more expensive double-glazing option.

The entire interior will be stripped back to the wood frame, with new hardwood flooring, kitchen, bathroom, toilet, plumbing, electrical, split-system air-conditioner/heaters, floor-heating, windows, staircase, exterior painting, cladding and lattice window work to be done in the coming months.

Originally the ceiling above the kitchen was open to the 2nd floor above, with cooking smoke going out the small upstairs window. The opening was later built over. Instead of restoring this opening, which would result in a smaller upstairs bedroom, we are opening up the ceiling above the entrance hall. Currently it is a closet, which has yielded some interesting secrets we didn’t notice when first inspecting the house.

We were able to get a look into the ceilings on the 2nd floor which have been covered up with a dropped ceiling. There are some lovely wooden beams and some original exposed mud walls. Even the 1st floor has a dropped ceiling which will be removed to create a little bit more ceiling height. Although the downstairs floor will still have to be raised about 30cm above ground level for the concrete foundations, it will be lower than the current floor height. We are trying to get as much ceiling height as possible.

Behind the dropped ceilings on the 1st and 2nd floors. A rock was used to hold down the false ceiling panels.


  • Carpenters and builders in Kyoto are in high demand and short supply, and many are unavailable. It may take some time to find one that is available. Instead of trying to work directly with a contractor, you may have more success going through an architect who can help source contractors through their own connections.
  • The planning and design phase can take just as long or longer than the actual construction phase.
  • Typical restorations or renovation projects can easily take around 6 ~ 12 months or more, depending on the size and complexity of the work required.

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