Kyoto Nijo Castle Machiya Project – Part 14


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

Construction on the house was officially finished this week. Sale listing details will be added to our site soon.

The exterior has been painted, new siding added on the eastern end, a lattice window installed downstairs, and a wooden ‘rankan’ (similar to a window box) was added to the front upstairs window, matching the machiya across the laneway. Square tatami mats were installed in the upstairs bedroom.

Our reproduction French Regency-style brass doorbell, shipped from an antique hardware seller in the US, was installed over the letterbox slot.


A staple above the entrance to many machiya in downtown Kyoto is the Shoki-san, a talisman to protect the residents and drive away bad spirits. The story comes from and old Chinese tale, but the practice of putting a Shoki-san on your eaves was said to have started in Kyoto during the Edo period in the early 1800s. We found ours in a traditional Japanese arts and crafts store in Omotesando. He was made in Awaji Island.

It is considered bad luck to have two Shoki-san directly facing each other – bad energy becomes trapped between them. If your neighbor across the street has a Shoki-san, you should install yours angled slightly upwards, allowing the negative energy be reflected up into the sky.


We did some digging into finding out the age of the house. The old hand-written property title document only went as early as the 1940s or 1950s and had no details on the building age, while the current computerized property register had the age as ‘unknown’. The only option was to visit the local tax office in person to obtain a document special document that indicates the year of construction. For privacy reasons, the tax office cannot provide this information over the phone, instead requiring the property owner or their proxy to visit in person. 

It turns out that these terrace houses were built in 1902, or Meiji 35, as one of the neighbors had thought.

In 1902:

  • Kyoto City was 10 years away from having a public water supply.
  • Nearby Nijo Castle was still one of the Imperial Family’s detached palaces.
  • The city had welcomed 4,000 foreign tourists the year before.
  • The city’s population reached 387,000, a 25% increase over a 10 year period. The population density in Kamigyo Ward was 8,609 people per square kilometer (it was 12,000 / in 2018). The average household had over 5 persons. In 2018 the city population was over 1.4 million, while the average household size had shrunk to 2 persons.


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