15th century home in Kyoto demolished

A traditional townhouse dating back to the 1400s in Kyoto was demolished at the end of August. The Kawai Residence, located alongside the Tenjin River in Nakagyo Ward, was the oldest surviving townhouse in the city.

Although official records do not exist, the town house was said to have been built in 1467, making it one of Japan’s leading surviving homes from the medieval era. It underwent significant alterations between 1711 and 1716, along with a new tatami room added in 1830. Originally the house had a thatched gable-style roof, similar to what would have been found in farmers’ homes. Two major fires in Kyoto City in 1788 and 1864 wiped out the majority of older homes, with only 2% of the current homes in the city dating from the Edo period.

In May 2018, Kyoto City introduced new regulations that obligate owners of designated historic homes to provide the city with one year’s notice before demolition. During that time, the city would make efforts to find someone looking to preserve and maintain the existing property. However the maximum fine of 50,000 Yen may not serve as a strong enough deterrent. The Kawai Residence already had redevelopment plans in motion prior to May, making it exempt from the new rules.

The real estate developer that acquired the residence had reached out to the city and, with the city’s help, showed several potential buyers through the property. Some were considering using it as a residence, while others were considering its potential as boutique accommodation. However none were interested in going through with the purchase. The developer then approached the city to seek a potential height-limit allowance in exchange for incorporating part of the original features into the new apartment building and allowing the rest of the structure to be relocated. However, the city was not able to relax height limits and, since the home was not registered as a cultural property, could not provide any financial support for its preservation. For the duration of this time, the developer had been paying property taxes and loan repayments on the idle property with no tax breaks or interest rate deductions, and was left with no choice but to push ahead with their development plans.

Of the estimated 40,000 traditional machiya townhomes in Kyoto City, only 500 have been designated  by the city as requiring advance notice before demolition. Some unscrupulous developers are encouraging property owners to quickly demolish their old home before it is designated by the city in order to avoid future penalties and other obligations, further hastening the loss of the city’s history and character. Approximately 2 traditional machiya homes are demolished in Kyoto each day. But in recent years the demand for new hotels has seen the pace of machiya demolition expand and the rate of demolition now exceeds that seen during the bubble years in the late 1980s.


82 Nishinokyo Nakahocho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto City

Source: The Kyoto Shimbun, November 27, 2018.

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