Some of the offerings via the Kanazawa Machiya Information Center.

The historic merchant city of Kanazawa is seeing as many as 100 of its historic machiya-style townhouses demolished each year. And while there are efforts underway to preserve as many homes as possible, there are still some high hurdles that remain.

According to a city survey carried out in 2017, there were 6,125 traditional wooden buildings (excluding religious buildings) built prior to 1950 in the city, but around 100 of them are torn down annually.

Since 2011, the city has been operating a matching service connecting sellers and real estate agents with people looking to buy or rent and restore historic homes. In 2016 the city launched the Kanazawa Machiya Information Center, with the information provided online. One major stumbling block has been the shortage of available properties, and that doesn’t look like an easy fix. The site currently has 12 machiya listed for sale, with prices ranging from 4.5 ~ 36.5 million Yen (approx. US$39,000 ~ $320,000).

The Kanazawa Machiya Research Group estimates as many as 1,000 machiya in the city are sitting vacant. But, these homes are not available for purchase or rent for various reasons, including having several heirs that cannot agree about what to do with the property, or the owner has a strong attachment to the house and does not want to part with it or fill it with a tenant.

Renting out the homes is not a simple task, either. Many require serious repairs to bring them up to safe and comfortable living conditions for a future tenant. Few elderly owners have this kind of spare cash available.

About Kanazawa’s traditional machiya

Kanazawa-machiya are traditional merchant townhouses, samurai residences, and early-century modern homes built before 1950. The city escaped WWII damage and many historical buildings remain. Compared to Osaka and Kyoto, where many machiya were originally built by wealthy landlords as rental housing, Kanazawa residents have historically been somewhat against the idea of renting, with many of the homes purely built for owner-occupiers.

Kanazawa City began actively seeking to protect and preserve its historical homes in the early 2000s after seeing the efforts made by Kyoto City. In some cases, the city can provide financial assistance of up to 4 ~ 5 million Yen towards restorations. To be eligible, restorations must follow strict criteria, including using only traditional methods such as mud walls. Restoration costs can easily cost upwards of 10 ~ 20 million Yen.

Source: The Mainichi Shimbun, November 14, 2021.