In Kyoto, machiya, or wooden townhouses, date back to the Edo period. Countless have been lost over the years to urbanization, but there’s a movement under way to save the estimated 50,000 that remain. The three-year-old firm Iori Machiya Stay (kyoto-machiya.com) has carefully restored 11 of them in central Kyoto and rents them out. The homes, some of which can sleep up to ten, largely mirror the traditional way of life. There are tatami mats, andon lamps, and antique screens; bedrooms contain futons; and there are no TVs or phones.
Check-in is easy and happens at the company’s office, which is close to all the properties. Staff escort guests to their townhouse via taxi or a short walk. Upon departure, guests drop the keys in the townhouse’s mailbox.
We recommend the two-story Izumiya-cho (from $140 per person), one of six within the company’s premium category. The 1,175-square-foot space—off restaurant-filled Kiyamachi Street, around the corner from Gion—was built in the 1930s. The ground floor comprises a long, large living room split by a sliding fusuma. There’s a sitting area, and off the back is a good-sized deck. The three bedrooms upstairs have futons and are sparse.
Great care has been put into preserving the original structure while adding high-quality modern comforts. There is Wi-Fi, in-floor heating (heaven!), air-conditioning, and all the amenities found in a Japanese hotel: Inax toilets, bath products, toothbrushes, a hair dryer. Screens hide the more 21st-century lighting. (Overall the house is dark—the windows are on either end.)
The kitchens are nothing to speak of: A microwave, coffee-maker, and refrigerator are it for appliances—to prevent fire hazards. Although the company provides a concierge to call for help with activities, guests are otherwise entirely on their own.