The inhabitants of Kyoto’s machiya devised myriad clever ways to counter the sweltering summer heat and frigid winter cold that were facts of life in Kyoto basin. One of these is the tori-niwa (earthen-floored corridor), a traditional feature of Kyoto machiya.
Because many machiya had only a narrow street front, with a long interior that extended deep into the city block behind, they were nicknamed “unagi no nedoko”, or “eels bedrooms”. In the center of the long townhouse, the earthen-floored tori-niwa allowed passage without the need to remove one’s shoes, permitting smooth transit of people and goods. The tori-niwa also provided an unobstructed path for breezes to flow through, a wooden example of the wisdom of our forebears.
Another advantage of the tori-niwa was its use of open skylights, which distributed natural light along the length of the house on both sides, as well allowing smoke from within to escape.
In historic times, houses were taxed according to the width of their street frontage, and efforts to minimize this tax gave rise to the form of traditional Kyoto machiya. Streets the city over were packed with rows of machiya shops and business, the engine of the old capital’s prosperity. Maichiya are a true reflection of daily life in old Kyoto.