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Kyoto Machiya: Mugen

Kyoto machiya ryokan Mugen

Machiya are the beautiful, traditional townhouses of Kyoto, made with tremendous craft and skill.

In 2016 I stayed at the lovingly restored ryokan called Mugen, located in the quiet lanes to the east of the Imperial Palace and north of Nijo Castle. It's the Nishijin district, famous for the immensely skilled weavers who create beautiful obi sashes for kimono.

This spring I was thrilled to return. Mugen was every bit as lovely as ever.

I thought it would be nice to share some photos of the gorgeous interior.

The owner, Tome, is delightful, and she sat down with me for a brief chat about how she came to be running a beautiful ryokan in Kyoto.

Let's take a look around, and I'll share Tome's fascinating story :)

Kyoto machiya ryokan Mugen

This is the outside of Mugen, nestled in these peaceful lanes.

Kyoto machiya ryokan Mugen

When you dip under the noren curtains you step into this lovely reception area.

Kyoto machiya ryokan Mugen

This leads through to the seating area.

Kyoto machiya ryokan Mugen

The cupboard on the right is where you place your shoes. There are cute slippers provided to keep you comfortable.

Kyoto machiya ryokan Mugen

The washi on the doorway is beautiful, isn't it!

Kyoto machiya ryokan Mugen

The books on the bookshelf are fascinating! I borrowed Old Kyoto by Diane Durston and took it up to my room for a good read!

Kyoto machiya ryokan Mugen

Tome told me about the old house. It had belonged to a kimono merchant, and had been a kimono shop.

But since the war fewer people wear kimono.

Tome said that she wears kimono for New Year and special occasions.

The house was in a state of disrepair, but Tome and her husband knew right away that they wanted to take on the challenge.

Kyoto machiya ryokan Mugen

This is the zashiki seating area.

The restored detail is very lovely!

Kyoto machiya ryokan Mugen

Tome and her husband renovated this 168-year-old Kyoto townhouse and transformed it into a four-room accommodation facility. Their aim is to be a warm inn in a corner of Nishijin that says, 'welcome home' - ’お帰り’ (okaeri).

Kyoto machiya ryokan Mugen

Looking back to the counter area - the beams are tremendous, aren't they!

Kyoto machiya ryokan Mugen

Beyond the counter and the seating area is a small garden.

The positioning of the garden is typical of old machiya houses.

Machiya were known as unagi no nedoko ('eel's nests'), the buildings were long and thin, with an enclosed sheltered garden in the centre.

The wider your building was in old Kyoto, the higher the taxes, and so the frontage of buildings was often kept narrow, with the buildings extending back into the residential blocks.

Kyoto machiya ryokan Mugen

Beyond the machiya garden is an old storehouse (kura).

It has been beautifully restored.

Tome and her husband have made it into a bar!

It is a very cool space, with suspended metal whale lanterns, and vinyl jazz on the old record player!

Kyoto machiya ryokan Mugen

I enjoyed umeshu (delicious plum sake) with Tome. I did not finish off that massive bottle!!

Tome told me about how she had been travelling around Japan with her husband.

Tome is from Kagoshima, and her husband is from one of the islands beyond Okinawa.

Tome travelled to Okinawa from university to go diving, and at a restaurant one evening she sat near to her now-husband, and they got talking.

They lived in Australia for two years, travelling around the coast picking vegetables.

They then returned to Japan and travelled around Hokkaido in a van, taking full advantage of the kombini, the onsen hot springs, to wash etc.

When winter was coming they were invited to relocate to a farm just north west of Kyoto, where the seeds of the vegetables had been used continually since the Edo era.

The vegetables were going from the farm straight to the restaurant tables in the city.

A restaurant owner invited them to eat at his restaurant, and they were so taken with the lovely Kyoto people they decided they wanted to stay.

Kyoto machiya ryokan Mugen

Tome says that the building had been empty for 50 years - since the war - when they viewed it.

It took two years to create the beautiful building that it is now.

She loved the process because so many people helped and supported them - for example the three wooden tables in the reception area are made from the same tree, and beautifully crafted by a friend of theirs.

Tome says that because they were so integral to the process - they designed everything - there is a story attached to the beautiful items in the building.

Kyoto machiya ryokan Mugen

I loved the cute little dish below.

Kyoto machiya ryokan Mugen
Kyoto machiya ryokan Mugen

This is the room where I have stayed twice.

It's perfect for a solo traveller.

The tatami flooring is fragrant and very comfortable to sleep on.

Kyoto machiya ryokan Mugen

I love the kyo-karakami paper on the fusuma sliding door.

The door leads to the small but perfect shower room on the right.

Kyoto machiya ryokan Mugen

There is a recessed seating area where you can sit on a big cushion on top of the tatami floor and drop your legs down.

There is a beautiful piece of wood placed near to the window which makes a lovely deep desk to work from.

Tome thoughtfully supplies flasks of hot and cold water, so you can sit and drink green tea to your heart's content.

Kyoto machiya ryokan Mugen

I love looking beyond the vintage lamp, across the small garden, to the blue-tiled roof of the old storehouse. It is very picturesque.

Zusetsu My Heian Lady tenugui

It made an atmospheric backdrop to our tenugui product photo!

Kyoto machiya ryokan Mugen

Just outside the room, at the top of the stairs is this lovely area.

Kyoto machiya ryokan Mugen

Mugen is a lovely place to stay.

It is located near to the Imperial Palace, and it was wonderful walking across to the gardens as it was getting light one morning, to see the cherry blossoms.

Kyoto cherry blossom
Kyoto cherry blossom

I hope you have enjoyed reading about this fascinating ryokan.

See you next time,



Kyoto cherry blossom

1 Yorum

Anne McKenzie
Anne McKenzie
01 Tem

Thank you Cathy for a wonderful start to the week. You have evoked the atmosphere and I already want to visit again!

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