Skip to content
Some of Kyoto’s machiya homes that mix work and living space have taken on a new life during the pandemic.

Some of Kyoto’s machiya homes that mix work and living space have taken on a new life during the pandemic.

Photographer: Sunphol Sorakul/Moment via Getty Images

CityLab
Design

The Japanese Home Design That Strikes a Work-Life Balance

Could the architecture of Kyoto’s historic machiya townhouses offer modern lessons in remote work? 

Corrected

(This article is part of our ongoing series exploring the iconic home designs that shaped global cities. Read more from the series and sign up to get the next story sent directly to your inbox.) 

While the pandemic has turned many kitchens and bedrooms into makeshift home offices around the world, there’s one style of housing in Japan that’s been mixing business and living space for centuries.

The city of Kyoto is known for its stock of unique historical structures called Machiya, which get their name from two Japanese characters: machi — which in this context can mean a neighborhood, market or group of workshops — and ya, meaning dwelling. These beautiful wooden townhouses, which mingle residences with storefronts and workshops, offer a rare window into traditional Japanese life and architecture. Their design also raises an important contemporary question: How can aging homes created for a bygone lifestyle be incorporated into a modern city?