The design of a machiya is quite unique. They were always designed to face the street since the front of the building was where the store or work space was located.
Back in the heyday of machiyas, walking along a street in Kyoto may have been similar to walking along a shopping mall today. The narrow design of the machiya meant that more shops could be built along the street. In olden times, people must have had a hard time choosing which shop to enter while walking along and gazing at the store fronts.
Once you enter a machiya, you will notice that it feels a lot bigger than what it looks like on the outside. The long and narrow design of the machiya is where it derives the nickname of an “eel’s bed.” Although machiyas will vary from house to house, generally speaking, the rooms that are farthest away from the entrance are used as living quarters or for greeting and entertaining guests. If you stay at a Machiya Residence Inn machiya, you will notice firsthand how the living room, where you can eat or watch television, is on the first floor and is the farthest Japanese style room. The Machiya Residence Inn prides itself on designing machiyas that will accommodate modern living arrangements, while at the same time preserve the traditional lifestyle that has been passed down.
This long and narrow design of a machiya also came into being because of tax purposes. (It was assumed that the wider and bigger a machiya was, the easier it was for that store to attract customers. Therefore, a higher tax would be imposed. Therefore, by keeping the structure narrow, it allowed owners to reduce their taxes.) It was also advantageous for the machiyas to be narrow because it allowed more stores to be built closely together.
Building the living quarters in the back, away from the street, allowed people to have a place where they could enjoy some peace and quiet with their family. Residents were able to leave their busy day-to-day life for some tranquility and rest.
Written by MS from Machiya Residence Inn Kyoto