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A group of four friends – who would become the founders of Shimaya Stays – had grown tired of waking up in nondescript hotel rooms on their trips to Japan. They talked about buying a house in Kyoto and letting it out so that it would not go unused when they weren’t there.

But the wooden townhouses – Kyo-machiya – that give the city so much of its atmosphere were disappearing, replaced by carparks or buildings deemed more practical for modern life.

This seemed to be the fate in store for two machiya – both about 100 years old – in the scenic Higashiyama district after their owner passed away in 2013.

When the group of friends found out about this, they bought the land that the machiya stood on and collaborated with specialists in traditional architecture to restore the houses. These became the BenTen Residences, a nod to the name of the neighbourhood, Kami Benten-cho.

As foreigners, the owners felt the need to involve Japanese designers and craftsmen in every aspect of the project: a home made in Kyoto for the world.

This desire to showcase Japanese aesthetics has continued into Shimaya Stays’ next stage: two plots of land acquired in Gion, an area known for its traditional architecture and geisha culture.

The proximity of the plots, located across the street from each other, means Shimaya can go in a new direction: building machiya with communal spaces where guests can interact with residents, getting to know the city as that group of friends have come to.


BenTen Residences


Komatsu South
Photo: Yasushi Ichikawa


Komatsu South Rooftop Tea Space
Photo: Yasushi Ichikawa


Komatsu South Rooftop Tea Space
Photo: Yasushi Ichikawa

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