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When travelling to Japan, I enjoy seeing things that are Japanese but everyday just as much as the big-ticket attractions such as the grand castles and temples.

However, when it comes to architecture, Lonely Planet often says when talking about a city something like "There's not much traditional architecture here because it was bombed during World War 2" (is this the real reason, or are there other factors in play?). By contrast, I strongly suspect one of the places I've lived in in Sydney was built in the 19th century.

I liked a lot of the traditional architecture in Kyoto such as the machiya, but I sometimes wonder whether it's deliberately maintained for tourism reasons.

Are Kyoto, Kanazawa, and Takayama suitable options for seeing everyday traditional Japanese architecture? Does Kitakyushu, which contains the town of Kokura, have a lot of traditional architecture because the Allies deliberately refrained from bombing it?

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  • The eyesores commonly known as "machiya" are kept mostly because nobody wants to pay for their demolition.
    – fkraiem
    Jul 7, 2016 at 12:42
  • but I sometimes wonder whether it's deliberately maintained for tourism reasons. Well, most old everyday buildings (the ones still existing today) wouldn't exist anymore without maintenance etc. And tourism is the most important reason for leaving it "old", ie. no benefits from modern materials etc. ... (at least for the cases where people actually intend to keep it)
    – deviantfan
    Jul 7, 2016 at 12:43
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    I'll post an answer tomorrow.
    – JS Lavertu
    Jul 8, 2016 at 2:44
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    Unless you want to see very old buildings I would suggest heading to any area with "dying villages". Neighbours seem to maintain the appearance of abandoned houses next to them as long as the whole village hasn't been abandoned. They are everywhere in the country due to the aging population and younger people moving to bigger cities. I walked through many while going around the Noto Peninsula on my last trip to Japan months before covid. But I've passed through similar in other areas on other trips. Oh another reason they're rare is because Japanese don't renovate, they tear down old houses. Jan 18, 2023 at 7:05

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The obvious answer is Kyoto, including the famous Gion (祇園) district. You should be able to stroll through streets that mostly feature traditional Japanese architecture.

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While I never went to Kanazawa myself, from my research, it does feature many areas that feature traditional architecture, including the Higashi Chaya (東茶屋街) and Kazue-Machi (主計町) districts.

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Note: While in Kanazawa, you should also visit Kenroku-en, one of Japan's three most famous gardens.


As for Takayama, I recommend visiting Hida folk village. This is in a totally different style than Kyoto and Kanazawa, but it does feature a very well preserved village. Not quite "everyday" architecture as it's an open air museum, but interesting nonetheless.

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If you can afford to spend a night there, check out Shirakawago as it is possible to rent a room in one of the traditional thatched roof houses.


Lastly, I have a few recommendations of things you might enjoy:

The Takenaka Carpentry Tools museum in Kobe gives a very good understanding of the underlying principles that make traditional Japanese architecture what it is. Plus, it's less than 5 minutes from the Shin-Kobe shinkansen station, so it makes for a great stop. Check out this question for a more detailed explanation.

The Tokyo Edo Museum has a very nice (historically accurate) full size reconstruction of a Kabuki theater.

The Osaka museum of Housing and Living features a full indoor reconstruction of an Edo period town.

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  • Very nice answer. Love the photos.
    – Berwyn
    Jul 8, 2016 at 15:40

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