• Shona McCarthy

Hachise: Dream a Dream of Kyoto

Updated: Oct 12, 2020

A curious thing is happening in Kyoto, where many of its old houses have been put on sale for relatively cheap. The company that sells many of them, Hachise, recommends them for renovation. But I find I take a special pleasure in looking at the photographs and diagrams of the houses as they are.

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There is something about the fact that these old houses are relatively attainable that makes them particularly attractive to me. To live in Kyoto and to be able to wake up early every morning and stroll the streets alone. To wander over to Ninomaru Palace, or stroll the gardens of Kyoto Imperial Palace. To wake up in those burnished, historical rooms and know that I've slept in the same land as Sei Shonagon and Geisha.

I like looking at the photos of the older, more dilapidated places and imagining the way I'd gradually fix the place up, like Frances from Under The Tuscan Sun (2003). Roach-bombing the place so I can start with a clean slate. Staying in a nice, simple AirBnb while I wait for the fumes to pass.

Piece by piece, I can imagine myself learning from YouTube videos how to fix some of the more crumbled walls by my own hands. I imagine myself calling in electricians to help me with the more dangerous tasks. Gradually, the place would become more and more my dream home, while I would leave some signs of decay so that the history of the place could show. Maintaining and preserving as much of the original fixtures and structure as I could. When it would be all finished, I would tell all my friends and family, and let them know they could stay with me whenever they wanted. Hachise's property listings include 3D tours of the buildings, so I especially like to imagine seeing loved-ones coming in through the doorways and taking off their shoes in the genkan.

(Screencapped on I think my favourite properties are the ones where they have been modernised enough to have functional indoor plumbing, but not so much that they are more modern than that. I tend to dislike the ones where the houses have been changed to be so ultra-modern that one couldn't possibly imagine a Yasujiro Ozu film being shot there.

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There are some people who tell me the find the old style of Japanese houses terrifying; that it reminds them of horror movies. But somehow, to me this makes them all the more exciting. That they are so very old that they could believably be haunted is partially what gives them their mystique.

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I take pleasure in imagining the Lilliputian parts of my life being lived there. Like hanging my clothes in the sun room. Or photographing my kimonos in a work room I would designate for myself. Maybe renting out the spare rooms as AirBnbs when I am alone. Standing on a balcony and looking at the houses of Kyoto that would surround me. Feeling freer and more fulfilled than I've ever felt.

Not that I'll ever necessarily get to lead such a life. To do so would require me to find some way to stay in Japan and return over and over without getting into trouble with immigration for one thing. Then there's the matter of my finances.

But for me, going through the Hachise website every now and again at least lets me imagine such a life for myself. And somehow, being able to dream it makes it feel real enough that I'm refreshed by the thought. If you would like to supplement your virtual experiences of Japan with real life, wearable objects, you could try perusing my online store. I try to keep my prices reasonable, and my products a blend of the fun and practical:

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