Wuz House sits quietly, facing the Kamo River stream and a colonnade of trees, as if pulled from a scene in Yasujiro Ozu’s Late Spring.
Though mere steps away from the grand Minamiza theatre, and a short hop over the river to Gion and Yatsuyanagicho District, being in Wuz feels removed from all the bustling sights. When everything quiets down, one will feel transported back to the old days when geishas are hurrying through alleyways, leaving just a whiff of powder and their glamorous silhouettes.
Entering Wuz from the Kamo River side, the original entrance can still be found on the left- an antique wooden door embellished with stained glass. On the right, the paper doors reveal the maple tree in the courtyard, as well as the light from the skylight that fills the corridor. Around the garden are the living room and a contemporary kitchen. The bedroom in the back of the ground floor is of Western-style, designed with accessibility in mind; upstairs, there are two rooms in traditional Japanese tatami style.
Ascending the stairs, the generous ceiling height gives plenty of natural light, while the blinds reserve a sense of privacy. The bathroom hosts a custom-built, polished hinoki bathtub, in contrast to the adjacent wall preserved from the past. The tub is accompanied by modern dry landscape design stone work, while the other side peeks just above the swinging crown of the maple tree in the garden below.
In the Japanese-style bedroom that looks out to the Kamo River, a set of panoramic sliding doors is in place of the typical television set. Come springtime or fall, the sakura and maple foliage are as lively as the powdery snowfalls seen in Kon Ichikawa’s portrayal of The Makioka Sisters.
1. The History of Wuz House
After acquiring the building in 2016, our team began to research the provenance of the site. Starting at the Kyoto Legal District Affairs Bureau, we found records of the property registration.
Despite some initial difficulties in deciphering these handwritten archival records, with the help of the Bureau, we were able to trace the earliest record to 1921 (Taisho 10), which stated the house was first owned by someone by the name of 玉田花 (tamadahana). The ownership of the property
changed hands eight times before the current owner of Wuz House in December, 2016.
2. History of Surrounding Areas
Rokujo in The Tale of Genji
The classic literature of The Tale of Genji takes place in the Imperial Palace near the Sixth Avenue, accordingly named Rokujo. In today’s geography, it is presumably located just southeast of the Gojo Great Bridge, which would have been around the corner of Wuz. Furthermore, the tree that played a significant role in the story also remains in the same site today, symbolizing the local lineage since Heian period.
Modern Courtesan’s quarter – Gojo Rakuen
This area is formerly known as Shichijo Shinchi, one of Kyoto’s yukaku district (red-light district). After the Anti-Prostitution Law came into act in 1958, the district is renamed as Gojo Rakuen, which translates to the Fifth Avenue Paradise, with around a hundred professional geishas performers in business. Since the most recent arrest of illegal prostitution in this area in 2010, most tea houses in the area have permanently closed. Nonetheless, the houses and architecture are tokens of the district’s provocative past.
3. Before Wuz
The house was unoccupied for around five years before Wuz.
Upon the first visit to the site, we inferred from the floor plan and structure that it was likely a tea house previously. The acquisition in 2016 was made with the purpose of turning the house into lodging guesthouse, subsequently completed with renovation under the codes and guideline of the city before earning a hotel operation certification in July, 2018.
A typical Kyoto machiya is the townhouse of businessman, with architectural planning that mixes retail spaces and residence. The front serves as the shop with display of goods, the back as the living space, separated by a courtyard garden in the center.
A ten-minute car ride from Kyoto station; or a short walk from the heart of the city, Hayaocho is at the intersection of Gojo-Kawaramachi. The journey to Wuz House is a short and breezy one by foot, bike, or public bus.