The Benten Residences are two beautifully restored traditional machiya townhouses sitting side-by-side in the Higashiyama district of Kyoto. Shimaya Stays, the Singapore-based company responsible for their restoration, recently invited us to stay in the Benten West house for a couple of nights, so we could see for ourselves what good work they have been doing. We also had the opportunity to meet one of the founders of the company, Lee Yong Chye, along with local manager Janice Tay. They showed us round both properties, and explained how the company was born partly out of a love of traditional Kyoto, and partly out of a desire to create a form of “serviced accommodation” with more personality than would be possible in a generic hotel.
To achieve this they employed local architects and artisans to restore these buildings, which are over 100 years old, and they have done a magnificent job. Take a look at the pictures below and imagine renting one of these heritage houses, steeping yourself in the atmosphere of old Kyoto, while also enjoying all the comforts and facilities you might expect from a boutique hotel.
I would recommend the Benten Residences for couples, small groups, or families. Both properties have two floors and are spacious enough to accommodate a family with children. Benten East is big enough for up to 6 guests, and Benten West can happily house up to 5. Both properties have western-style bedrooms, but also tatami-matted rooms with extra futon bedding. They also both have a living room and dining area, a bathroom with an interior garden view, a kitchenette, two toilets, and separate showers. One of the things I thought was great about these houses was the heated flooring. Machiya are famously cold in the winter, but that won’t be a problem in these warm and cozy homes.
Inside Benten East
Inside Benten West
Both properties are supplied with heating, air-conditioning, and high speed WI-FI internet access. The kitchenettes have a refrigerator, an induction hob, cutlery, crockery, cooking utensils, a microwave oven, a rice cooker, an electric kettle, a toaster, a Nespresso machine, and a dish washer. There is also a washer/dryer for your laundry. A full set of towels, a hair dryer, and complimentary toiletries are supplied in the bathroom. To secure your valuables, there is a combination safe box in the dressing room on the 2nd floor of both buildings.
Staff will greet you on your arrival, are available for enquiries throughout your stay, and will perform daily housekeeping and cleaning with a clean set of towels supplied each day.
The E-Concierge System
Once you have booked your stay in one of the Shimaya Stays properties you can have a highly-customized itinerary made just for you based on your own interests; whether they be Japanese cooking classes, zen meditation sessions, or simple restaurant bookings. All of this can be arranged by email with the help of a team of local experts, and then when you arrive everything is planned out, including walking routes on Google maps, right down to train and bus times. This is done so that you can maximize your time in Kyoto and get the very best out of your stay. I was told that these plans appeal to the more independent and discerning customers, and although personal guides can also be arranged, most people are more than satisfied with their personalized itineraries.
The Benten Residences are located a stone’s throw away from some of Kyoto’s key attractions: Kiyomizudera Temple, Kodaiji Temple, Gion Corner, and Yasaka Shrine. They are just a 12 minute walk from Gion-Shijo Station on the Keihan Main Line, or 15 minutes from Kawaramachi Station on the Hankyu-Kyoto Line. Here is a map of the location.
The All-New Machiya: Komatsu South
Shimaya Stays have recently opened a new property in Kyoto, which unlike the Benten Residences is not a renovated townhouse, but a brand new machiya-style structure built to combine traditional Japanese aesthetics with modern comfort. I will be writing more about this exciting new development in a later post!
Full text and all images by Michael Lambe. All rights reserved.