Nishimura Residence and Umetsuji residence are houses that were built for priests of the nearby Kamigamo Shrine. This type of house is called Sha-ke. The term Sha-ke (社家) consists of the Chinese characters for “Shrine” and “Family, House”.
In some shrines, the position of the head priest has been a hereditary position – the same family provided the new head priest and other officials or servants generation after generation. Until the early Meiji period, this has been common practice in Japan. But due to misuse of authority and nepotism, the Grand Council of State stopped this practice in 1872. These families have often lived close to the Shrine, and an entire quarter full of Shake has grown over time. In 1872 the houses were officially separated from the shrines, but the families continued to live in them.
In Kyoto, the Kamigamo shrine in the north east of the town has such a quarter called Shake-machi. The area southeast of the Kamigamo shrine is very picturesque: A small clear creek flows next to the street, and narrow stone bridges lead to the entrances of each house. All Sha-ke houses are smaller than the big torii (vermillion Shinto shrine entrance gate) of the Kamigamo Shrine. Behind earthen walls (dobei), trees and tall shrubs suggest old, peaceful gardens. There used to be more than 300 houses here during the Edo period, now there are only 40 left. Only Nishimura-Ke is open to the public on a regular basis. It has been designated a place of scenic beauty.
The residence is open daily from March to December with admission 500 yen. The nearby Umetsuji Residence is open daily from July-September.
When the Imperial capital moved to Heiankyo (present day Kyoto) the Kamo shrines enjoyed imperial patronage and support that has continued to the present day.