Japanese city of Kyoto to ban tourists in popular sightseeing spots

Kyoto has decided to prevent tourists from entering private alleyways in the Gion district.

Kyoto has decided to prevent tourists from entering private alleyways in the Gion district. Photo: Getty

Tourists will be banned from entering one of Japan’s most popular sightseeing spots in Kyoto next month thanks to over-tourism and bad behaviour.

The Japan Times reported that visitors will soon be banned from visiting alleyways in the Gion geisha district, in the city of Kyoto.

Residents in Kyoto have grown tired of tourists in the district and at the end of last year residents reportedly asked the city to take the issue seriously, as their neighbourhood was “not a theme park”.

Citing Japanese media, The Japan Times reported that residents recalled incidents such as a maiko’s kimono being torn and another having a cigarette being put out on her collar.

TTG Asia reported that geisha and maiko entertainers have been chased down the streets by tourists clutching phones, in hopes of taking photos or videos.

The famed alleyways are narrow and geisha reportedly feel as though tourists are “paparazzis”, despite the council prohibiting photography on private roads in the area back in 2019, The Japan Times reported.

How Kyoto will tackle the issue

The district’s main street, Hanamijoji Street, will remain open to the public when the new tourist “ban” is enforced.

Additionally, signs will be put up alert tourists of where they cannot be.

“We will ask tourists to refrain from entering narrow private streets in or after April,” executive member of the council, Isokazu Ota, said,

“We don’t want to do this, but we’re desperate.”

In this picture taken on March 10, 2024, people walk through a street near Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto.

Kyoto has long been a popular tourist destination in Japan.

Japan has seen huge numbers of tourists coming to the country since it reopened its borders following the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns.

In February, coinciding with Lunar New Year celebrations, 2.79 million visitors came to the country, which was the biggest month for tourism since before the pandemic, Reuters reported.

Arrivals in February were 7.1 per cent higher than the same month in 2019.

Overtourism in Japan

Kyoto, alongside Tokyo and Osaka, has long been a tourism hotspot in Japan.

In the past Japan has focused on sustainable tourism, to quell overtourism, an issue which has affected plenty of popular destinations around the world.

In 2018, the Sustainable Tourism Promotion Headquarters released a document which focused on key areas to ensure tourism was sustainable, ANU’s Australia-Japan Research Centre said.

After the pandemic, Japan introduced a new initiative called “Comprehensive Measures for the Prevention and Mitigation of Over-tourism”.

“Its focus is on addressing excessive congestion and etiquette violations, attracting visitors to regional areas and promoting tourism in collaboration with local residents,” the centre said.

The centre also noted that overtourism can have some devastating outcomes, like overwhelming local infrastructure and in turn diminished the quality of life of residents and trigger social tensions.

“Overtourism can trigger social tensions, evidenced by situations such as in Kyoto, where residents may feel marginalised in their own city, leading to conflicts and a breakdown of community cohesion,” it said.

“Implementing regulations and policies that regulate tourist numbers, safeguard cultural and natural heritage, and encourage responsible tourism behaviour are crucial for mitigating the adverse effects of tourism.”

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