KYOTO -- "Please mind your manners!" A residents' council has come together here to remind foreign guests to be mindful of locals when visiting the area. Through small goodie bags available in three languages distributed by hand to tourists in the Gion entertainment district on May 14, travelers can become that little bit more enlightened on what is appropriate when discovering Japan.
In Gion, most of the teahouses and restaurants are geared toward regular customers, but foreign tourists, wrapped up in rental kimonos and enticed by the street's historic beauty, visit in large numbers. For some years now, locals have complained of overseas guests intruding into restaurants and private homes, throwing away food and cigarette butts onto the street and taking invasive photographs of geiko and maiko. Some maiko dancers have lent their voices to the campaign, too.
The police and city government have tried to support residents by installing security cameras and employing security guards. Police cars also patrol the streets, and reminders to respect the area are broadcast in multiple languages.
In 2000, the Kyoto Municipal Government announced its vision to host 50 million visitors per year. A city survey later revealed its target was met in 2008, with the number of visitors reaching a record high of 56.84 million in 2015. With the backing of the national government to promote inbound tourism, the number of foreign hotel guests, which had been around 400,000 in 2000, has ballooned annually, reaching a peak of 3.53 million in 2017.
However, 46% of Japanese tourists responding to a survey said the numbers were a cause for regret. They said their enjoyment of travel was diminished by the number of people, and that they couldn't board buses due to too many passengers. Possibly to avoid the jam, the number of day-trippers from within the country has decreased by between 3.5 million and 4 million for two years in a row.
And the issue isn't limited to the Gion district, with many of the city's most famous spots being overrun with visitors. Concerns regarding overtourism have come to the fore, with the city government and tourism associations beginning to take measures to ease the concentration of tourists.
A trial scheme offering online information about congestion in different areas, estimated by recording the number of smartphones accessing Wi-Fi nearby, was carried out in the Arashiyama district in November and December 2018. In total 22,623 people accessed the website and the initiative helped disperse numbers to the popular Arashiyama Bamboo Grove away from peak time day visits to the early morning and evening.
The authorities are also aiming to dilute tourist concentrations by campaigning to promote six locations in Kyoto's surrounding areas including Fushimi, Ohara and Takao. During this year's special 10-day Golden Week public holiday, the city transportation bureau tested the potential traffic easing effects of operating separate bus stops for tourists and local residents near the popular Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) Temple. Through various means and organizations the people of Kyoto are working together to seek a balance between maintaining civic life and promoting tourism.
(Japanese original by Masateru Sawaki, Kyoto Bureau)