Kyoto Implements Ban on Tourists in Gion Geisha District Amid Rising Concerns

Kyoto Implements Ban on Tourists in Gion Geisha District Amid Rising Concerns


In a bid to address the escalating concerns of bad behavior and overcrowding by tourists, Kyoto has announced a ban on visitors entering specific parts of the renowned Gion geisha district. The decision comes as residents grapple with the challenges of balancing the economic benefits of a return to pre-pandemic tourism levels with the drawbacks of increased incidents of misconduct.

The picturesque alleyways of Gion, a popular sightseeing spot in Kyoto, have been witnessing a surge in tourist numbers, leading to heightened instances of harassment directed at traditional entertainers known as geiko and maiko. These skilled performers, often seen on their way to evening teahouse appointments, have become targets for smartphone-wielding visitors who sometimes ignore signs urging them to maintain distance and refrain from touching the geishas' expensive kimonos. Complaints have also arisen regarding trespassing on private property within the district.

In December, a council of Gion residents raised their concerns with the city government, urging immediate action against unruly tourists. Their plea emphasized that Gion is not a mere theme park but a residential area facing real challenges due to the influx of visitors. The residents' call for intervention prompted officials in Kyoto to implement a ban on entering Gion's narrow private streets, slated to take effect next month. However, the enforcement mechanisms for this restriction remain unclear.

Council member Isokazu Ota expressed the community's reluctance to take such measures but underscored their desperation in dealing with the escalating issues. Ota revealed plans to install signs throughout the district to remind visitors of the new restrictions. Notably, the ban will not extend to the area's main thoroughfare, Hanamikoji street, which will remain open to tourists.

One of the primary concerns raised by residents is the behavior of some visitors who act like amateur paparazzi, particularly when encountering geishas on the narrow streets, some of which are only two meters wide. Previous attempts to curb such behavior, including signage and fines of up to ¥10,000 for non-consensual photography, have proven ineffective in dissuading determined tourists.

Kyoto's struggle with overtourism since the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions last April echoes a broader issue faced by other Japanese destinations. Yamanashi prefecture, for instance, has decided to implement a ¥2,000 (£10.50) fee for climbers on Mount Fuji, responding to issues of littering and risky "bullet ascents" compromising the safety of hikers. Daily visitor numbers will also be capped when the climbing season begins in July.

The rise in foreign visitors to Japan has been pronounced, with a staggering 79.5% increase in January compared to the previous year, totaling around 2.69 million visitors. This figure is reminiscent of the levels seen in January 2019 before the pandemic prompted travel restrictions. South Korea led the influx of travelers, followed by visitors from Taiwan and China, according to Kyodo news agency.

The Gion geisha district ban signals a proactive step by Kyoto officials to strike a balance between preserving the cultural integrity of the area and managing the surge in tourism. It reflects the growing global challenge of overtourism, where popular destinations grapple with maintaining the delicate equilibrium between economic benefits and preserving the local way of life.

As authorities take measures to address these concerns, the spotlight is on responsible tourism practices, urging visitors to respect local customs and maintain a harmonious coexistence with the communities they visit. The story of Gion and Kyoto serves as a reminder that tourism, while providing economic vitality, necessitates a mindful approach to safeguard the cultural and historical treasures that make each destination unique.


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