Inbound Travel Resumed! A Surprising Reason Why Kyotoites Are Re-evaluating “Tourism Pollution” | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Inbound Travel Resumed! A Surprising Reason Why Kyotoites Are Re-evaluating “Tourism Pollution”

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Procedures for accepting foreign tourists to Japan resumed on June 10.

Corona disaster’s travel restrictions have caused the disappearance of foreigners from the ancient capital of Kyoto, where tourism pollution caused by over tourism had been a problem until two years ago. On the other hand, the rush to open hotels continues after 2020.

One would think that the people of Kyoto would be taking the news of the lifting of the ban on inbound tourism in a depressing mood, but it seems that the “city of a thousand years” has enough time on its hands, or perhaps they are not so preoccupied.


Jiro Nakai, a Kyoto resident and lecturer at Ryukoku University who specializes in the sociology of tourism, says, “The people of Kyoto are taking a lot of interest in the restaurants and cafes they use every day.

I think the people of Kyoto realized once again that their lives had been supported by tourism when they saw that the restaurants and eateries they normally use were rapidly closing due to the Corona disaster.

In Kyoto, littering has been blamed on foreign tourists, but even though foreigners have disappeared from the streets, littering has not disappeared. I also realized that foreign tourists were not the only ones to blame.

In the end, overtourism can either be a problem or not, depending on the feelings of the citizens. I feel that the two years of the Corona disaster gave us an opportunity to rethink “thanks to tourism” and “because of tourism,” which has eased public sentiment toward tourism to a great extent.”

So even the people of Kyoto, who are said to have a high sense of pride, have been forced to reaffirm the benefits of tourism in the wake of the Corona disaster.

With the yen weakening to its lowest level in 24 years, Japan has become an even more attractive “cheap country” for inbound travelers than before. Photo shows a pathway leading to Kiyomizu-dera Temple overflowing with foreign tourists (April 2019 photo/Afro).

Tighter regulations banish “nuisance private accommodations” and aggressively attract “luxury hotels”.

Overtourism is a situation in which excessive concentration of tourists has a negative impact. In Kyoto, overcrowding and rudeness by tourists have been a major problem since the mid-2010s.

“It was around 2016 that the term “overtourism” itself began to be used more frequently. In Kyoto, littering, city bus congestion, and overnight stay disturbances, which had been recognized as individual problems, were all apparently being tied together as being caused by tourists.”

Of these, Kyoto residents were most dissatisfied with the increase in overnight stays.

“As the population of central Kyoto declined due to the aging of the population, many of the city’s residences were being replaced one by one with private accommodations and guesthouses,” he said. That is when problems began to occur, such as foreign guests drinking and making noise until midnight, and garbage not being sorted.”

According to the Kyoto City portal site for private accommodations, the number of simple lodging houses more than doubled from 696 in 2015 to 1,493 in 2016.

“As a countermeasure against overnight stays, Kyoto City has established a “rush requirement” for managers in its ordinance, which will be implemented starting in April 2020. This requires that a manager be stationed at all times during a guest’s stay, and that even small-scale facilities have a manager within 800 meters so that he or she can be on the scene within 10 minutes.

In addition to this, barrier-free standards have been strengthened for all lodging facilities that require a license under the Inn Business Law. It is said that the city may be aiming to discourage the expansion of small-scale inns by imposing regulations that make it more costly to open an inn.”

In addition, in 2016, the city established a private accommodations reporting and consultation service, and in 2017, it set up a specialized team to monitor and provide guidance to establishments.

“In 2017, the city established a specialized team to monitor and provide guidance to private accommodations. The city claims to have eliminated 99% of illegal and illegal private accommodations over the past few years. I rarely hear citizens say they are troubled by private accommodations anymore.”

However, the number of hotels and inns has been increasing ever since 2016.

“As a measure to control the tourist population, the city of Kyoto has adopted a policy of making it harder for low-priced lodging such as minpaku and guesthouses to open, and instead encouraging upscale lodging to enter the market. This way, the number of tourists can be controlled. Conversely, the percentage of wealthy tourists will be higher, so the amount of tourism consumption and the price per guest will increase.

In 2017, we also established a system to attract high quality accommodations. Many of the hotels that have opened in the past few years or will open in the future are luxury hotels.”

The problem of “littering” has been blamed on foreign tourists. However, the disappearance of foreigners from the streets has not eliminated littering. Photo shows Hanamiko-dori, Gion, in April 2020.

“Walking food” in Nishiki Market, “maiko paparazzi” in Gion

When it comes to overtourism in Kyoto, Nishiki Market is the place to be. Before Corona, this shopping street, known as “Kyoto’s kitchen,” was also flooded with foreign tourists, causing problems such as eating while walking and littering.

“Nishiki Market is a mix of stores that cater to the public and those that cater to tourists, making it a very difficult place to operate. For stores that cater to tourists, littering is a problem, but the popularity of walking and eating is still appreciated in order to attract customers. However, for stores that cater to citizens, it is a matter of life and death if the citizens leave. We heard that it was difficult for the market to unify opinions on whether they wanted tourists to come or not.

Nevertheless, by the fall of 2018, each storefront was posted with a warning sign in Japanese, English, Korean, and Chinese that said, ‘Please refrain from eating and drinking while walking. Just before the Corona disaster, the manners of foreign tourists had begun to improve, so the warnings must have had a certain effect.”


In his book “Punkusuru Kyoto,” Nakai mentions the “maiko paparazzi” who chase geiko and maiko around Gion to photograph them. When inbound tourists return, will they be threatened again by foreigners chasing after them?

“The “maiko paparazzi” are obviously a nuisance to the maiko and geiko,” said Mr. Kurokawa, “and their photo-taking has become a nuisance to them. Not only that, politicians, entertainers, and other customers who come to the teahouses to relax on their own will leave. This was a great loss for Gion.

So the people of the Hanamachi district gathered their wits and came up with a countermeasure that took advantage of Gion’s unique situation.

Most of the Hanamachi is privately owned. The main street is a public street, but many of the side streets and narrow alleys are private. The local community organization set up a sign that said, “No photography on private roads,” because public roads are private property, but not public roads.

In 2012, Kyoto City, the Kinki District Transport Bureau of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, and other organizations conducted a demonstration experiment to raise awareness of manners in Gion by sending push notifications to the smartphones of foreign tourists with information on good manners practiced in Gion. They saw a decrease in the number of acts of rudeness, so I suspect this will be implemented in the future.”

Neither the city nor the local people were just ignorant on this matter.

The popular lighting up of the city lights at night for tourists was actually one of the overtourism measures to disperse the crowded time of the day.

In fact, the number of tourists in Kyoto has remained almost flat for more than 10 years.

The official website of Kyoto Tourism provides a “Kyoto Sightseeing Comfort Level Map” that shows congestion by time of day around popular sightseeing spots.

“It is not because the number of tourists has increased that overtourism has become a problem. It is because the quality associated with behaviors and tastes has changed, and a typical quality problem is that tourists have become concentrated in the same places.

The Kyoto Sightseeing Comfort Map is one of the countermeasures. The aim is to spread out tourists by informing them of times and places that are crowded.

Kyoto City and the Kyoto Tourist Association have launched the “Totto no Okino Kyoto Project” to provide information on the best spots to visit. These measures to disperse tourist places have been in place since around 2018. Also, various improvements are being made during the Corona Disaster, and I believe their effectiveness will be demonstrated when foreign tourists return.”

The Underlying Strength of the “City of a Thousand Years” to be Tested in the Rebirth of Tourism

Japan is now a “cheap country” that is more attractive to inbound tourists than ever before, as the yen has weakened to a level not seen in 24 years. Even if it will be some time before foreign tourists resume full-scale entry into Japan, Kyoto will once again be flooded with foreign tourists after Corona.

“The inbound boom in Japan was mainly caused by a surge in Chinese tourists, and according to Chinese travel agents, Japan’s popularity remains high. The World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Development Rankings released last month ranked Japan at the top for the first time. I don’t expect inbound tourism to return anytime soon, but I have no doubt that Kyoto will eventually be flooded with foreign tourists.”

How will Kyoto’s tourism revive itself for the after-corona?

“Kyoto has become an advanced testing ground for tourism measures over the past few years. New policies tailored to the circumstances of this town are being put in place. At this stage, it remains to be seen whether they will have the desired effect, but I am looking forward to seeing the results.”

The “City of a Thousand Years,” Kyoto’s underlying strength will be put to the test.

Jiro Nakai, sociologist and part-time lecturer at Ryukoku University, was born in 1977 in Osaka Prefecture. Born in Osaka in 1977, he graduated from Ryukoku University’s Faculty of Sociology and completed his doctorate at the same university. His major is sociology of tourism. Based in Kyoto, he researches the symbiosis between tourism and local communities through issues such as tourism pollution and overtourism, and the conversion of local culture and cultural heritage into tourism resources. He is the author of “Punkusuru Kyoto” and “Kanko wa nerai nai” (Tourism will not perish) (Seikaisha Shinsho), and “Nihon no fushigi na yado: A sociologist chooses his wife’s surname” (PHP Shinsho).

  • Interview and text by Sayuri Saito Photo Afro

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