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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Kyoto Fed Up With Foreign Tourists?

There's a story put out by the Ashahi Shimbun newspaper that says that local Kyoto residents are fed up with overseas tourists - IE gaijin. The photo above by Kazuaki Hagi from that article HERE, shows it may have a point.

I'll take that story with a grain of salt, and assume that some people are upset with the large influx of people coming from other countries to dare see the temples and shrines littered about Kyoto.

The complaint is that with so many tourists (and again, this was "overseas" tourists), invading Kyoto, it has upset their traditional life.

What the fug is a traditional life?

In Japan I take that as being over-worked and under paid. Not having sex, marriage or children. Driving a lot of tiny white cars. Only having friends who are people you work with. Women staying home forever after having kids. Guys having mistresses. Fathers being over protective of their daughters instilling ridiculous 10PM curfews on 20-something single women?

Is that the traditional life, or is that just what I happened to see by accident, and was a one-off?

Let's take a look at the story in the Asahi newspaper.

Hmmm: In 2015, a record 56.84 million tourists visited Kyoto and spent nearly 1 trillion yen ($9.12 billion), also a high, according to the Kyoto city government. The spending was up 30 percent from the previous year.

It doesn't seem to bother the Kyoto government which has increased its tourism to halt declining local economies.

But... and I can see the point of the locals... having so many tourists has caused the complaint of "pollution by tourism"... meaning there's a lot of garbage being strewn around making the place ugly.

I could see that happening and being a cause for concern.

The article quotes Tomita Kanji (surname first), a 48-year-old who has been part of the clean-up detail in the Kyoto area, who says that many sightseers lack respect for the communities.

“We have been working hard to protect the landscape, but they (tourists) just consume the scenery without showing respect,” Tomita said. “We are simply forced to bear the burden.”

Well, if Tomita is correct, and I have no reason to doubt him, that's sad. Who the hell are these people that litter so freely?

But what is the alternative? More trashcans? More police to actively fine people for improper disposal of garbage? I'm all for both.

Here's the other complaint: 
On a recent day, a narrow sidewalk near a bus stop along Higashioji-dori street, which runs north-south in Kyoto, was filled with dozens of sightseers, making it impossible for other pedestrians to pass through. The bus stop is used by many of the visitors to Kiyomizudera temple.
Most of the tourists were non-Japanese, and some of them added to the annoyance with their rolling suitcases.
“Packed buses frequently run around here. I am afraid that a traffic accident may occur someday,” said Hiroshi Fujita, a 68-year-old resident. “There currently are so many visitors that I feel the number has exceeded the limit.”

Wow... lots of rolling suitcases... I'm sure that is really noisy.

Oh... and the possibility that there may one day be a traffic accident.

Geez. Old people. Please not let me be an on person like that: "Hey, you kids, get out of my Jell-o tree!"

This is Sannen-zaka... it's not the same street from the photo above... but it is a photo I took in 1992. Hmm, not a gaijin in sight (because I'm behind the lens)... of course the usual rain that accompanies me when I traveled in Japan may have contributed to the less than stellar tourist crowds... but I recall it being like this when I traveled around Kyoto. Folks there might have a point about the large influx of recent tourists... but I bet the shopkeepers are happy. Ka-ching!
And then there are the illegal minipaku... which I assume is some sort of flop hotel.

From what I gather, since the local population has decreased dramatically with old people dying off and their houses going into disuse, these once family homes have been taken over as flophouses... but run by whom?

Of the 5,000 minipaku being operated in Kyoto and registered on the Kyoto tourist websites, a 2015 Kyoto survey showed that 90% of them are operating illegally.

Well... there you go... close up those places and arrest the Japanese folk operating them, because you sure know it's not foreigners doing it.

Anyone traveling in Japan knows there are youth hostels for a cheap stay, but there are also Japanese style hotels as well as western-style hotels.

Traveling Japan with my girlfriend Ashley, we stayed at a youth hostel once... I froze my butt off. It was noisy and smelly and I vowed never again.

We had previously stayed at ryokan (Japanese style hotels), and while I am sure there are very nice ones, the one we stayed at was an insect-infested (cockroaches) waste of money. I have no problem spending the bucks to stay at a Holiday Inn or whatever if it actually provides comfort while I am on vacation.

Maybe Japanese families could supplement their income by offering a room to tourists. Get the money up front, of course, and know that it should be booked in advance.

I'm sure there are love hotels, tourists could spend a few yen to stay at if they are desperate... I've done it. It's fun because you get a story out of it, too.

It seems, however, that some of the Kyoto residents are upset because tourism in their city only caters to the rich, more well-healed tourist. Well d'uh.

It costs money to travel. Money should also be spent on accommodation. Get rid of the minipaku. Unless those are being run by the local yakuza... in which case you can expect that to continue.

After that bug-infested Japanese hotel and the crappy youth hostel (of which I am far too old now to be allowed to endure), I fully understand that any vacation taken should NOT be a chore. It's also why I don't see the need to "rough it" in the woods via camping. It's why man struggled to create his own fire via a furnace and got out of the cold and damp and into an insulated house with a roof on it.

For those of you who enjoy that sort of crap like "roughing it", you are welcome to it. I don't understand such needs, but I certainly don't begrudge yours.

There are more complaints... such as residents upset at people taking photos in front of their house, with arguments ensuing after a confrontation...  or the city turning off the lights during hanami (cheery blossom viewing) season... something that only began 27-years ago... tradition...

Let's keep going back to the old days...

But to bitch and whine about there being too many tourists? That's stupid.

Enact better protocols to ensure your city and tourist sites are preserved - fine the bastards who pollute. I don't think you can stop people from taking pictures in front of your home as long as they aren't on your property... but if they are... tell them to get off, call the police... or better yet charge them 5,000 yen if they want to use your home as a backdrop. Or, if you don't want that, photo bomb them by being in all their photos...

The Japanese tourist and wedding parties are usually pretty polite - they are the ones taking pictures in front of a person's home - put up a donation box... you'll get some money. But yeah... I get it... noisy people always hanging around the front of your house is a pain in the a$$.

How often does this happen in Kyoto? Is it just this one guy and his home? Two?

So what's the alternative? Charge a tourist fee at a gate leading into and out of Kyoto? Hmm... I like that.

Each person gets a scannable photo license that must be worn when sightseeing? It's no big deal.

For those of us who live and work in Japan, we had to carry a special card (in my case the old Alien Registration Card), tourists need their passport... so what's the big deal.... of yeah... the Japanese tourists would need this as well. Obviously you would need one in Tokyo or Osaka, two big cities that don't whine about such things... but no tourist fee would be required if you are from the same prefecture you are visiting...

I don't even know if I am joking here. I don't think I am.

But still... for Kyoto residents to be upset with the number of tourists in its city... well... the other side of the coin is that a tourist town like Kyoto doesn't have a lot of tourists... and then see what happens to your economy.

You'll notice that I never mentioned (nor did the newspaper article) any complaints from merchants selling their touristy things, or the restaurant owners, snack shops, train operators, taxis, buses... no... because tourism provides more coin in their purse.

Let's hope Kyoto takes some advice from other cities around the world at how to better co-exist with the influx of tourists who also help line their pockets.

Andrew Joseph


  1. Hearing that Kyoto residents need less foreign tourists while they needed more tourists and the 2020 Olympics are almost there is kinda hypocritical, don't you think? I know that many people are not used to seeing foreigners everyday, but they need to at least accept the change. If this kind of news keeps up, not only that Japan will have a hard time having success in the 2020 Olympic Games, but they'll have a hard time with their population decline.

    1. Exactly! However... this is Kyoto. Tokyo and Osaka are much larger cities, for example, and have no such issues regarding "too many" tourists. The Tokyo Olympics in 2020 will be okay.
      As I said in the 2nd paragraph, I think there are some people upset, but I think the vast majority thinks otherwise. Hence the "grain of salt". As an ex-newspaper guy, I know you can always find someone to have a negative opinion to create or fuel a story. Did the story ask the merchants what they think about the increase in tourists - how happy that makes them? Of course not - if the reporter had done that, there's be no story. Thanks for commenting! I appreciate hearing from you!