Authorities in Kyoto, Japan, have banned photography in parts of the city’s main geisha neighborhood, amid a flurry of complaints about harassment and bad behavior by foreign tourists in the quest for the perfect selfie.
The ban, introduced on private roads in the city’s Gion District, includes a fine of up to ￥10,000 (US$91.90), as Kyoto and other sightseeing spots in Japan grapple with the downside of a boom in visitors that is expected to last long after next summer’s Tokyo Olympics.
“Tourism pollution” is a growing problem in Kyoto, where tourists flock to ancient shrines and temples and, in Gion, catch sight of the female entertainers — known locally as geiko — and maiko apprentices dressed in elaborate kimonos on their way to evening appointments.
In response to complaints by residents and businesses, the local ward has put up signs near narrow streets leading off Hanamikoji, a public main road, warning visitors not to take snapshots.
The neighborhood is home to exclusive restaurants where geiko and maiko entertain customers on tatami floors and over high-end kaiseki dinners.
In a survey of 300 restaurants and shops in the area, complaints ranged from littering and smoking while walking to blocking traffic and trespassing.
Some said that they had witnessed groups of tourists surroundings taxis carrying geiko and chasing the women along the street in an attempt to take photographs.
The ban and fine are not legally binding, but local businesses hope that the measure will convince some visitors to have more respect for the neighborhood and its most colorful residents.
“Hanamikoji street is a city road, so we can’t prohibit photography there,” Isokazu Ota, a restaurateur and local council leader, told the Asahi Shimbun.
“But by prohibiting it in private areas, we would like tourists to know that taking pictures in such areas goes against the local rules,” Ota said.
The council is also handing out bookmarks and stickers carrying reminders in English and Chinese about proper behavior.
Existing signs reminding visitors about etiquette appear to have had little effect on tourist behavior.
Residents have said that the explosion in the number of visitors to Kyoto has led to overcrowded buses, fully booked restaurants and a general din that spoils the city’s miyabi — the refined atmosphere that draws people to the city in the first place.
In a pilot project that is to run through early next month, tourists are being asked to mind their manners via a smartphone app that delivers a message in Chinese and English as soon as they arrive within 1km of Gion.
It requests that they avoid taking photographs of geiko and maiko without permission and touching private property.
A record 31 million people visited Japan last year — up almost 9 percent from the previous year — helped by a weaker yen, an easing of visa requirements and the increasing availability of cheap flights.
The Japanese government has set a target of 40 million overseas visitors by next year, rising to 60 million by 2030.
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