• Kyoto, a popular travel destination in Japan, will now restrict tourist access to parts of its famous geisha district.
  • Officials have reported a rise in complaints about tourist misbehavior and crowded streets.
  • Foreign tourist traffic to Japan is back to pre-pandemic levels.

Japan’s ancient capital Kyoto, long a popular tourist destination, is closing some private properties in its famous geisha district over complaints about misbehaving visitors.

Tourists crowd the narrow, picturesque streets of the area called Gion, often following tour guides who show people around and give hours of lectures, local district official Isokazu Ota said Friday.

“We will be putting up signs in April asking tourists to stay off our private roads,” he told The Associated Press.

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A sign will read in both Japanese and English: “This is a private road, so you are not allowed to drive on it,” although the warning about the ban is aimed primarily at pedestrians rather than cars, like the Japanese one Wording in general means “throughout.”

Kyoto Japan

Visitors are seen at Kiyomizu Temple, a wooden structure in the hills surrounding Kyoto. Kyoto, long a popular tourist destination, is closing some private properties in its famous geisha district over complaints about misbehaving visitors. (PHILIP FONG/AFP via Getty Images)

“There will be a fine of 10,000 yen,” the sign reads, which is about $70 at current currency conversion rates.

The ban only applies to several blocks of Gion. The district’s public streets remain open to tourists, so the area and the rest of Kyoto will continue to be bustling with visitors from Japan and around the world.

Gion’s outrage highlights growing resentment over what many people perceive as “overtourism,” even though the Japanese economy relies more than ever on tourism revenue to sustain its growth.

The district, with its winding streets, is known for its picturesque teahouses, where geishas and their maiko apprentices, wearing chic kimonos and hair accessories, perform to dance and music.

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In a city known for its beautiful temples and gardens, Gion is one of the most picturesque and historic places. Tourists armed with cameras like to stroll through Gion, hoping to catch the women on their way to dance class or a fancy dinner party.

Complaints about overzealous tourists began piling up years ago, but discontent faded as the coronavirus pandemic caused a lull in tourism. Now the visitors are back full of enthusiasm.

Foreign tourist traffic to Japan is back to pre-pandemic levels.

More than 22 million visitors came to Japan last year to enjoy sushi, electronic devices and natural splendors like Mount Fuji and the beaches of Okinawa. In 2019, the number of arrivals was more than 31 million people, and the number this year could approach or even exceed that figure, experts say.

For many residents of Gion it was too much. Its local council summed up the unenthusiastic sentiments a few months ago by proclaiming: “Kyoto is not an amusement park.”

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