Firefighters treat visitors who complained of sickness due to a foul smell at Nanzenji Temple in Kyoto on May 2. (Kazuhiro Ichikawa)

KYOTO--Four women were taken to hospital after a strong chemical-like smell filled the air at a famous temple thronging with tourists here on May 2.

The women, three visitors in their 50s to 70s and a temple worker in her 20s, were among 24 people who reported feelings of suffocation, dizziness and chilliness in and around Nanzenji Temple's Hojo garden.

Staff guided visitors to safety and closed the garden. The conditions of the four hospitalized women are not life-threatening, police said.

The foul odor filled the temple grounds before a member of staff made an emergency call to police at 11:25 a.m., saying visitors were having difficulty breathing.

The smell is reported to have emanated from around the female toilet located near the garden. Police searched the area for any suspicious objects.

“When I was about to go to the toilet, I saw several people breaking out in fits of coughing and coming out from the toilet,” said a female company employee from Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, 43. “Soon I also started to choke and felt a burning sensation in my throat.”

Another woman aged 70 and from Kawanishi, Hyogo Prefecture, said, “I’m so scared because I have no idea what made me so sick.”

About 60 visitors were in the Hojo garden, noted for its dry landscape design and dating from the early Edo Period (1603-1867), amid the Golden Week national holidays. Seven fire engines and five ambulances attended the scene.