Photo/IllutrationForeign sightseers who visit Fukuoka by cruise ship head for a tourist bus on Jan. 24. (Motoki Nagasawa)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

A growing number of tourism facilities in Japan are refusing to accept non-Japanese group travelers because of the bad manners and abhorrent actions of some visitors from abroad.

Although pulling out the welcome mat to foreign guests could raise cries of discrimination, the facilities said that despite their efforts to prevent the unruly behavior, the continued obnoxiousness has hurt their businesses and reputations.

For example, Nanzoin temple in Sasaguri, Fukuoka Prefecture, famed for a huge lying Buddha called Nebotoke-san, has posted signs in 12 languages at its precincts and the nearby station, describing Nanzoin as an important place of prayer and telling non-Japanese group travelers that they are not welcome there.

According to Kakujo Hayashi, 65, chief priest of Nanzoin, the problems started around 10 years ago, when 20 to 30 buses of overseas sightseers would flock to the temple daily after arriving in Fukuoka city by cruise ship.

The tourist influx drastically changed the atmosphere of Nanzoin. Some visitors blared music while splashing in water around a waterfall for Buddhism training. One tourist even climbed to the roof of a building on the temple grounds.

Although Nanzoin priests gave verbal warnings to those ill-mannered tourists, the bad behavior continued and drove away some regular Japanese worshippers.

In May 2016, Nanzoin decided to stop accepting group travelers from outside Japan. It informed travel agencies and other parties of the policy and asked a municipal tourism website to delete its information.

Nanzoin said it still welcomes individual travelers from abroad because tourists in small numbers tend to have better manners. It also notes that unruly Japanese are told to leave the temple grounds.

“I want to accept all worshippers, but there are limitations to our capacity,” Hayashi said. “We have no choice but to take measures to protect the place of prayer on our own.”

NO-FOREIGNERS POLICY SPREADING

A 45-year-old owner of an “izakaya” pub in Kyoto says he is also bothered by group travelers from abroad because they bring in food bought at convenience stores, use plates as ashtrays and flick their cigarette ashes onto the floor.

While stopping short of posting a “no foreigners” sign, the owner three years ago began claiming his pub was fully booked when groups of five or more overseas tourists showed up.

“I want Kyoto to stop staging promotional campaigns targeting foreign sightseers,” he said.

Yatsushirogu shrine in Yatsushiro, Kumamoto Prefecture, in August 2017 temporarily stopped accepting all worshippers on the days cruise ships call at a nearby port.

The number of ship calls increased more than sixfold from the previous year to 65, making the precincts as heavily crowded as during the New Year holidays.

Some visitors complained they “cannot feel like paying their respects” at such a bustling place.

Although Yatsushirogu initially tried to accommodate the growing number of foreign visitors by, for example, developing “omikuji” fortunes written in Chinese, the shrine finally decided to close on ship call days.

“We did not want to cause problems for other worshippers,” said Masataka Takehara, 42, a senior priest at Yatsushirogu.

The Yatsushiro city government was embarrassed by the shrine’s decision and called on Yatsushirogu to open its gate.

The city had been working to raise the number of cruise ship calls to revitalize a nearby shopping street. The municipality decided to deploy staff to give warnings to ill-mannered individuals and set up Chinese signs demanding tourists obey the local rules.

Owing to such efforts, Yatsushirogu in January 2018 started accepting cruise ship passengers again.

No major problems have been reported so far because the countermeasures have had an effect. Also, the number of port calls has declined.

“We basically will not refuse anyone who wants to visit the shrine but would like visitors to understand the minimum required manners,” Takehara said.

DISCRIMINATION CONCERNS

But would refusal to serve foreign group travelers constitute discrimination?

According to the Justice Ministry, discriminating against someone based on nationality violates the Constitution and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

In 2005, a ruling was finalized, ordering an onsen facility in Otaru, Hokkaido, to pay compensation for refusing to allow a naturalized Japanese citizen who was born in the United States to take a bath because of his appearance.

But according to a ministry official, non-Japanese people who are denied entry to a place would have to report to the ministry to determine if the policy constitutes a human rights violation.

“It would be difficult for visiting tourists to file complaints,” the official said.

Noriko Matsunaga, a professor of the study on education in multicultural society at Kyushu University’s Graduate School of Social and Cultural Studies, said that refusing groups of overseas tourists should not be called discrimination if individual travelers from abroad are still allowed in.

However, Matsunaga, who cited cultural differences as the cause of the problems, expressed concerns about a possible spread of xenophobia in the nation.

“If people lose their desire to welcome those from abroad, the trend could gain momentum throughout Japan,” Matsunaga said. “What is important is enhancing mutual cultural understanding in line with the central government’s policy to welcome foreign tourists.”

The government, which aims to raise the number of foreign visitors to Japan to 40 million by 2020, began a survey in October asking tourist spots about the problems they face.

Takao Ikado, an associate professor of tourism management at the Takasaki City University of Economics, pointed out that Japanese travelers were criticized for their bad manners overseas in the past.

“Those who just started traveling abroad thanks to economic growth and increasing incomes lack knowledge on different cultures,” Ikado said. “The central and local governments should make active efforts to make people abroad understand the rules that should be abided by in Japan, such as keeping silent in certain occasions and paying attention to cleanness.”

(This article was written by Mayuri Ito and Takuya Miyano.)