Photo/IllutrationA sign banning photography has been set up on Hanamikoji Street in Kyoto on Oct. 25. (Yoshiko Sato)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

KYOTO--The boorish behavior of tourists who have harassed geisha, destroyed property and committed other obnoxious acts has led to a ban on photography on private roads in Kyoto’s famed Gion district.

Spurred by a flurry of complaints from weary residents and businesses in Kyoto, the Gion district’s council set up warning signs at the entrance of roads running off Hanamikoji Street, saying, “No photography on private road” and “Fine up to 10,000 yen ($92) without photo permit.”

The measure is part of local and central government efforts to deal with problems related to “overtourism” in the ancient capital, particularly in Higashiyama Ward.

Many traditional Japanese restaurants are located on Hanamikoji Street, which runs north-south through the Gion geisha district.

“Geiko” (geisha) and “maiko” (apprentice geisha) entertain guests at some of these establishments in tatami-floored banquet rooms. Some restaurants refuse entry to first-time customers unless they are introduced by a regular.

In recent years, the area has been overrun with tourists, many of whom are unfamiliar with Japanese customs and traditions. Others simply lack common sense and manners.

Residents in Kyoto have long complained about visitors smoking while walking, tossing trash on the streets and walking on streets in groups, blocking the paths of cars.

The district’s council, which consists of residents, sent questionnaires about tourism to about 300 restaurants and shops in the area in summer last year.

The responses were filled with complaints, such as, “The Japanese lantern of my shop was pulled and broken by someone taking pictures” and “A taxi carrying a geiko or maiko was surrounded by tourists, creating a very dangerous situation.”

The photography ban, introduced on Oct. 25, is intended to prevent camera-toting tourists from chasing after geiko and maiko or trespassing on private property.

Although the ban and fine are not legally binding, the intention is to deliver a strong message.

“Because Hanamikoji Street is a city road, we can’t prohibit photography there,” said Isokazu Ota, the 56-year-old owner of a Chinese restaurant who is also a leader of the council. “But by prohibiting it in private areas, we would like tourists to know that taking pictures in such areas goes against the local rules.”

The council on Oct. 25 also started distributing to tourists bookmarks and stickers carrying warnings in English and Chinese about proper behavior.

Students at Kyoto Women’s University and Ryukoku University helped with the design and the distribution.

Overtourism was discussed at the Oct. 25-26 conference of the Group of 20 tourism ministers held in Kutchan, Hokkaido.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism is also taking measures after receiving complaints from Kyoto residents who warned that if tourists’ harassment against geisha and maiko continues, the unique atmosphere of the Gion district will disappear.

The ministry is sending messages to the smartphones of tourists who approach a 1-kilometer radius of the Gion district. If they click the message, they will see a website with detailed warnings written in English and Chinese.

The warnings include: “Don’t take photos of geiko or maiko without permission” and “Don’t touch Japanese lanterns.”

The website informs tourists that they could be fined for infractions, such as entering private property or sitting on “inuyarai” (a short-arched fence).

The message is delivered to smartphones installed with the corresponding app as well as about 5,800 phones provided for free at accommodation facilities in Kyoto.

On weekdays of the test-run, patrol officers who can speak English or Chinese will give warnings if they see unruly behavior in the area.

At Gion Corner in Yasaka Hall, where seven traditional arts are performed, a video asking for good manners is shown before the shows.

The ministry’s Kinki District Transport Bureau started the experiment on Sept. 30 at the beginning of the autumn tourism season. After the experiment ends on Dec. 8, the bureau will analyze the effectiveness of the measure.