Photo/IllutrationTraditional "gassho-zukuri" steep-roofed buildings are lit up in Gifu Prefecture. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Tourists from Japan and overseas are flocking to World Heritage sites in the country, but the attendant noise and traffic congestion are prompting some destinations to draw the line.

The Mozu-Furuichi burial mounds in southern Osaka Prefecture quickly became a favorite tourist destination after it was given UNESCO World Heritage status in July.

The number of visitors to the local Sakai City Museum between July and August tripled from the previous year.

"We want visitors to tour areas related to Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591), (a tea ceremony expert) who hails from Sakai, as well as the kitchen knife industry and other traditional businesses," a museum representative said.

As the keyhole-like shape of the tombs and their arrangement is best seen from above, Sakai city worked with a Tokyo-based organization to offer helicopter flights for sightseers on a three-day weekend in July.

However, the municipality received numerous complaints from residents about the noise from the area around the helicopter landing. As a result, a second sky tour has yet to be organized.

Deteriorated conditions resulting from inclusion in the World Heritage list have been reported around the world as well, prompting the coining of the term "UNESCOcide" in reference to the issue.

After religious facilities in Nara were added to the heritage list, visitors from Japan and overseas started flocking to the area by bus. As they are especially flooded with tourists in the autumn holiday season, Kasuga Taisha shrine and Kofukuji temple decided to limit use of their large parking lots by sightseeing buses.

"There was concern that worshippers wanting to pay respects would be unable to park their vehicles," said a Kofukuji official.

Shirakawago in Gifu Prefecture is a World Heritage site featuring traditional "gassho-zukuri" steep-roofed buildings. However, the picturesque area was disturbed by traffic jams when 7,000 to 8,000 people descended upon the area to view snow-covered buildings illuminated at night.

Last winter, a reservation system was introduced for parking areas during the illumination period, with a limit of only 5,000 people allowed to participate in the lighting event.

Yoshifumi Muneta, a city planning professor at Kyoto Prefectural University who is knowledgeable about tourism policy, noted that it is a matter of course that registration as a World Heritage site leads to increased visitor numbers and can therefore have adverse effects.

"Local officials and residents should work toward developing sustainable tourism promotion measures, such as creating regions and introducing more hotels and restaurants in a manner that makes visitors want to stay there longer (in the periods not immediately after registration and the periods when there are no special events)," said Muneta.