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How Tourists Made Japan Put Its Foot Down

Tourism is a big factor in the Japanese economy but what happens when tourists take it too far?

Tokyo City viewed from high up at sunset, Japan
Credit: Shutterstock/ Stockbym

Tourists in Japan continue to break rules even after blockades and signs have been put up to deter their bad behaviour.

People who love to travel almost always have a bucket list of places they want to visit. Japan typically makes these lists for several reasons, from the blooming of its famed cherry blossom trees to its rich history.

An estimated 25 million tourists visited Japan last year, and predictions for 2024 are even higher. With that many people entering the country, there are bound to be disruptions, but the current degree is unacceptable.

So what has been going on? Well, Japan has been forced to implement various new rules to combat overtourism in certain parts of the country.

Locals and government officials alike can no longer ignore the behavior of some tourists.

What Have The Tourists Been Doing?

Woman carries luggage at the airport terminal.
Japan sees many tourists each year. Credit: Shutterstock/Shine Nucha

When travelling, it is important to understand that countries have different expectations and cultural norms. Japan in particular is a country that cherishes its culture, from historical temples and shrines to the bustling streets of the Geisha district.

However, the actions of some tourists have continuously disrespected Japan’s cultural norms. Common transgressions include littering, trespassing on private property, and breaking traffic rules by illegal parking or walking onto busy roads. A few of these actions can be chalked up to a lack of knowledge about the culture.

”A big part of (disrespecting the rules) would definitely be because of ignorance…But I also do think that if one wants to travel to another country, they should’ve done certain research on how to behave as a sign of respect. Especially since technology nowadays provides such an easy access.”

Anki Lee via questionnaire

When speaking with people who have visited Japan, the consensus is that the locals are generally very understanding when you make mistakes. But it seems enough is enough.

Blocking Mt. Fuji

Mt. Fuji in Japan.
Mt. Fuji is a popular tourist destination. Credit: Shutterstock/Plyparon.studio

Fuji City and Fujikawaguchiko have both put up fences to obstruct the view of Mount Fuji and discourage disruptive behavior from tourists.

Fuji City initially introduced signs and security guards to help control the crowds flocking to the area. When that failed, they were forced to erect a temporary fence.

The increase in Fuji City tourists has been attributed to viral photos and videos shot on the crosswalk.

Within a week of the fence being built in Fujikawaguchiko, tourists had already poked holes into the mesh. In order to obtain the perfect photo of Mt. Fuji, these tourists have strayed onto busy roads, disrupted traffic, and trespassed on private property.

Their actions cannot be justified by ignorance of rules or culture.

”Many posts on social media, from videos on Youtube to posts on Instagram often disrespect the culture for attention, or the user being very self-centred and it’s often downright rude. It can be offensive to the locals who are always so welcoming, and that’s honestly awful.”

Robbie Thiemann via questionnaire

New rules have been implemented to limit the number of people who can climb Mount Fuji per day to 4000.

This follows non-stop littering, overcrowding, and ‘bullet climbing’ the mountain. ‘Bullet climbing’ refers to the action of rushing to the summit without sleep. This increases the risk of fatigue, which can endanger both the individuals doing it and those around them.

Geisha District Banning Tourists

Portrait of a Maiko geisha in Gion Kyoto
Portrait of a Maiko geisha in Gion Kyoto. Credit: Shutterstock/Juri Pozzi

One of the biggest shocks was Japan’s decision to ban tourists from the iconic Geisha District of Gion in Kyoto.

Gion is home to traditional geiko and maiko entertainers who take appointments at picturesque teahouses. However, tourists have frequently approached these entertainers with their phones to capture photos or videos.

There are clear signs that ask visitors to keep their distance and refrain from touching the expensive kimonos. Previous signs have even mandated fines if the geisha women are photographed without consent.

But with government officials growing ”desperate,’‘ they have no other choice but to deny tourists access to those streets.

The Role Of Social Media

Japanese Geisha at Higashi-Chaya-gai - Geisha District in Kanazawa, Japan.
Japanese Geisha walking down Higashi-Chaya-gai – Geisha District. Credit: Shutterstock/cowardlion

Social media continues to be the driving force behind many of the issues.

I’ve mentioned previously that social media dictates the latest trends, whether that be fashion, travel, or new activities. In fact, what started the overcrowding at Fuji City was a viral photo on social media, which created the next trend for picturesque photos.

On my personal social media, I have seen a dramatic increase in content surrounding that iconic crosswalk. Many influencers have taken photos at the crosswalk or posted directions on how to get there. This has resulted in an influx of tourists going to that area just for the photo.

The Lawson convenience store, located in Fujikawaguchiko, is also a hub for tourists to snag photos of the mountain.

Yamanashi, Japan - April 10, 2023 - Lawson Kawaguchiko Station with Mount Fuji in the background.
Mt Fuji behind the famous Lawson convenience store. Credit: Shutterstock/iMoStudio

Wanting the perfect photo for social media is not a bad thing, as it helps tourists share beautiful memories with friends and family. However, problems arise when the pursuit of such photos results in broken rules.

Locals of Fuji City and Fujikawaguchiko have complained about the noise, the litter, and the traffic caused by tourists. All of these issues can be resolved if tourists are willing to learn and better themselves, but this is easier said than done.

The Future of Travel

Airport runway lights at night, plane or airplane landing to airstrip.
Aeroplane descending while the sun sets. Credit: Shutterstock/Dogora Sun

Travel has almost fully recovered since the pandemic; however, reports of bad behaviour from tourists are on the rise.

In Majorca and Ibiza, new bans have been implemented to prevent tourists from drinking in the streets.

Depending on how successful the bans in Japan and other countries are, we may see a new age of travel — one that restricts tourists because of their refusal to change.

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