Locals anguish and sigh over growing ‘tourism pollution’
The negative effects of “tourism pollution” are becoming increasingly serious in Japan, where the number of foreign tourists has increased dramatically since the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recently, media outlets have been competing with each other to highlight the harmful effects of so-called “overtourism,” a phenomenon in which the lives of local residents are infringed upon by more tourists than can be accommodated.
On the 7th of this month, “Gendai Business” detailed the reality of overtourism, which has gone beyond the level of “inconvenience” and “nuisance” and has begun to adversely affect the basic livelihoods of residents, including rising real estate and living costs.
The article is titled “‘Funeral photography’, ‘cigarette butts on maiko’s lapels’…Nightmarish ‘tourist pollution’ spreading across the country…Kyoto residents say, ‘No more tourists!’메이저놀이터“.
Gassho-zukuri, a traditional house in Shirakawa Hapjang Village at the foot of Mount Hakusan in northwestern Gifu Prefecture, Japan. A gassho-zukuri is a traditional house with a roof made of a grass called kaya, which resembles a mugwort, and the roof is said to look like a loincloth, hence the name Hapjang Village.2018.7.10 Yonhap News Agency
The article introduced the case of Shirakawa-go in Gifu Prefecture, which was listed as a World Heritage Site in 1995 as a village of “gassho-zukuri” (a Japanese architectural style with unique roofs to prevent snow damage).
“Some foreign tourists mistake funerals held at temples and other places for festivals, pressing the shutter of their cameras repeatedly until the coffins of the dead appear before their eyes.”
Guidance on “defecating in designated areas” and “taking home trash
A manners guide distributed by the Shirakawa-go Tourism Association lists warnings such as “relieve yourself in a designated area,” “take your trash with you,” and “no fireworks.
Reporter Kim Tae-gyun at Deer Park in Nara City, Nara Prefecture, Japan
An official from the Shirakawa-go Tourism Association said, “There have been cases where foreign tourists have been driving rental cars from neighboring Kanazawa City, causing traffic jams and inconvenience to local residents.”
The explosion in tourist demand has also pushed up accommodation prices.
In the capital Tokyo, the average hotel room cost 21,587 yen from January to March this year, up 3,175 yen (17.2%) from 2019, according to a U.S. research firm.
“The surge in hotel prices has made it more expensive for local residents to travel to Tokyo, as well as for business travelers to Tokyo, which has hindered business activities,” Gendai Business reported.
Kyoto city center seen from Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto, Japan. Reporter Kim Tae-gyun
“Rising Hotel Rates Increase Business Travel Costs, Hindering Business Activities”
The article also introduced the situation in Kyoto City, which was once ranked as the number one “desirable tourist destination” in the United States.
“In Kyoto, tourists’ bad manners and embarrassing behaviors have been an early problem,” said the reporter from a local media outlet, citing behaviors such as taking unauthorized photos of maiko (young courtesans) and following them around.
“Surveys conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic reported unacceptable cases of damage to maiko, such as tugging on their kimono, tearing the fabric, and sticking cigarette butts in the collar at the nape of their necks,” he said.
Tourists in Kyoto, Japan’s ‘millennial capital’. By Kim Tae-gyun
Residents of tourist destinations are also complaining about the proliferation of guesthouses. In Kyoto, the number of guesthouses has increased to about 2,800. Most of them are converted from old houses or small buildings and are located in residential areas.
“You can hear the sound of lugging suitcases at all hours of the day and night, and the restaurants around the guesthouses are often so crowded with tourists that they are not available to locals.”
In particular, restaurants in areas such as Fushimi Inari Shrine and Kiyomizu-dera, where tourists are concentrated, suffer from extreme overcrowding.
Shinsekai Hondori shopping street, a typical tourist destination in Osaka, Japan. By Kim Tae-gyun
“Kyoto has a well-developed bus network, but the buses connecting tourist spots, the center of the city, and residential areas are crowded with foreigners with suitcases, causing great inconvenience to local residents. Even if they try to increase the number of buses, there are not enough operators or parking lots. Taxis are also hard to come by, hindering the mobility of the elderly who must use them.”
Local residents “don’t want any more tourists to come”
“As Kyoto’s scarce land is increasingly being used for hotels, the price of private homes is skyrocketing, and real estate prices are also rising,” said the article. “In central areas such as Karasuma-Oike and Shijo, even second-hand apartments can cost more than 5 million yen per square meter.”
“As a result, even people with modest incomes are having to go outside of Kyoto or to neighboring Shiga Prefecture to buy a home. Kyoto’s population decline has been ranked first in Japan for two consecutive years.”
Near Shimbashi Station in Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan. Reporter Kim Tae-gyun
“As the negative impact on civic life becomes more serious, there is a growing chorus of voices in Kyoto saying, ‘We don’t want any more tourists,'” said Jiro Nakai, a lecturer (sociology) at Bunkyo University. “Local governments are also turning their attention to how to curb the number of tourists.”