Japan’s tourism surge has disappointed some residents

On two recent occasions, a foreign tourist walked into Shoji Matsumoto’s barber shop, through the front door that creaked more than half open, wanting a haircut.

One is Italian, the other is English. Mr. Matsumoto, who is 75 years old and does not speak their language, did not know what to say to them. He picked up the scissors and began cutting, hoping that his decades of experience would help him get through the difficult encounters.

Tourists, partly motivated by A weak yen makes their money go further in Japan, have poured into the country since it eased coronavirus-related entry restrictions in 2022. Some officials, including Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, have raised concerns about the situation. overtourism. In March, there were more than three million international arrivals, a monthly record and an increase of more than 10% compared to March 2019.

Nearly two-thirds of international visitors come from Korea, Taiwan and China. Last year, spending from foreign tourists accounted for about 9% of Japan’s gross domestic product.

Popular sites in cities like Kyoto, the ancient imperial capital of Japan, feels increasingly unmanageable. Tourists are flooding into places that previously had no tourists, like small towns near Mount Fuji or the business district in Kyoto where Mr. Matsumoto cuts his hair.

“In the past, it was normal to see tourists in some spots,” Mr. Matsumoto said from a low chair in his barber shop on a recent Saturday. “But now, they are spreading to random and unexpected places.”

That influx is testing the patience of a generally polite society.

In Kyoto and other heavily visited cities, some residents complain about being overcharged for hotel rooms or being squeezed out of buses and restaurants. Others say tourists sometimes disrespect local customs by chasing geishas to take photos of them or eating while walking, a practice considered rude in Japan.

One day last month, it took Hiroshi Ban six hours – twice as long as usual – to visit Heian Jingu Shrine in Kyoto. Mr. Ban, 65, blamed the delay partly on tourists blocking the bus by counting coins.

Mr. Ban, an event organizer, said: “Every day here is like a carnival.” “We cannot enjoy everyday life in peace.”

Even those who directly benefit from tourism revenue worry that it may be unsustainable.

Hisashi Kobayashi, a taxi driver in Kyoto, said business is so good that taking a day off feels like easy money spent. However, he said, many tourism-related industries are struggling to keep up with demand as they recover from pandemic-era labor shortages.

“When Japanese people come here, they feel like they are in a foreign land because there are so many tourists,” Mr. Kobayashi, 56, added as his taxi approached a bottleneck near a temple. famous temple. “It’s not Kyoto anymore.”

Some rural areas are feeling the strain for the first time. One is Fuji City, about 200 miles east of Kyoto in Shizuoka Prefecture.

After the bridge overlooking Mount Fuji began gaining popularity on social media late last year, the Shizuoka tourism bureau said on Instagram that it is an ideal location for “dreamlike photos”. What hasn’t been said is that the bridge is located in a residential area with no visitor parking, public restrooms or trash cans.

Many visitors littered, parked in driveways and in some cases dodged traffic to take photos from the bridge’s median, residents said in interviews.

Mitsuo Kato, 86, who lives by the bridge, said that during last month’s holiday, about 300 tourists came here every day for four days, lining up to take photos along the street.

“They just park here,” Mr. Kato said outside his home on a recent Sunday, as groups of tourists from South Korea diligently took photos of the clouds obscuring Mount Fuji. “So we had to put up signs.”

Officials across Japan have responded to the tourism surge with varying degrees of effectiveness.

In Fuji city, authorities have built a temporary parking lot for six cars and begun construction on a larger parking lot that can accommodate 15 spaces, said Motohiro Sano, a local tourism official. bowl and has a bathroom.

In neighboring Yamanashi prefecture, officials in the town of Fujikawaguchiko installed a billboard-sized screen last month to discourage tourists from taking photos of the Lawson convenience store. has a blue awning located below the mountain and has become the main topic of social media posts. Screens are now dotted with holes big enough to fit a phone’s camera lens, local media reports. reported.

In Shibuya, a popular area in Tokyo, officials announced plans to ban outdoor drinking at night to limit bad behavior of young people and tourists.

And in Kyoto, where train station signs tell travelers to “mind your manners,” the government began running special buses for tourists this month.

At the city’s Nishiki market, where some residents complained of finding grease stains on their clothes after jostling among crowds of snacking tourists, Yoshino Yamaoka pointed to two signs hanging outside eel restaurants. Her grill.

Both said in English: “Don’t eat while walking.” One has a larger font and its text is underlined in red.

“People didn’t obey it, so I put out this sign in a more stern tone,” Ms. Yamaoka, 63, said of the bolder sign. But she wonders whether her new approach is too harsh.

“Business depends on tourists,” she said.

To avoid crowds on a recent weekend, some tourists visited popular Kyoto spots at sunrise or waited 40 minutes to eat at a popular ramen shop at 11 p.m. Some complained about the congestion they helped create.

“It’s a disaster,” Paul Oostveen, 70, a tourist from the Netherlands, said after leaving Kiyomizu-dera Temple, a popular tourist attraction.

From his empty barbershop, Mr. Matsumoto said he has successfully cut the hair of two foreign customers and he will not turn away others who happen to walk through his door.

But he worries about providing good quality service to customers he can’t understand, he said, and would rather non-Japanese speakers go elsewhere.

Although tourism benefits the country, he added over the radio: “There is a part of me that is not completely satisfied.”


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