Tourists banned from Kyoto’s Geisha District

Photo courtesy of South China Morning Post

In a bold move to protect Kyoto’s iconic geisha from relentless harassment by tourists, the local council in Gion has decided to ban sightseers from the district’s narrow backstreets.

The decision comes after a surge in appalling incidents where traditional entertainers found themselves accosted and disrespected by unruly visitors.

This move marks the latest effort to safeguard the revered geisha community from the invasive antics of tourists, following a decade-long struggle with escalating visitor numbers and disruptive behaviour. Reports abound of geisha being obstructed, harassed, and even physically assaulted by camera-wielding sightseers eager for a glimpse of traditional Japanese culture.

Despite previous attempts to deter such behaviour, including multilingual signs and nominal fines, enforcement has proven futile. Now, with the resurgence of tourism post-pandemic, concerns are mounting over the potential resurgence of disturbances in Gion’s tranquil streets.

Notably, the ban will exclude the main thoroughfare, Hanamikoji, raising fears of overcrowding in this already popular tourist spot. Experts like Peter Macintosh, a seasoned observer of geisha culture, warn of the looming threat posed by disrespectful visitors, whose actions range from petty nuisances to outright aggression.

Incidents of tourists flicking cigarette ash on geisha, stealing their adornments, or even resorting to bizarre acts of desperation, such as hurling cash and room keys, have underscored the urgent need for intervention. Moreover, it’s not just the geisha who suffer; lanterns are tampered with, private property is trespassed upon, and the serene atmosphere of Gion is shattered by the antics of ill-mannered visitors.

Calls for stricter enforcement, including the establishment of a dedicated tourist police unit, echo through the streets of Kyoto. Yet, despite these pleas, city officials remain hesitant to take decisive action, relying instead on awareness campaigns and sporadic police interventions, reported South China Morning Post.

As Gion braces for this controversial ban, questions linger over its long-term effectiveness in curbing tourist misconduct. With tensions simmering and the delicate balance between tradition and tourism hanging in the balance, one thing is clear: the geisha of Kyoto deserve respect, not exploitation.

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Puntid Tantivangphaisal

Originally from Hong Kong, Puntid moved to Bangkok in 2020 to pursue further studies in translation. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Comparative Literature from the University of Hong Kong. Puntid spent 8 years living in Manchester, UK. Before joining The Thaiger, Puntid has been a freelance translator for 2 years. In her free time, she enjoys swimming and listening to music, as well as writing short fiction and poetry.

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