Overcrowded site and packed buses main complaints of Kyoto tourists as visits hit record levels

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

The city of Kyoto once again saw record levels of tourists in 2017, with 15.57 million foreign and Japanese visitors spending at least one night in the former capital, city officials said Wednesday.

But both foreign and domestic visitors continued to complain about overcrowded tourist sites and traffic jams, while an increasing number of Japanese said the bad manners of foreign tourists on the streets and on buses and subways was a negative aspect of their trip there, according to the city.

The total number of visitors to Kyoto last year, including overnight visitors and day trippers, was 53.6 million, a 2.9 percent decrease compared to 2016. Foreign visitors spending at least one night at registered Kyoto hotels and inns accounted for 3.53 million of that total, up 11 percent from 2016.

Visitors from Asia accounted for 58.8 percent of foreign tourists who stayed in Kyoto in 2017, while 17.1 percent came from Europe and 10.9 percent were from North America.

Overall, 84.8 percent of foreign visitors to Japan in 2017 were from Asia, while only 3.7 percent were from Europe and 5.9 percent from North America.

The city also estimates that 1.1 million people stayed in unlicensed minpaku (private lodging) in 2017. Kyoto enacted some of the country’s strictest local ordinances regarding minpaku operations in June after years of complaints from local residents about piled up garbage on the streets and nighttime noise as the result of houses and apartments in residential neighborhoods being rented out to tourists.

The total amount of money spent by tourists in Kyoto topped ¥1.2 trillion in 2017, with foreign tourists accounting for about ¥263 billion of that amount, the survey showed.

The city survey showed that over 90 percent of both foreign and Japanese tourists expressed some level of satisfaction toward their Kyoto experience.

However, 17.1 percent of domestic tourists said Kyoto was overcrowded and difficult to navigate, while 14 percent said the manners of foreign tourists left something to be desired.

Regarding foreign tourists, 26.8 percent of those surveyed said they regretted not being able to spend more time exploring the city, and 14.2 percent said Kyoto’s transportation system was complicated and that buses were often overcrowded and impossible to board.

Another 12 percent also complained that many temples and shrines they wanted to visit were under construction or had closed early on the day they planned to go.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Mayor Daisaku Kadokawa said the city will look into complaints about overcrowded city buses and explore ways in which to make boarding and exiting a smoother process.