With the population shrinking and the government leery of allowing more immigrants into the country, foreign tourism has become an effective economic stimulus. In fact, its success has exceeded anyone’s wildest dreams. More than 28 million tourists from abroad visited Japan last year, and it seems for sure that the stated goal of reaching 40 million tourists a year by 2020 will be achieved if not surpassed, with or without legalized casino gambling, which is part of the official tourism plan.
That said, a downside has emerged — something the media is calling “kankō kōgai,” or “tourism pollution.” However effective the tourism promotion scheme has been, it didn’t take into account the numbers that actually materialized, nor the fact that many places, even those ostensibly set up for tourism, are not capable of handling the amount of traffic they’ve seen.
The most referenced example is Kyoto. In an Asahi Shimbun article on April 21, Masaru Takayama, a native of the city and the CEO of an eco-tourism company, said his hometown is practically overrun by overseas tourists these days, and the residents don’t like it, despite the boost to the local economy. People who live along transportation routes that go through sightseeing areas find it difficult to use local buses anymore because they’re crammed with tourists. Restaurants are always booked because of social network hype. And foreign visitors, he states plainly, are often inconsiderate — eating on the street, making too much noise in general. The rush of out-of-towners has destroyed “miyabi” — that refined atmosphere unique to Kyoto. As a result, an increasing number of businesses are no longer offering multilingual service support on their homepages and are being selective when accepting reservations by phone. More to the point, Takayama says that a lot of tourism-related businesses that are “not being run with local money” have set up shop in Kyoto to take advantage of the foreign hordes and their revenue doesn’t benefit people who live there.