National

Kyoto works to disperse crowds amid fears of ‘overtourism’

Kyodo

The city of Kyoto, one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, is aiming to attract travelers to lesser-known spots to ease “overtourism” that has increased complaints among both visitors and locals.

Having been rated highly in foreign travel magazine polls, the number of visitors to Kyoto has topped the 50 million mark for five consecutive years since 2013.

Tourists from overseas flock to famous destinations such as the districts of Arashiyama and Gion, and Kiyomizu Temple.

But a city survey in 2017 found that 46 percent of domestic travelers had negative experiences during their stay, with congestion cited as the biggest reason.

During the peak sightseeing season people sometimes find it difficult to board overcrowded buses, and congestion in many parts of the city has started affecting the lives of local residents.

Among the popular sights is Fushimi Inari Taisha, located in the southern part of the city. The Shinto shrine, known for its around 10,000 vermilion torii gateways, is almost always crowded with travelers hoping to shoot scenic photos. In the Fushimi district, where the shrine is located, tourists can also find a host of sake breweries in an old area that has preserved a historic townscape from the end of the Edo Period (1603-1868), though it is less well known.

The site is near Fushimi Momoyama Station — five stops in the direction of Osaka from Fushimi Inari Station, the nearest station to the shrine, on the Keihan main line. The Fushimi district boasts natural springs and more than 20 breweries are concentrated there. At dining bar Fushimi Sakagura Koji, which keeps a stock of more than 100 kinds of sake brewed in the district, events are held where visitors can hear master sake brewers explain the history and the manufacturing process of the beverage. Takahiko Hayashi, a manager of the company running the dining bar, said, “We want to boost the profile of (the area) as a town of sake.”

Hayashi hopes that “visitors to the shrine can come a little further to our place, too.”

Meanwhile, the Ohara district in northern Kyoto — known for the Jakko-in and Sanzen-in temples — is struggling to revitalize. The area was once ranked as the city’s top destination in a survey in the 1970s.

Since the mid-1990s, the district has failed to attract the same numbers as fewer people use their own cars to visit the area. From Kyoto Station, only two or three buses are available each hour.

Although acknowledging the challenges, a city official said the district has big potential and that “we can improve accessibility by combining rail and other systems, and hope to draw more tourists again by finding creative ways to attract them.”