KYOTO – Tourist destinations are struggling for ways to ask tourists to stop eating while walking without offending them.
One such place is Nishiki Market, which for over 400 years has been known as the kitchen of Kyoto. The municipal government estimates that around 30 percent of all foreign tourists in Kyoto in 2017 visited the market and its more than 120 stores selling kyōyasai (heirloom vegetables), fresh fish or pickled vegetables.
In recent years, many shops have been selling foods that are easy to eat while walking, such as fried food on skewers, in line with the increase in foreign travelers, according to the market association.
However, litter has now become common on the narrow street. Also, concern has grown that in crowded conditions pedestrians risk getting injured by sharp food sticks carried by others.
In a bid to address these problems, the association has asked stores since last October to display signs saying “No eating while walking” in Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean.
Since the market association doesn’t want to drive tourists away, for now it is asking them to cooperate rather than outright banning the practice. On its website, the association calls on people to eat their food at the shop where it was purchased.
A recent visitor, Karen Choi, 39, of Canada, appeared surprised at how crowded the market was. She expressed understanding toward the association’s efforts.
Michelle Wang, 30, visiting from China, defended eating and walking, saying it helps people enjoy the market’s atmosphere.
“We want to keep protecting the traditions of the market while showing care for foreign travelers. We want visitors to return home without any trouble,” said Katsumi Utsu, 81, president of the association.
Another area where this has been a concern is Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture. Its Komachi-dori, a 360-meter-long street lined with eateries and shops, is visited by 50,000 to 60,000 tourists a day.
The city introduced an ordinance in April aimed at improving street manners. While stopping short of stipulating penalties, the ordinance describes eating while walking in crowded areas as a public nuisance that can ruin other peoples’ clothes.
“We can’t ban the act of eating while walking,” as this is one of the ways to enjoy sightseeing, said Norikazu Takahashi, 76, president of the store association . “We want to make the street a place where both travelers and residents can feel good.”