Reader Mail

The negative side of Kyoto tourism

As a long-term foreign resident of Kyoto, I read the View from Osaka column “Four Kansai issues stirring up Upper House election” (July 21) with great interest.

Mass tourism, of course, is becoming more and more of a problem worldwide, and is certainly being contributed to by the wide availability of information on social media.

I imagine, however, that some places are slightly better equipped to deal with it than others. If Europeans, for example, visit European spots, then at least there will be some things in common and a little less culture shock on both sides. It is hardly surprising though that when tourists from all over the world invade a small and very conservative city like Kyoto the local denizens will begin to feel overwhelmed, and the famous Japanese omotenashi (hospitality) will start becoming frayed at the edges.

Having lived in Kyoto for more than 40 years, I remember, until fairly recently, a much more peaceful and comfortable city to live in; as long as one made the considerable effort needed to try to fit in and learn about not only Japanese culture but also the rather unique culture and traditions of Kyoto.

Forty years ago, Japan’s image abroad was of a place at the very ends of the Earth, hard and costly to get to, and expensive and difficult to travel in if you ever got there, partly because of the huge language barrier. Along with the efforts of the national government to change that image, Kyoto is one of the places that has tried hard to make tourism cheaper and easier, with shops putting out signs in English to entice the visitors in, hiring English-speaking staff (ironically finally giving the Japanese a real motivation for learning English!) and preparing English menus, etc.

Unfortunately, while local businesses may be making a bonanza out of the foreigners, the often boorish manners of foreign visitors as described in this column is increasingly angering and frustrating ordinary residents (including myself), who generally speaking seem to be gaining very little actual benefit from tourism.

One other downside is that it seems every time one goes downtown, yet another hotel has sprung up almost overnight, often replacing old and lovely shops that actually served the local community. Meanwhile, the old shops that remain, selling traditional items, try to attract foreign custom by offering cheap and tawdry souvenir items. The city has even gone to the extent of spending huge sums of money widening footpaths (and consequently narrowing the road) for the convenience of shoppers, with the undesired effect of creating traffic jams.

The column ends with the vague statement that “addressing tourism-related problems requires local and national policies and funding.” In my opinion, and the opinion of many of the denizens of this still, for the time being, wonderful city, these huge problems need to be seriously discussed at all levels and urgently addressed before, again, as described in the article, “the ancient capital’s reputation starts getting worse, not better.”

JOHN RYDER
KYOTO

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.