Tourists Strike Again as Photography Banned in Kyoto, Japan

Tourists Strike Again as Photography Banned in Kyoto, Japan

Disrespectful tourists and the destruction they leave in their inconsiderate wake have struck again as the most famous district in Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan and home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, has banned photography in most areas.

If you've long held dreams of visiting the jewel in the crown of traditional Japan to take images of geisha and maiko (training geisha) in old-style kimono elegantly walking the quiet, gorgeously lit cobble stone streets then you might want to rethink your plans. As NHK and Japan Today report, the district of Gion, in Kyoto, where almost all of the images you see online are taken, has banned all photography on its streets except for a few major, central thoroughfares. This is not a knee-jerk reaction by any means as residents, shopkeepers, and traditionalists have been forlornly fighting for years to educate tourists on how to behave in this quaint old town that's a throwback to a bygone era. Unfortunately, tourists have not heeded warnings, or read freely distributed handouts or infographics on how to behave respectfully. Or they have read them but simply ignored them. Well, it's all come to a sad, grinding halt for photographers. If you are found taking photos in any of the banned areas you will be issued a fine. Apparently, aerial surveillance will also be employed. 

This comes on the back of Uluru, the famous giant rock in central Australia (formerly known as Ayer's Rock) officially banning all climbing as of late October. With news that the ban was being officially enforced, climber numbers spiked. What's incredible is that people interviewed on the last days before the ban came into force said they knew it was disrespectful but climbed it anyway, or they couldn't see what the problem was. Is this a symptom of the modern day "me first" mentality, particularly as people document their lives through social media? And are these ever increasing bans just a manifestation of these symptoms? I'd love to hear your thoughts below. Regardless, Kyoto will not be as photographically accessible or attractive as it once was thanks to tourist behavior. Of that we cannot dispute. 

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26 Comments

Robert K Baggs's picture

It's such a beautiful and singular place that was wonderful to photography, but it's hard to blame them. The Japanese are the most tidy, respectful, and kind people I've met and some tourists just don't take the care that is expected.

Iain Stanley's picture

Can’t really single out any particular group either. Everyone wants their Kodak moment (on Instagram)

William Semeraro's picture

アースナップ!

Iain Stanley's picture

インディード!

revo nevo's picture

I was at one of our national parks the other day and there were a lot of idiots stepping were they should not (and those places were clearly marked)

Iain Stanley's picture

Everywhere you go unfortunately, people think they can do whatever they want. Especially when it comes to nature and photography

Maybe I'm weird, but I've always been a rule follower. Tell me not to go somewhere, I don't, don't photograph, I don't, stay on the path, I do, don't eat Tide pods, I don't... It feels rather recent, maybe last 15 years or so that now restrictions / rules are more like dares. How many times have you been in a museum and they say very clearly "No Photos" and everyone is shooting pictures... What is wrong with people?

Iain Stanley's picture

It’s funny, coz having lived in Japan for 15 years the people/culture/societal behaviours have completely won me over and transformed me. Now I am a very observant rule follower and live in constant shock when I return to Australia with my family

Jozef Povazan's picture

I like it. Have been in Japan and will be going back there again. I simply agree with their decision and if you know how respectful and polite their culture is then you know they simply had enough of it. Btw if you think about arrogant people and what it brings to certain places around the world, just look at Thailand and what became from peaceful places such Ko Phi Phi and other smaller beach locations. A messy noisy drunk stations where local people can not even sleep at any night from 365 days due to rumbling DJs at beaches partying crowds of wasted people and do not look for respect anywhere close around there... Great Kyoto officials, now enforce the fines hard on it ! Happy shooting everyone.

Iain Stanley's picture

I partied it up as a young 20 y.o in Ko Phi Phi and Ko Phan Ngan and Ko Samui when I was backpacking through S.E.Asia. Nightmare to live there but on the flip side, I bet many local families have made a pretty penny from tourism that other Thais must envy....

I grew up in a country which makes most of its budget from tourism. Those of us who did not live in the tourist areas were not in the least bit envious; we were glad!

Yes, the country needs tourists, but they are a “necessary evil,” not a saviour of all mankind.

Gion-Andri Derungs's picture

Cool I have a district in Japan. I didn't know! ;)

dred lew's picture

“...the district of Gion, in Kyoto, where almost all of the images you see online are taken...”

Well, that’s incorrect. Some of the most famous places in Kyoto are outside of the city. Places like the Golden Temple, the Red Gates and especially the Bamboo Forest are not even in Kyoto itself but in the surrounding areas/cities. It’s considered the metropolitan area of Kyoto.

Anyways, Gion is just a small district in the heart of Kyoto city and it’s mostly famous because you see actual geishas and maikos (geisha apprentices) go about their business there. Increasingly, literal mobs of (what appeared to be mostly Chinese) tourists have been stalking them just to get that selfie for the Gram. Clearly not ok. Some tourists supposedly also entered private residences/businesses just for a snap. Also not ok.

Banning photography OTOH is silly too. They have to find a middle ground, especially when Japan is actively soliciting more tourism. Certain places just have a limit on how many ppl can fit in one spot. And that’s a global problem, not just in Japan. Maybe it’s time for appointment-based tourist spots that have capacity limits for any given day. It’s certainly inconvenient but something has to give. It’s only going to get worse otherwise.

Tony Clark's picture

I spent seven months between Tokyo and Osaka many years ago. I found they respected all things there and rarely saw litter except for flyers that were handed out around train stations. These days, the "me first mentality" has ruined it for those that follow the "us mentality". Like politics, the pendulum will swing the other way and historic sites will be protected strictly until people can demonstrate that they can be trusted. It's like the selfie stick people that fall to their deaths by leaning over railings and ledges, you simply cannot protect people from themselves.

Here are three shots from Japan in the '90's with a disposable film camera. I imagine that they will have limited access in the future. I would never imagine that anyone would jump the hedges and walk on the grass around the Temple at Nara. Those lakes and waterfalls around Mt. Fuji are thought to have mystic qualities by the locals.

Iain Stanley's picture

Japan is getting more and more popular and so many more domestic routes are opening up. I’m torn between wondering if this is good or bad......great shots too

Steven Hille's picture

Very sad, Kyoto has many area that are photo worthy, especially up in the foothills too. Picture taken up behind the Inari Shrine in the foothills.

The "no one told me I couldn't" crowd makes me crazy angry. Let's take a flower bed for example. I know not to step into it or walk in it so i don't. But if there are no official staff to tell you not to (signs don't count) then it's ok for these people to damage and ruin things for everyone. No one told me i couldn't sit on top of this plastic trash bin so when it collapsed i threatened to sue. No one told me i couldn't walk on this handrail and when it broke and i fell off i threatened to sue. I guess common sense is a thing of the past.

Tatami 53's picture

People are inconsiderate, obnoxious pigs. They think rules don't apply to them. They only respect something if it is directly connected to what they get out of it. I'm glad Kyoto banned photos of this area. Some things should be looked at, cherished, remembered, internalized. Not for this generation. Trampling over everything, oblivious to all rules and requests, just complete disregard for everything. I hope the Japanese are very kibishii (severe) in dealing with those who ignore this rule. Maybe then people will get the message.

But sadly, there will always be one you-know-what who doesn't think the rule applies to him (or her, but let's face it -- usually him).

I hope he will enjoy paying his fine and being banned from ever returning.

I wish they would implement this ban in other places in Japan as well. I am an American. I have lived in Tokyo for 25 years and I have seen the erosion of all forms of manners and social graces. Especially young people, who, for some reason, don't think rules apply to them.

The article doesn't explain why pictures are prohibited. I was just there, took pictures, and didn't know it was inappropriate.

Also, clearly there is a difference between taking a picture and climbing a rock (risk of injury - damage to area around the rock) or into areas where the environment, foliage, etc. are being protected for all to see and taking a picture.

Not to say that it is the tourists' decision as to whether to comply, but little more information here as to why pictures are inappropriate would be helpful (cultural, religious, distracting to geishas...what?)

Wait, I’m sorry: JAPAN banned photographers? The country with the highest number of annoying photographer tourists that there is? Who take pictures everywhere? Even when it’s inappropriate or blocks others from passing by? That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. We should ban Japanese tourists in response.

Euron G's picture

Please don't confuse Japanese tourists with whoever you think look like Japanese tourists. If you knew anything about Japan, you'd immediately know that Japanese people would absolutely not behave in such a way.

Kevin Harding's picture

Yeah that answer is beyond wrong. Before Chinese tourists took over the world it was the Japanese .. and that's where all those memes originated.

Though more than likely most poorly behaved East Asian looking tourists today are Chinese simply because of the vast numbers of Chinese tourists. Oh and I have lived in China, with my Chinese wife, for the past 24 years.

Claire Whitehead's picture

One thing I would like to point out is that Japan has a HUGE amount of photography enthusiasts.
People assume it's all foreigners who are responsible for this rule. The majority of tourists in many of these area of just other Japanese people.

Iain Stanley's picture

Which of “these areas” are you talking about? This is about Gion, in Kyoto. And the majority of people who have caused problems in Gion are not Japanese, hence the pamphlets and inforgraphics on behavioural and cultural expectations that have been printed and distributed free for a number of years in several languages.

Kevin Harding's picture

Agree with Dred Lew below/above. We are going back to Kyoto (and Gion) for our second time at the end of November (for the Autumn colours) and look forward to seeing people in traditional dress at the various temples (these are actually people who have hired the dress for a few hours/days and will often happily pose if asked nicely and respectfully - not whilst taking their own photos). They make a wonderful addition to the illusion of 'real or ancient Japan'.

Officials know what the tourists, that the authorities are going to great efforts to attract, want to photograph so by all means have a ban for accosting geishas (there are actually only about 100 left is seems) and maikos (apprentices) in the street (and this is the issue, not people photographing Gion itself, which actually needs the tourists).

However why does the city not employ people to dress up in traditional dress and pose with tourists (for a small price that people won't object to) ? For the vast majority that is all they want. Employment for young people and happy tourists whilst traditional geishas/maikos are not harassed.

There has to be middle ground, the city wants the tourists but needs to cater to the demands of your average modern tourist. Otherwise you end up like HK, they hate the tourists but want, and can't exist without, their massive contribution to their economy.

The biggest problem are those so called "influencers" on instagram. Not only in Japan but everywhere. Zero respect for no one and nothing.