A new ban and associated fine is being implemented in Kyoto, as the effects of tourism and social media image culture have converged to spoil the mood in the city’s Gion District, where the beautifully dressed female performers — anglicized as “geisha” but known locally as geiko — and their maiko apprentices perform elaborate and traditional entertainments in eateries, including high-end kaiseki dinners. The ban, implemented in the wake of complaints by the district’s home and business owners, includes a fine of up to 10,000 yen (~$91.90), and prohibits photo-taking on private roads, like those in the Gion District. As reported by the Guardian, 300 surveyed restaurants and shops in the area complained of littering, smoking, blocking traffic and trespassing by tourists in the area. The survey included claims of witnessing tourists surround taxis carrying geiko and chasing the women along the street in an attempt to take photographs.
While not legally enforceable, the ban is being publicized around Kyoto and other places in Japan, which are feeling the strain of “tourism pollution” in the wake of a record 31 million people visiting Japan last year — up almost 9% from the previous year, as reported by Taipei Times — due to factors including a weaker yen, the easing of visa requirements, and increasingly cheap flights. With Japan due to host the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, the photo ban represents an effort to get out ahead of what will presumably only be an increase in tourism fatigue.
“Hanamikoji street is a city road, so we can’t prohibit photography there,” Isokazu Ota, a restaurateur and local council leader, quoted in the Asahi Shimbun. “But by prohibiting it in private areas, we would like tourists to know that taking pictures in such areas goes against the local rules.” In addition to signage and handing out bookmarks and stickers carrying reminders in English and Chinese about proper behavior, Kyoto city officials have introduced a smartphone app in a pilot phase, that delivers a message in Chinese and English to visitors as they arrive within 1km of Gion, requesting that they not take pictures of geisha without permission, touch lanterns and sit on bamboo fences, or stop in the middle of the road.
It is important to remember that, while tourism is an economic boon, it comes at the cost of annoyance and inconvenience to the people trying to conduct lives and businesses in the places they live. It’s also important to remember that mediated experiences come at an atmospheric and personal cost. If the grace of geisha is not enough on its own to remind you to slow down and savor the fleeting and ephemeral beauty of the present moment, perhaps an avalanche of reminders will help everyone behave themselves and preserve the miyabi.