The Japanese city of Kyoto has instituted fines for tourists who “harass” geishas in public, after a series of education campaigns and public warnings failed to reduce the number of tourists interrupting the lives of local residents.
The city announced the fines, about US$90 for each infraction, in late October. Leaflets and paper lanterns being handed out to foreign visitors ask tourists to obtain consent from individuals before taking any selfies with, or photos of, a geisha. The leaflets also ask that visitors only approach geishas on public roads, like Kyoto’s Hanamikoji Main Street.
Over the last few years, there have been reports of geishas and geishas-in-training being chased down streets by tourists looking for photographs with them. In some cases, geishas have claimed tourists even attempted to touch their kimonos and distinct wigs.
Tourists often visit Kyoto’s historic Gion-Shinbashi district to photograph kimono-clad geishas walking to traditional teahouses to entertain. The stone-paved alleyways and wooden buildings afford an “Instagram-ready” photo many tourists are too eager to capture, sometimes even entering private property to do so.
To help catch violators of the local ordinance, the city has also installed closed caption television cameras on public streets. In addition, police patrols have been stepped up, and private guards are being stationed at certain private premises to prevent tourists from entering.
The city has been battling the issue for years, as somewhere upwards of 7.5 million foreign tourists visit Kyoto annually, up from a few million just six or seven years ago.
Last fall, the Gion-Shinbashi district formed a “scenery preservation” committee to deal with its popularity. At that time, the group published a memorandum asking tourists to be more respectful.
In 2017, the Kyoto Convention and Visitors Bureau released an “etiquette manual,” which included, among many requests, that tourists not interfere with geishas without their permission, and avoid touching the city’s classic wood frame buildings.
To spread out tourists more, the city also has been promoting six other locations in or around Kyoto, including the Fushimi Inari Shrine.
Kyoto joins a host of international cities and regions attempting to deal with their surging popularity. For example, next year, the City of Venice will institute a tourism tax for day-trip visitors, while Rome has banned sitting on the famed Spanish Steps.