Home » ‘Completely cut off’: Aussies warned amid Japan’s new tourist ban

‘Completely cut off’: Aussies warned amid Japan’s new tourist ban

There are major changes being made to sightseeing at one of Japan’s most popular tourism spots.

Tourists are being banned from entering certain alleys in Gion, the famous geisha district in Kyoto, with Aussie travellers warned to take note.

Local residents had become fed-up with hordes of tourists, saying their neighbourhood “is not a theme park,” pleading with the city to take action.

Reported incidents of unruly tourists include a maiko’s kimono being torn and another having cigarette butt put in her collar. A maiko is an apprentice geisha.

“We don’t want to do this, but we’re desperate,” said Isokazu Ota, an executive member of a Gion residents’ council, comparing tourists who crowd around geisha emerging from the narrow alleys to “paparazzi”.

Tourists will be told not to enter narrow private streets in Gion, where geisha work in teahouses, from this month.

Brett Mitchell, ANZ managing director of Melbourne-based company Intrepid Travel, told news.com.au: “Under the new rules, the small alleyways in the historic district will be completely cut off for tourists, and several restaurants and teahouses will only serve the geisha, their clients, and local residents.”

Geisha, which are known locally as geiko, perform traditional Japanese dance, music and games. They are recognised by their formal kimonos, white face make-up and hair styled in an elaborate bun.

Mr Mitchell said the change was likely to affect thousands of Aussie tourists who visit the popular city of Kyoto. Intrepid runs 15 tours across Japan, with all bar one including Kyoto.

“We recommend that Aussie travellers planning trips to Japan, or who have one already booked, particularly to Kyoto, anticipate several changes and make sure they are across all rules before heading there and be flexible with itineraries,” he said.

Aussies – who will still have access to the district’s main street, Hanamikoji Street – are warned to be aware of the streets they are and are not allowed access to and respect the personal space of geisha, “especially when it comes to selfie requests”.

Back in 2019 signs were put up banning photography in the private alleys, warning of fines of up to 10,000 yen ($100).

InsideJapan co-founder Alastair Donnelly, whose company offers small group tours and bespoke self-guided cultural adventures, told news.com.au the move follows not only reports of bad behaviour, but the negative impact of the post-pandemic tourism boom.

Japan’s popularity among Australian travellers has soared, surpassing the wildly popular Indonesian island of Bali in some travel industry rankings.

Mr Donnelly said at this stage it was unclear how the ban would be policed but encourages travellers to be aware and take note of local cultural etiquette.

“We encourage visitors to pay attention to signs indicating restrictions on private property or taking photos, and respect those,” he said. “Kyoto even has its own ‘code of behaviour‘ for tourists to bear in mind.

“Beyond this, learning some simple greetings and basic Japanese phrases also goes a long way towards demonstrating a desire to participate in the culture and not just observe.”

Mr Donnelly said there were many districts worth visiting in Kyoto that do not attract the same huge crowds at a singular time as those that congregate in Gion.

“Visitors may consider whether it is worth spending the extra for a private tea ceremony experience or evening drinks with a maiko (apprentice geisha) in attendance, rather than joining the throngs at dusk who pack the streets of Gion,” he said.

“A less expensive option in spring and autumn is to plan your visit to coincide with the geisha dances. This is a spectacular performance with scores of maiko taking part.

“It is a longstanding part of the Kyoto calendar and to join is to participate in a little slice of Kyoto geisha life.”