'Kanko kogai' (tourism pollution) in Kyoto

Posted on September 2, 2018 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

kyoto

philosopher's path  sakura

The usually tranquil Philosopher's path was full of tourists with selfie sticks during the cherry blossom period

 

I have been warned and I knew when I struggled to find accommodations three months before my trip, yet I still went to Kyoto during the sakura season. It was not my plan to visit Japan during the sakura season, but due to the timing of the indigo dyeing workshop, I reluctantly ended up in Kyoto during its peak season - something I would normally avoid as much as possible. I don't know how the residents cope with the mass tourism during the cherry blossom season, but I totally empathise with them since London also struggles with mass tourism in the summers. These days, mass tourism is having a negative impact on the infrastructure and environment around the world, and governments need to take measures to tackle this modern-day phenomenon to minimise further environmental and other damages.

 

kyoto

dsc_0304-min

dsc_0307-min

sakura

sakura

 

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), around 28.7 million tourists from abroad visited Japan last year, and with the 2020 Olympics coming up, the numbers are likely to surpass 40 million. Some Japanese media even dubbed this issue as 'kanko kogai', or tourism pollution. Even though tourists from around the world flock to Kyoto during the cherry blossom period, the most notable ones are from China. It is hard to ignore the rise of Chinese tourists around the world in the past decade, and Japan is one of the their favourite destinations partly due to the proximity between the two countries. Now more than six million Chinese tourists visit Japan annually, and they are not all welcome by the Japanese because of the differences in etiquette and behaviour. What is worse is when they rent kimonos and roam around Kyoto/Tokyo in non-Japanese manners; it is not hard to understand why the Japanese are secretly rolling their eyes.

 

ginkakuji

ginkakuji

The famous Ginkakuji temple was almost congested at 10am

 

My advice is to avoid Kyoto during the sakura season, because it is unpleasant and stressful. I have previously visited Kyoto during the winter, and it was relatively warm and sunny, with few tourists and better services. After spending days hiking in forests where I saw only trees and few humans, it was like a shock to my system when I arrived in an overcrowded Kyoto. Four days in Kyoto turned out to be a quest to try and get away from crowds and tourists, which was a challenge and it completely tarnished my views on Kyoto. I made a mistake of visiting the Philosopher's path and Ginkakuji (where I visited about 12 years ago) in the morning, and it was completely packed. The cherry blossom was beautiful, but being surrounded by tourists taking selfies with their selfie sticks was hardly tranquil. Previously, when I visited the Philosopher's path in the summer, we were able to stroll and enjoy the sights and shops along the path at a leisurely pace and with few tourists around us. Those were the days...

 

kyoto

kyoto

kyoto

img_9377-min

kyoto

kyoto

Streets of Kyoto

 

Many of us would rather be seen as a traveler than a tourist, but is there a difference between the two terms? I think so. Years ago, I read the novel by American writer, Paul Bowles' 'The Sheltering sky' (and watched the films many times), and the protagonist distinguishes the difference as follows:

'He did not think of himself as a tourist; he was a traveler. The difference is partly one of time, he would explain. Whereas the tourist generally hurries back home at the end of a few weeks or months, the traveler, belonging no more to one place than to the next, moves slowly, over periods of years, from one part of the earth to another. Indeed, he would have found it difficult to tell, among the many places he had lived, precisely where it was he had felt most at home... Another important difference between tourist and traveler is that the former accepts his own civilization without question; not so the traveler, who compares it with the others, and rejects those elements he finds not to his liking.'

According to the above paragraph, a majority of us would be considered as tourists in Paul Bowles' eyes, but this was written in 1949, so I am not sure how many 'travelers' still exist today. I would love to be a traveler and just drift around the world for years, but this lifestyle is probably reserved for the more privileged. Yet the last part of the paragraph seems to imply that travelers are more thoughtful when they travel, and they would question and compare rather than just follow the crowds.

 

kyoto  kyoto

Kyoto at night

 

Personally, I felt that my 5-week journey around Japan was unlike my previous ones, because it revolved around craft and nature. And most of the local people I met during my journey appreciated that I wasn't just there to visit famous sights or to eat and shop. All the artisans and craftsmen I met were very proud of their craftsmanship and traditions, and they welcome visitors who would take the time to try and understand their culture beyond the surface.

Perhaps the definitions of the two term are not that important, the more important point is the attitude and mindset. If we want to be likable tourists/travelers, we have to respect other cultures and etiquette when we are there. Let's all try to be responsible tourists/ travelers from now on.

 

kyoto

dsc_0300-min

dsc_0299

 

 

Save


This post was posted in Travel, Nature, Social issues, Anything Japanese, Kyoto, Japan, Mass tourism and was tagged with nature, Kyoto, Japan, cherry blossom, mass tourism

Comments