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Tourists Barred From the Private Alleys in Kyoto’s Geisha District

by Staff

A maiko posing for pictures during a New Year’s ceremony at the Gion Kobu Kaburenjo Theater in Kyoto, Japan.
Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images

  • Gion, a historic district in Kyoto, Japan, is set to bar tourists from entering its private streets from April.
  • Residents have complained about tourists misbehaving.
  • Gion is famed for its traditional teahouses where geisha work and entertain guests.

Gion, Japan’s popular geisha district in Kyoto, is set to bar tourists from entering certain alleys, as the news agency Agence France-Presse reported on Friday.

Isokazu Ota, an executive member of the Gion district council, told AFP that tourists wouldn’t be allowed to enter specified streets from April onward. The district council comprises several residents of Gion.

“We don’t want to do this, but we’re desperate,” Ota said, adding that tourists had previously acted “like paparazzi” when taking photos of geishas. The local newspaper The Asahi Shimbun reported in 2019 that Ota, 56 at the time, was the leader of the council and a resident who owned a Chinese restaurant.

AFP reported that while Gion’s private streets would be closed, tourists would still be allowed to enter the main Hanamikoji Street, which is public. The ban follows several incidents of tourists misbehaving in Gion.

In response to a 2018 questionnaire from the district council, a resident complained that a group of tourists surrounded a taxi that a geisha was traveling in, while another said a tourist had damaged one of the lanterns of their restaurant, The Asahi Shimbun reported.

In October of the next year, the council barred tourists from taking photos of geishas on private roads, which carried a fine of 10,000 yen, or $67, The Asahi Shimbun reported. Several warning signs were also put up telling tourists not to touch the Japanese lanterns that line the alleys, the report said.

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Gion is known for its ochaya, or traditional teahouses, where geisha and maiko, who are apprentice geisha, entertain guests. Maikoya, a Japanese tea-ceremony company, estimates that there are 70 geisha and 30 maiko who work in 60 ochaya in Gion.

It’s not the first time a popular destination has imposed restrictions on tourists in Japan. In February, Kotaro Nagasaki, the governor of Yamanashi, announced that the prefecture would be imposing a 2,000 yen fee to climb Mount Fuji in order to curb the number of climbers.

Correction: March 13, 2024 — An earlier version of this story incorrectly described one of the details in the Asahi Shimbun report. It said residents complained in response to a questionnaire sent out in 2018, but it didn’t say when specific complaints were made. The story also misspelled the surname of the governor of Yamanashi. It’s Nagasaki, not Nagaski.

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