a group of women in traditional japanese clothing

Travel is a privilege, not a right. Japan continues to be the world’s most adored travel destination, as voted again in the Condé Nast Readers Choice Awards, and those smart enough to branch out from Tokyo often find themselves absolutely, completely in love with Kyoto. The city is just a short 2 hour bullet train ride away from Tokyo, which is worth the trip in itself, but arrival brings a totally new appreciation for Japan.

In the pursuit of quintessential Kyoto snaps, tourists have flocked to the Gion neighbourhood, known for narrow streets, cute tea houses and traditional decor, and what way to make a nearly perfect picture even better, than getting a geisha, or a maiko in the frame. There’s just one issue – it’s entirely culturally insensitive to do so.

a group of women wearing traditional japanese clothing10,000 Yen Gion Photo Fine

Residents of Gion in Kyoto banded together to approve a JPY10,000 fine, which equates to around $92.50 or £71.25 for taking photos on private streets or homes. Crucially, the ban affects areas near Hanamikoji Street, which has become one of the most popular areas for Instagrammers.

NHK, a leading Japanese news outlet notes that tourists have become obsessed with capturing geishas in photos, going to lengths including chasing them down streets, or even tugging on their iconic outfits. To be abundantly clear: neither are remotely ok.

To make a long story short, you can’t sneak onto private property, or down private streets and you also cannot take photos of geishas or their maiko apprentices without permission. If you do, you’ll face a fine, and the city is taking steps to use video surveillance to monitor key areas.

Instagrammers Ruining Travel

As tourists, we’re guests in a foreign country. Just like visiting your in laws, or a colleagues home for the first time, being respectful to local custom is everything. Geishas hold a special place in Japanese culture and chasing them down streets, or taking their likeness without politely asking for permission paints a bad image of tourists abroad, in a culture steeped in tradition and honour.

This is yet another damning instance where photo crazy tourists have encroached on private property or disobeyed local laws just to take a photo. The same phenomenon has creates clashes in Iceland, with tourists driving off roads onto rare moss, and in countless other cities. Instagrammers are now even falling to their death at such alarming rates that tourism boards have been forced to create “selfie safety nets”.

There are so many places in Kyoto, and Gion, where it’s completely fine to take a picture, including the stunning Fushimi Inari Shrine (the one with the cool orange gates), so perhaps focus your next viral photo there, rather than someones private garden…

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Welllll I’m pretty sure the ability to move about freely is one of the basic tenets of Liberty, so no, travel isn’t a “privilege”– it’s part of a basic human right.

    But I agree that trespassing on private property, ripping at Geisha’s kimonos, etc., obviously aren’t “rights,” and I furthermore agree that acting insensitively in a country where you’re a guest is the height of boorishness.

    1. Actually no, as a foreign tourist in Japan being there is a privilege not a right.
      We don’t have a right to move about freely in other sovereign nations without permission to enter to do so.

      What an “American” way of thinking.

  2. “Travel is a privilege, not a right.”

    I would support anarchy if those in power told us moving about was a privilege.

  3. Japan wants your money and not u. Travelers who lack insight, taste and comparison to other places vote it number one. Liking Japan is like liking cats.

  4. Travel is fine, but travel (trespassing) onto private property or infringing on the privacy of others is NOT okay.

    You do not have a “right” to either. So forget arguing the privilege or right stuff and respect others.

  5. What about Japanese tourists taking milion pictures of absolutely everything and everywhere without asking and without any permission? As always it should be common sense and everything good with moderation.

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