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.
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…