Two of Japan’s Most Popular Attractions Are Limiting Tourists

The crackdown comes amid concerns about overtourism and bad tourist behavior.

A traditional geisha entertainer photographed from behind carrying a red umbrella and walking on a street in Kyoto

There have been reports of tourists harassing traditional geisha entertainers and entering private property in Kyoto’s popular Gion district.

Photo by Tianshu Lui/Unsplash

In the year and a half since Japan reopened its borders to travel following the COVID-19 pandemic, hordes of foreign visitors have returned to the Land of the Rising Sun. More than 25 million travelers descended on Japan in 2023, with more than 2.7 million people visiting in December alone, exceeding figures for the same month in 2019 by more than 8 percent.

Now Japan is outlining new plans to counter problems with bad visitor behavior and overtourism, including banning tourists from select streets in a popular geisha district in Kyoto and limiting the number of trekkers who can climb Mount Fuji, the tallest peak in the country.

Kyoto to restrict tourists from entering areas of the Gion district

The restrictions to Kyoto’s Gion neighborhood, where traditional geisha entertainers and their maiko (teenage apprentices) work, will roll out first, sometime in April. The area has long been a magnet for tourists hoping to catch a glimpse and take a photo of the performers known for wearing elaborate kimonos, traditional hair pins, and characteristic white makeup as they walk from teahouse to teahouse. Over the years, there have been reports of overzealous tourists harassing the women and traipsing onto private property, even though signage informs visitors not to photograph the performers without their consent.

The 1,300-year-old Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto's Gion district complete with three levels of hanging white paper lanterns

In Kyoto’s Gion district, travelers will still have access to popular tourist attractions such as the 1,300-year-old Yasaka Shrine.

Photo by Ceci Li/Unsplash

Local district official Isokazu Ota told the Associated Press, “We are going to put up signs in April that tell tourists to stay out of our private streets.” The signs will say in both Japanese and English that these are private roads and that those who walk on them will be fined 10,000 yen (US$68 based on current conversation rates).

It’s worth noting that the ban will be limited to certain private streets in Gion—travelers will still be able to walk the public streets to visit popular tourist attractions such as the 1,300-year-old Yasaka Shrine and the scenic Tatsumi Bridge.

Mount Fuji to require fee and limit the number of daily climbers

One hundred fifty miles away, Mount Fuji isn’t banning tourists outright, but the famed UNESCO World Heritage site is implementing a daily visitor cap of 4,000 people per day and charging climbers 2,000 yen (US$13.50 based on current conversion rates) for the opportunity to make the trek to the top of the 12,388-foot snow-capped stratovolcano. The new rules will begin July 1, 2024, when the trekking season begins.

Climbers on a rocky path at the summit of Mount Fuji in Japan with views of clouds down below and a traditional Japanese gate on their trail

Starting this summer, Mount Fuji will cap the number of daily visitors at 4,000.

Photo by simpletun/Shutterstock

In recent years, more than 400,000 people have summited Mount Fuji in the two months in late summer when it is allowed—that’s roughly 7,000 people a day—not counting the many more who hike to lower elevations on the mountain (the largest base station, called Subaru, saw 4 million visitors in the summer of 2023, for example). The result is human traffic jams and garbage problems, both of which pose environmental concerns to the volcano that is sacred to many Japanese people. The visitor cap and additional fee are meant to help unburden Mount Fuji and keep it clean. Additionally, the funds will be used to hire guides to enforce safety measures, like deterring ill-equipped hikers from wearing the wrong clothing or footwear, not allowing people to sleep on the side of the trail or build fires, and educating climbers about general mountain etiquette (in 2023 alone, 61 rescue calls were made by unprepared trekkers).

Although Japan is limiting who can visit areas of Gion and Mount Fuji, the country is rolling out the welcome mat for foreigners in other ways. Japan’s Immigration Services Agency recently announced plans to begin issuing six-month digital nomad visas to citizens from 49 countries, including the United States, up from the previous limit of 90 days. The program is slated to launch by the end of March.

Bailey Berg is a freelance travel writer and editor, who covers breaking news, trends, tips, transportation, sustainability, the outdoors, and more. She was formerly the associate travel news editor at AFAR. Her work can also be found in the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, the Points Guy, Atlas Obscura, Vice, Thrillist, Men’s Journal, Architectural Digest, Forbes, Lonely Planet, and beyond.
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