TOKYO >> With tourism booming, a surge in foreign visitors is causing problems for local residents. In Hokkaido, there have been complaints about foreign tourists trespassing on agricultural land, and many communities have had to deal with visitors exhibiting dangerous behavior and littering, and severe traffic jams. Local governments are struggling to get a handle on the situation.
In Biei, Hokkaido, 400 farmers cultivate about 10,000 hectares. Recently, tour guides have been caught leading tourists into fields to snap pictures for social media. There have also been complaints of tourists flying drones.
“If pathogens or pests (on) people’s shoes are brought into the fields, I can’t calculate the damage it would cause to crops,” said a 35-year-old farmer in Biei. More than 2 million visitors each year travel to see its wide-open, hilly scenery.
To halt damage, some farmers have reportedly cut down poplar and larch trees popular with picture-taking tourists.
Stakeholders are considering patrols and may start reporting trespassers to police.
“We want many people to enjoy our beautiful nature, but if farmers’ way of life is threatened we may have to take strong action,” said an spokesman for the Biei Vitalization Association.
In 2018, Japan drew 31.19 million foreign visitors, a record high for the sixth year in a row. The government aims for the country to become a tourist destination and hopes tourist numbers hit 40 million by 2020.
But there have been increasing tensions between tourists and the communities they visit. In Kyoto, foreign tourists have chased after geisha in attempts to take their picture, even pulling at their kimono. Since late September, the city has been encouraging better behavior via a map app popular among foreign tourists, which aids in navigating traditional ochaya restaurants in the Gion district, where geisha serve customers.
“Tourists who treat private property like a theme park make residents uneasy. We want them to display good manners while experiencing history and culture,” said the head of the city’s tourism promotion office.
Meanwhile, Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, is visited by about 20 million people annually. On weekends and holidays, serious traffic jams develop near sites such as Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine and the Great Buddha of Kamakura. The congestion is so severe it has even delayed ambulances. In response, the city is considering charging vehicles for use of specific roads in order to regulate traffic.
Dazaifu Tenmangu shrine in Fukuoka Prefecture has been subject to noisy foreign tourists who litter along the path to the shrine. In April, the prefectural government published a “manner comic” on its home-page in English, Korean and other languages, instructing people on proper conduct.
The Japan Tourism Agency surveyed 138 municipalities nationwide about issues with tourists. The most common complaint was “improperly using toilets,” followed by “littering in residential areas and public spaces”and “going into off-limits areas without permission.”
The agency is creating videos to instruct foreign tourists on practical etiquette, such getting on and off trains and taking pictures.
“Regulating tourist behavior has its limits. People need to skillfully explain their local nature and culture, and think of ways of asking for cooperation,” said Akiko Kosaka, senior researcher at the Japan Research Institute Ltd.