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between impatience and resignation, Kyoto awaits the return of tourists

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With the glow of maple trees and the golden yellow blaze of ginkgo trees, foreign tourists have begun to return to the former imperial capital. Kyoto, the cradle of Japan’s identity through its history, its sacredness and its arts, located moreover in a splendid natural environment, has become, in a few years, the magnet of mass tourism from abroad. This surge has upset the peaceful and refined atmosphere of this city of two thousand temples and sanctuaries, where the past nourishes the present so intensely that it seems to have slipped away from time.

The sudden drop in foreign mass tourism, from March 2020, due to the pandemic was first felt by the inhabitants as a relief: in the previous years, Kyoto had suffered the full brunt of the effects of the ambition of the previous Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe (2012-2020), to increase the number of foreign tourists in the archipelago to 40 million in 2020 and 60 million in 2030. After the drastic fall of the last three years, the government of Fumio Kishida is renewing with these objectives and intends to attract more than 40 million tourists in 2025, the year of the Universal Exhibition in Osaka.

For a long time, Kyoto was a tourist site frequented mainly by Japanese people and the main destination for groups of high school students to discover the richness of the national culture. Then, from 500,000 in 2008, the number of foreign tourists rose, ten years later, to 10 million.

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New signposted routes

Although a minority in the total of 50 million visitors to Kyoto in 2019, their mass presence has affected the lives of the inhabitants: traffic jams, public transport cluttered with bulky luggage, waste abandoned in the streets or in the gardens, strafing with the flash of maiko (apprentice geishas) trotting at the beginning of the evening towards a few traditional restaurants, groups clustered in front of the stalls of the shops and the fronts of the taverns of the narrow covered passage of the picturesque and four-hundred-year-old market of Nishiki disrupting the activity of the merchants…

Read also Article reserved for our subscribers Kyoto, the new temple of mass tourism

Even small residential neighborhoods had begun to suffer from the inconspicuous presence of foreign tourists staying in local Airbnbs, which flourished to the point that the municipality had to take severe measures to control private accommodation. The garishly colored kimonos rented by tourists also gave the city center a Disneyland feel for adults… And, as in Venice, the residents’ embarrassment turned into annoyance.

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