Tourists banned from taking pictures of geisha in Japanese city

New local regulations forbid travellers from taking photographs in Kyoto's geisha regions

Tourists have been banned from taking pictures of geisha in Kyoto. Courtesy
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Authorities in Kyoto banned tourists from taking photographs in its most popular geisha districts after complaints that travellers were hassling geiko, the regional term for geisha.

The photography ban was introduced in the city's Gion district. Tourists flouting it face fines of up to 10,000 yen (Dh337).

Only photographers with an official permit issued by Gion-Machi South District Council will be allowed to take pictures in Hanamii-koji, which is one of the most popular geisha regions in Gion.

The ban came about after more than 300 business in the area were surveyed about the effects of increasing tourist numbers. Responses stated said tourists taking selfies or photographs were one of the main causes of disruption.

Geisha-spotting on the rise

In recent years, geisha-spotting has become a favourite activity in the city, with tourists causing disruption for local businesses in the area and hassle for geisha on their way to social appointments.

Geisha culture is one of the oldest and most graceful forms of Japanese hospitality, dating back to the Edo period, with the women known for performing traditional art, dancing and singing. Today, it’s a dying art form as numbers of geiko and maiko (apprentice geisha) rapidly decline. Authorities are worried that overtourism will help further dispel the unique elements of Kyoto’s Gion district.

In October this year, the council also began handing out bookmarks and stickers carrying warnings in English and Chinese about acceptable behaviour. Advice included not taking pictures of geisha, known for their kimono dress and oshiroi make-up, without their permission and not touching Japanese lanterns.

Visit to Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Kyoto, Japan, October 2015.
Overtourism is becoming a problem in some parts of Japan as international visitor numbers continue to grow. Courtesy John Gillespie 

Travellers downloading the city's tourist information app will also receive push notifications on appropriate etiquette when they get within a kilometre of Gion. The initiative is a trial by the Tourism Ministry and Kyoto Municipal Government that will run until Sunday, December 8.

Overtourism in some parts of Japan is growing fast. More than 31 million people visited last year and the country is set to have one of its busiest summers ever when it hosts the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.