Photo: Juri Pozzi/Shutterstock

Kyoto Bans Taking Photos of Geishas

by Eben Diskin Nov 5, 2019

Travelers to Kyoto who were hoping to make their Insta feed pop with photos of geisha are now out of luck. After an influx of complaints about harassment and bad behavior from tourists, Kyoto has banned photography in the private alleys of the city’s historic Gion district. Violating the ban will earn you a fine of up of about $90.

The yearly number of international travelers to Japan has been soaring since 2012 (from 8,358,105 visitors in 2012, a year after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, to 31,191,856 visitors in 2018). According to The Guardian, the Japanese government is hoping those numbers will continue to rise to 40 million visitors for next summer’s Tokyo Olympics.

The ancient city of Kyoto, with its canals, temples, and traditional architecture is picture-postcard perfect for visitors, and the city pays the price of its appeal in the form of crowds of poorly behaved tourists. The historic Gion district, especially, has seen its fair share of foreign visitors trespassing for a good photo op and pulling on the kimonos of geishas and maiko apprentices for a selfie. Many of the restaurants and teahouses in the neighborhood have also complained about tourists littering, smoking, and blocking traffic.

There are existing signs reminding visitors about proper etiquette, but new ones are being posted specifically warning visitors against taking pictures in the private alleys near Hanamikoji street. Leaflets will be handed to visitors to remind them of the photography ban and a pilot project starting in December will target tourists via a smartphone app. The app messages tourists in both Chinese and English when entering the Gion district, asking them to refrain from taking photos of geishas without permission.

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