3.11 EXPLORING FUKUSHIMA: This feature is part of an original Milwaukee Independent editorial series that documented the 13th anniversary of the "Great East Japan Earthquake," tsunami, and nuclear accident, including the conditions of both the people and places that remain affected by the disaster across the Tōhoku region. mkeind.com/exploringfukushima

Japan’s ancient capital of Kyoto, long a popular destination for tourists, has closed off some private-property alleys in its famous geisha district because of complaints about misbehaving visitors.

Swarms of tourists have increasingly crowded the narrow, quaint streets of the area called Gion, often following tour guides who show people around and lecture for long hours.

“We have placed public signs in the area that tell tourists to stay out of our private streets,” said Isokazu Ota, a local district official.

The signs say in both Japanese and English: “This is a private road, so you are not allowed to drive through it. There will be a fine of 10,000 yen.”

The keep-out warning is aimed mainly at pedestrians, not cars, as the Japanese language wording refers to generically “passing through.” Under recent currency conversion rates the fine would be about $70.

The ban covers just several blocks of Gion. The district’s public streets will remain open to tourists, so the area and the rest of Kyoto will still be teeming with visitors, both from Japan and around the world.

Complaints about over-zealous tourists began bubbling years ago, though the discontent cooled when the coronavirus pandemic brought a lull in tourism. Now, visitors are back in a frenzy.

Gion’s outrage highlights brewing resentment at what many people feel is “over-tourism,” even though the Japanese economy depends more than ever on tourism revenue to sustain growth.

The district of winding alleyways is known for picturesque teahouses, where geisha and their maiko apprentices, wearing fancy kimono and hair ornaments, perform in dance and music.

In a city known for gorgeous temples and gardens, Gion is one of its most scenic and historical spots. Tourists, armed with cameras, like to wander around Gion, hoping to catch the women on their way to dance class or a fancy dinner party.

Overseas tourist traffic to Japan is rebounding to pre-pandemic levels. More than 22 million visitors came to Japan last year, eager to take in sushi, electronic gadgetry and the splendors of nature like Mount Fuji and the beaches of Okinawa.

In 2019, incoming travel totaled more than 31 million people, and this year’s number could approach or even overtake that.

For many residents of Gion, the flood of disorderly visitors has been too much. Their local council summarized the public sentiments a few months ago by proclaiming:

“Kyoto is not a theme park.”

3.11 Exploring Fukushima

Yuri Kageyama and MI Staff (Japan)

Kyodo News (via AP) and Tiff Graphic, Yue Stock, KPG Payless, Juri Pozzi (via Shutterstock)

3.11 Exploring Fukushima: The Tōhoku region of Japan experienced one of the worst natural disasters ever recorded when a powerful earthquake was followed by a massive tsunami, and triggered an unprecedented nuclear crisis in 2011. With a personal connection to the tragedies, Milwaukee Independent returned for the first time in 13 years to attend events commemorating the March 11 anniversary. The purpose of the journalism project included interviews with survivors about their challenges over the past decade, reviews of rebuilt cities that had been washed away by the ocean, and visits to newly opened areas that had been left barren by radiation. This special editorial series offers a detailed look at a situation that will continue to have a daily global impact for generations. mkeind.com/exploringfukushima