Popular tourist sites in Japan have started banning large groups of non-Japanese tourists following the restrictions placed on visits to Nazoin Temple’s famous Buddha statue in May 2016, as reported by Japanese newspaper The Asahi Shimbun.
The decision to ban groups of foreign tourists from entering the site of Nebotoke-san, the 41-metre-long ‘sleeping Buddha’ just outside of the city of Fukuoka, came following complaints from Nanzoin priests who didn’t like the behavior of these tourists on site. The area around the statue is now signposted stating in 12 different languages that non-Japanese groups are not welcome.
The number of international visitors to Japan has increased by 42 per cent since this ban, according to JTB Tourism Research & Consulting Co. (JTB), a Japanese tourism statistics organisation. Japan received a record number of over 30 million visitors last year and is projected to have an annual number of 40 million by 2020, according to the President of the Japan National Tourism Organisation Satoshi Seino.
The bans in the Nanzoin Temple came as a result of visitors not showing respect by playing loud music and splashing in the waterfall reserved for Buddhism training. The same issues have arisen in more recent times in the popular city of Kyoto and the Kumamoto Prefecture.
The owner of a Kyoto izakaya pub, which serves small traditional dishes alongside drinks, complained to The Asahi Shimbun about visitors bringing food in from outside and leaving cigarette ash on the floor.
Similarly, the Yatsushirogu shrine began refusing cruise ship passengers in 2017 due to overcrowding. However, at the beginning of 2018 the ban was dropped provided visitors behaved accordingly.
Korean and Chinese people make up roughly half of the annual visitors to Japan, with the numbers coming from China growing significantly in the past year, according to JTB. Korea and China, like Japan, have strong Buddhist beliefs which mean that the bans deny them their ability to practice their worship.
The Asahi Shimbun reported that Japan’s Ministry of Justice counts discrimination based on nationality as a violation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). The ICERD is a treaty created by the United Nations in 1965 and adopted by Japan in 1995.
“The central and local governments should make active efforts to make people abroad understand the rules that should be abided by in Japan, such as keeping silent in certain occasions and paying attention to cleanness,” said Takao Ikado who teaches tourism management at Takasaki City University of Economics.
With the number of tourists expected to only increase in the coming years the sanctions placed on internationals will need to be lifted for Japan’s tourism industry to continue thriving