Kyoto’s love-hate relationship with tourists endures as yen weakens



At Sengyo Kimura, a fresh fish shop in Nishiki Market that has been in operation since 1620, Kaoru Kimura, 68, says she wants tourists to come back, but not so many.

The family store was inundated with visitors before the pandemic. Knowing that the Kimuras would not accept tips, visitors often left tokens of gratitude: a Canadian flag pin, paper cuts from China, Russian perfume and Hawaiian nuts.

“The problem is not with foreign tourists but rather with our ability to accommodate customers,” she said. “If too many people come, we are unable to show them proper hospitality.”

The number of hotels closing across the country hit a five-year high in 2021 and the local tourism industry in Kyoto has been hit hard, according to research firm Teikoku Databank.

“The damage is quite extensive,” Teikoku analyst Keisuke Noda said. Demand has dried up for businesses like kimono rental shops, which cater mostly to foreigners.

Opposite Hakuba, an antique shop founded 40 years ago, fleets of buses brought tourists to the Daitokuji temple complex.

Now the huge parking lot is empty.

“Kyoto is a tourist city and without foreign tourists, we really have problems,” said 70-year-old Hakuba manager Hiroshi Fujie, adding he was not sure the store could survive a third year. without foreign tourists.

For Fujii, the liquor store owner, business is back to 60-70% of pre-pandemic levels thanks to Japanese tourists.

About 5.17 million people stayed in hotels and guesthouses in Kyoto last year, almost all of them Japanese, according to government data. That compared to around 13.2 million in 2019, when foreigners and Japanese stayed.

Back at the fish market, workers in rubber boots and aprons were cutting up salmon and tuna, which they carefully arranged with clams and oysters in the front of the store.

Kimura said she always wants people from “all walks of life” to try their fish. “The queue, however, is a nightmare.”


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