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Commentary: Mount Fuji overtourism furore tests limits of Japan’s hospitality

Commentary: Mount Fuji overtourism furore tests limits of Japan’s hospitality


The government has been promoting the country to foreign visitors for years with immense success: Arrivals this year are expected to surpass the 2019 pre-COVID record, according to travel agency JTB. Yet from increasingly unaffordable hotels to suitcase-clogged streets becoming nigh-unwalkable, everywhere you look the downsides are mounting for ordinary residents.

This dissatisfaction was articulated by one acerbic restaurant owner who last month took to social media to express mounting frustration with having to deal with tourists looking for English menus and service in their native language. The time and hassle involved in dealing with them didn’t make sense for travellers who don’t spend much anyway, the owner explained.

The complaints split opinion, with some sympathising, while others defended the country’s vaunted omotenashi hospitality – a word so synonymous with the Japanese welcome that it just made it into the Oxford English Dictionary (“good hospitality, characterised by thoughtfulness, close attention to detail, and the anticipation of a guest’s needs”, in case you were wondering).

But just as in Fujikawaguchiko, that courtesy may be reaching its limits. Frustrated authorities and small-business owners are turning to new solutions to preserve their way of life.

In Kyoto, where overtourism is most acute, tourists have been banished from the backstreets of the geisha district of Gion (though it’s unclear how this will be enforced), while the city is belatedly adding special buses for travellers amid complaints that elderly residents can’t access public transport.

In Hiroshima, one restaurant serving the local soul food of okonomiyaki (coincidentally, another word just added to the dictionary) has declared visitors verboten on Friday evenings, limiting entrance to prefectural residents and regulars.

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