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The future of Kyoto tourism discussed with international Kyoto residents– Part 1
Since the dawn of the global pandemic of COVID-19 in 2020, people around the world have faced travel restrictions causing a grave impact, especially on tourism-related industries. Kyoto was no exception, where various types of businesses, ranging from travel agencies to accommodations, restaurants and traditional craft makers, were seriously affected. However, now, as the entry restrictions to Japan are being significantly eased, some are voicing concerns about congestion and manner-related issues happening again.
The City of Kyoto and the Kyoto City Tourism Association have been working together to promote the Code of Conduct for Sustainable Tourism in Kyoto in order to prevent the recurrence of pre-pandemic conditions and to pass on the exceptional values of Kyoto to the future by reaching out to all that are related to Kyoto tourism including the tourism industry, tourists and residents.
This time we discussed how we could update Kyoto tourism in a way suitable for the post-pandemic world with international residents of Kyoto who have both the travelers' and citizens' perspectives.
Grew up near French / Belgium border. Studied multiculturalism in a French University. Lives with Myanmarese wife in Kyoto.
Married Japanese husband 10 years ago. Works at Kyoto International Community House.
From Zhejiang Province. Photographer and public service interpreter at Kyoto International Community House. Enjoys shrine / temple visits.
Graduate student at Doshisha University. Moved to Kyoto this April. Also lived in Kyoto 6 years ago. Enjoys Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Born in the U.S., first came to Japan as a child. Grew up going back and forth. Interpreter/ translator/ guide. Likes sightseeing even when not guiding.
From Bangkok. Lives in Kyoto since university. NPO staff and interpreter /translator. Enjoys jogging along Kamo River.
Moderator/interviewer:Arimatsu from Kyoto City Tourism Association
Special thanks:Kyoto City International Foundation *This discussion was held on September 3, 2022
Q1. What was your response to the border control ease and the large-scale ease approaching in October?
Arimatsu: Finally, Japan is following other countries and loosening its entry restrictions. We also hear that the limits on the number of persons permitted entry will be lifted in October. Following these relaxations in policies, are you planning to visit your home country?
Prach: I am finally about to make a temporary return next week.
Julia: I haven't made plans to go back yet, but I think I will start thinking about it.
Krishani: I plan to go back sometime next year.
Rudy: France has had its restrictions lifted and I have technically been able to go back, but since new variants kept developing, I thought I may not be able to re-enter Japan (if I go to France), so I haven't been back yet.
Cesca: China has strict restrictions, and I may not be able to return to Japan if I go back to China now, so I haven't made plans to go back yet.
Liam: I don't have any plans to visit yet, but if I do, I hope I can re-enter Japan smoothly.
Arimatsu: On the other hand, do you hear your friends or family in your home country say they would like to visit Japan soon?
Prach: I see many friends saying they want to come to Japan soon on social media.
Rudy: When my friends in France talk about the pandemic, they speak in past tense, like "at the time of the pandemic." It feels like it's over to them, and they usually don't wear facemasks. It's like life has returned to normal. Japan can control the flow of people because it's an island nation, whereas, in Europe, most countries share borders connected by land, so it's not easy to control. I think this might be a factor that accounts for part of the difference in the way we feel.
Arimatsu: Has the number of students from abroad increased?
Liam: I think the number of students from abroad is gradually increasing.
Julia: However, I heard that many people have already given up on coming to Japan to study. Quite a few well-known universities in the United States canceled the study-abroad programs for this year. It's a shame because this will cause Japan to lose future fans. I'm afraid that this is going to be a great loss to Japan in the future.
Q2. How did the global pandemic of COVID-19 change the world, culture and our daily lives?
Arimatsu: Do you feel that any daily habits, including hygiene practices, have changed in your country before and after COVID?
Krishani: We never wore masks in our daily lives before in Sri Lanka, so I don't even recall seeing them sold in shops. But then, we were suddenly told to "wear a mask," and we were all taken by surprise. We looked for masks, but we couldn't buy any. Now, everyone wears a mask as if it's the norm. It's like a whole culture has been newly imported.
Julia: Everyone might think that all countries in the West are now mask-free, but in fact, it really depends on the place in the U.S., and many people still do wear masks in the cities. Especially since some states or areas had made it mandatory and violators were fined, so I heard that there are some Americans who have gotten used to the new custom.
Arimatsu: I see, so in some countries, wearing a mask has become not so unusual. Speaking of changes in everyday life regarding the pandemic, what is your impression of how digitalization is progressing?
Prach: From the perspective of preventing the spread of the COVID-19 virus, handling cash was definitely a concern, which probably is why digitalization has dramatically accelerated since the advent of the pandemic.
Arimatsu: In Japan, cashless transaction, which had already been in need from before the pandemic, has seen advancement.
Rudy: Cashless transactions were not so popular in France before the pandemic, but they have become suddenly popular since the pandemic.
Cesca: China has gone pretty much cashless. We go out carrying only our smartphones because almost everything can be done by using various apps now (laughter). Also, it has become very convenient since we can now use WeChat and UnionPay to make payments in Japan.
Prach: By the way, when I go to the cashier in Japan, I have difficulty finding out if the cashless transaction service I use is accepted because there are so many different types. It would be more convenient if they were reorganized into a smaller number.
Arimatsu: More restaurants, museums and public facilities now have advance reservation systems. When more international tourists return, do you think there is anything about those systems that might be difficult for them to use?
Liam: If advance reservation systems continue to be used, I think it would be difficult if they weren't available in English.
Rudy: In supermarkets and convenience stores that have introduced self-service cashiers as part of counter-Covid measures, I've seen some (machines) that have English. I'm looking forward to further developments.
Prach: For someone who's from a country where English is not the first language, it is inconvenient if you cannot understand English. Various websites already have English, Chinese, and Korean versions, but I think they would be easier to use if there were versions in more minority languages. Automatic translation has evolved, but the translations to minority languages are often inaccurate.
Q3. How do people from overseas think of Kyoto customs?
Arimatsu:Living in Kyoto, have there been customs or local rules that were surprising to you?
Julia:The daily routine of sweeping in front of the house. What's kind of curious is the way people also sweep about a third of the front of the neighbors on either side, and a bit of the front of the neighbor across the street. Although, I personally think it's slightly sad to see the beautiful autumn leaves or spring sakura petals on the street gone first thing in the morning (laughter).
Arimatsu: We do often see people cleaning in front of their houses in Kyoto.
Rudy: Also, in Kyoto, people pour water in front of their houses in the summer to make it cooler, but we can't do that in France because water is expensive. The first time I saw people doing it, I thought everyone living in that neighborhood must be rich.
Prach: The separation of trash is pretty complicated. There are rules that are difficult for foreigners to understand. We didn't separate trash that much in Thailand, and we took recyclable resources like cardboard, bottles, or cans to sell them. People have begun to separate their trash in Thailand recently, and I think it's basically a good custom.
Cesca:I was surprised to see the colors of fast food chains' and convenience stores' signs. The red-base signage was replaced with brown or black & white. I noticed that Kyoto has its own particular rules.
Prach: Kyoto also has height regulations for buildings. Many tall buildings have been built one after another in Bangkok, so all you can see everywhere are buildings now. It gives an oppressive feeling. In contrast, the height of buildings in Kyoto is regulated, so the cityscape is beautiful from atop the hills surrounding the city. I think it's wonderful and I hope it will be kept this way.
Rudy: France may be similar in that it also protects the scenic views and buildings. There are various rules concerning houses surrounding structures that have been registered as heritage sites. For example, it is required to maintain the current color on some houses even when repainting. That's similar to Kyoto. There are many foreigners who hope that the machiya townhouses will be protected. It's a shame to see these houses being torn down. Even if it's impossible to preserve all of them, no one wishes for them to all be gone. I really hope that the machiya townhouses will be preserved as part of Kyoto's cultural heritage that embodies Kyoto's way of life.
The changes brought to our daily lives and the developments of new customs caused by the pandemic are global phenomena that have affected so many countries, including those of today's participants. Although we have been isolated, many of us may have more mutual experiences than ever before.
On the other hand, digitalization and cashless transaction systems, which have been sought even before the pandemic, seem to have advanced more overseas than in Japan. So perhaps it would be essential to catch up so visitors will not feel the gap when they come to Japan.
Speaking of differences, the everyday lives of Kyoto residents and their customs are probably things that will catch the attention of visitors to Kyoto. In Part 2, we will delve deeper into this topic to explore practical ideas on how we can facilitate mutual understanding at a deeper level.