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The future of Kyoto tourism discussed with international Kyoto residents– Part 2
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
Q4.What you might not notice if you've never lived abroad: The wonderful and puzzling hospitality in Kyoto
Arimatsu:Living in Kyoto, have there been any services that impressed you especially? Conversely, have there been any services that you could not understand the value?
Liam: The style of hospitality at restaurants or bars. For example, when I went to an izakaya, the owner initiated a conversation with me. I'm impressed by the way people comfortably communicate with customers here.
Rudy:The hospitality is fantastic in Japan, not only in shops. I always think so when I go to the ward office. I love the way the people are kind and helpful.
Julia: Coming from a region where the four seasons are not so distinct, I appreciate how Japanese-style rooms in Kyoto have different flowers or hanging scrolls depending on the season. It's like a seasonal greeting by the whole room, and it's pretty.
Arimatsu: On the other hand, are there any services that you feel disappointed with?
Julia: Sometimes, yes. For example, when I go to a temple or shrine and hear the recorded announcements from the speakers when all I really want there is to enjoy the quiet atmosphere. Or when I see too many signs disrupting the view. Also, the sound of those plastic shoe bags (to keep your shoes in after you take them off). It spoils the atmosphere when that sound that reminds me of a supermarket is present all around the quiet precincts. I wish they were at least materials that could be reused as compost, or made of sustainable materials like bamboo.
Rudy:Speaking of bags, when I first went shopping in Japan and saw the packaging, I noticed how there were so many layers. Concerning the environment, I thought it would be better to reduce the packaging a little.
Krishani:They often just become trash once they are brought home. So, I don't really need extra packaging.
Prach: I think it would be all right if the back of packaging paper were made reusable as notepaper. But pretty much everything is thrown away after being used once. It's a terrible waste.
Krishani: On the other hand, the custom of wrapping is part of Japanese culture, so it may be nice if the tradition can be kept somehow. Wrapping using furoshiki cloths is very Japanese and cool, for example.
Rudy: It's absolutely fine if they were wrapped in furoshiki cloths or wrapped and tied in traditional styles using "kawaii (cute)" tenugui cloths. [Furoshiki are square cloths used to wrap and carry, and tenugui are rectangular cotton cloths used to wrap or wipe; both come in a wide variety of colors and patterns] But, if it's (not something nice like that, and instead) just plastic bags, I think we should find ways to reduce them.
Julia:The art of beautiful wrapping is a characteristic feature of Japanese culture, so I don't think all packaging is wrong. For example, I hope that the traditional elaborate wrapping will be kept for important gifts on special occasions in one's lifetime. However, everyday wrapping for casual gifts or souvenirs could be reduced or simplified.
Rudy: Even precious traditions in Japanese culture can't be preserved if the environment is ruined. I think it's important to find ways that are sustainable for both the environment and culture.
Q5. What do you think could be done to make Kyoto tourism better?
Arimatsu:Finally, concerning the post-covid Kyoto tourism, how do you think we can improve it?
Rudy:Kyoto plays an important role for people visiting Japan because they come here to learn about Japanese culture. What I mean by culture is not only about the famous temples and shrines but also the everyday lives of the locals. Visitors are fascinated by the differences in customs and cultural aspects integrated into the daily life here, especially because they are not the kind of things you find in guidebooks. Differences in manners or etiquette are also important to explain clearly, though they may be taken for granted by Japanese people.
Krishani: I think that tourists who come to Japan for the first time may feel nervous.
They are often taken to temples and shops in tourist sites, but I think it would be nice if they were given more information about places where they could have a relaxing time, for example, having tea on a lawn in a park.
Cesca:I think it would be good if the international residents of Kyoto could further deepen their relationship with the local community. They could act as a bridge between their countries and Japan by posting information on social media to people of their countries. I think in-depth information about Kyoto can be best communicated through people from the same country. I think it would be good if the cultural exchange between foreigners living in Japan and locals could be further deepened.
Arimatsu: You mentioned spreading information about sightseeing. Regarding how we can make information available, not only us in the tourism industry but also Kyoto citizens are still trying to find ways to inform tourists about manners and customs. From your point of view as an international resident, are there any ways of communicating that you think would be welcomed or easy to understand?
Julia: One thing for certain is that the word "don't" can make you feel like you're being treated like a child. You're a grown-up and can think and act for yourself. If someone says, "Don't do this, don't do that," it would make you feel like you are being scolded by an elementary school teacher.
Krishani: Yes, foreign tourists who come to Japan for the first time can especially be ignorant of Japanese customs or manners. They won't have the chance to learn unless someone informs them. I think foreigners would appreciate it most if they were told as early as possible.
Rudy: The problem is, there are no opportunities to be informed. Maybe brochures about manners should be handed out when they arrive at the airport. How about a kawaii manga?
Cesca: I think there should be a fun video that everyone can watch to learn the manners from a Kyoto local in an entertaining way.
Julia: How about playing that video or anime on the aircraft coming to Japan?
Prach:It might be good if an interesting video like "How to perfectly become a Kyotoite" was uploaded on YouTube and the link was placed on websites related to Kyoto tourism or on emails when corresponding with travel agencies. I think it would be good if a system would be designed so every international traveler coming to Kyoto would be able to see a video like that in one way or another. It would be best if they could learn before arriving in Japan.
Rudy:Most of all, you need to make it so people understand that it's fun to learn about real Japanese culture, including the customs and manners. Simply being told to "follow the manners" might give people the urge to do the opposite. As you know, some French fancy breaking rules (laughter).
Julia: I think there needs to be a way that makes learning about Japanese culture or manners fun.
Rudy: How about saying, "Why not live like a Kyotoite during your trip?"
Arimatsu: Ah, that's an interesting idea!
Rudy:In fact, I think people would want to know the reasons behind Japanese people's behaviors. Understanding the reasons would make you want to try it yourself instead of just being told what you shouldn't do.
Prach:How about making an app to "Experience being a Kyotoite" and have visitors download it? It might be good if people could learn by clearing missions and earning points like a game. Also, it could be made interesting by giving ranks like "expert" and "professional" according to the number of points.
Arimatsu: It would be best if people could enjoy Kyoto tourism in ways that embrace learning or taking part in what the people of Kyoto care about and try to maintain.
Rudy: To begin with, those who come to Kyoto come because they are interested in Japanese culture. Kyoto is regarded as Japan's cultural capital. People might wish to behave in the same way as the residents of Kyoto if they had the goal of fully exposing themselves to Japanese culture while staying in Kyoto. And in turn, this would help solve some of the problems caused by the differences in customs or ways of thinking.
Prach:At the same time, I think it's necessary that the people of Kyoto come to acknowledge the diversity of the cultures in the world and the way of thinking of visitors from other countries. It would be ideal if mutual understanding of each other's cultures would be fostered.
Arimatsu: Thank you very much, everyone. I think our discussion became a very meaningful one.
Finding ways to communicate about the local customs and manners of Kyoto to tourists coming from diverse cultural backgrounds has been an urgent issue for us when envisioning the future of post-pandemic Kyoto tourism.
What especially caught our attention during this roundtable discussion was when Julia described how it can "feel like being treated as a child." We realized how we may convey messages, asking to "follow the rules and manners" in ways that could be taken as oppressive. It was equally alarming when Rudy mentioned how it might encourage a counter-reaction.
We acknowledge how there are many challenges that need to be overcome. However, we hope that this report on the roundtable discussion has drawn your attention to how important it is to cherish mutual understanding and embrace the differences between different countries or cultures. We can all reflect on ourselves and put the inspirations we've gained into practice at work and in our daily lives. We wish for your support as we update tourism in Kyoto together!