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Tourists face fines for hassling Kyoto geisha

Tired of tourists thrusting their cameras in the faces of geisha as they clip-clop on wooden “geta” sandals through Kyoto, residents of the Gion district have banned photography on private lanes and are imposing a fine of Y10,000 (£71) on anyone who ignores the new order. 

Signs announcing the new local regulation went up on Friday, and foreign visitors are being given leaflets asking them to be respectful of the geisha and maiko, or trainee geisha, as they go to and from appointments.

Visitors are also being asked to request permission before trying to take a photograph when a geisha is on a public road.

Mimiko Takayasu, the head of an association of local residents and shop owners, told national broadcaster NHK that the ban has been introduced to “preserve Gion’s traditional atmosphere”.

The number of people visiting Japan has soared in recent years, with the ancient capital of Kyoto one of the most popular destinations.

Inevitably, the Gion district of narrow, flagstoned alleyways and discreet tea houses where Japan’s legendary geisha have performed for centuries is a must-see part of the city.

Geisha are popular with tourists in Kyoto CREDIT: EYEON/UNIVERSAL IMAGES GROUP VIA GETTY IMAGES

That has, however, led to a number of clashes of cultures.  Geisha have complained that they are being chased along streets, pressured to pose for selfies and even pursued into tea houses and their accommodation.

Geisha have also said foreign tourists try to touch their kimono and elaborate wigs or pluck the delicate ornaments from their hairpieces.

The city’s tourist authority launched a multilingual app earlier this year instructing foreign visitors on etiquette in the deeply traditional geisha quarter.

That initiative has not apparently solved the problem, however, and local residents are taking the matter into their own hands.

Monitoring cameras have been set up on private lanes where photography is now forbidden, meaning that anyone who contravenes the local law may subsequently tracked down, although it is not clear who will be tasked with enforcing the regulations and collecting fines or where the money will eventually go.