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Visitors walk along a lane filled with tourist shops and restaurants leading to the Kiyomizu-dera temple in Kyoto, Japan, on October 13. Photo: AFP

Travelling to Kyoto? Avoid overcrowded tourist hotspots with new online map that predicts crowds

  • The Kyoto Travel Congestion Forecast online site predicts which tourist attractions in the Japanese city are likely to be the busiest and therefore best avoided
  • The number of tourists arriving in Japan is expected to rise sharply after the country lifted all its travel restrictions earlier this month
Asia travel

A perennial favourite for foreign visitors to Japan, Kyoto is so concerned about a return to the “overtourism” that plagued the ancient capital before the pandemic that it has launched an online map that charts the crowds at tourist hotspots.

The Kyoto Travel Congestion Forecast site, available in English and Chinese, analyses mobile phone location data since 2019 and factors in weather conditions to predict the areas that are likely to be the busiest and therefore best avoided.

The areas identified as particularly popular with visitors include the Gion district, home to the city’s famous geisha community; Kinkaku-ji Temple, also known as The Golden Pavilion; and the picturesque Togetsukyo Bridge and bamboo forest in the Saga-Arashiyama district, to the northwest of the city centre.

The transport hub of Kyoto Station is also on the map, along with Nishiki Market, in the heart of the city, the Philosopher’s Path, and the Kiyomizu-dera Buddhist temple complex, which offers spectacular views across the city from the east.

Kyoto’s “Golden Pavilion” is one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. Photo: Shutterstock

The map is updated every hour and incorporates live camera feeds of the targeted areas.

The city’s tourism authority is keen to spread visitors more evenly across its many attractions and avoid upsetting residents who were once unprepared for large-scale tourism.

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That began to change about a decade ago, as Japan became an increasingly popular destination. According to the city’s tourism bureau, 53.25 million domestic and foreign tourists visited Kyoto in 2019, up 770,000 people, or 1.5 per cent, from the previous year.

Of the foreign visitors, mainland Chinese accounted for the largest proportion – more than 1.15 million people – followed by 477,000 tourists from the United States and 423,000 from Taiwan.

Vast numbers of out-of-towners inevitably caused friction with local residents. Public transport became too busy to easily use and foreign travellers upset the neighbours in holiday rental properties by being noisy late at night and failing to follow the rules on which types of rubbish to put out on which days of the week.

A screenshot of the Kyoto Travel Congestion Forecast map.
The number of visitors to the city was down dramatically during the pandemic, but foreigners have started to return since Japan lifted all its entry restrictions earlier this month.

Government statistics indicate that 169,800 foreign nationals arrived in Japan in August, still well below the figure of around 2 million people a month in 2019, but the number is now expected to rise sharply.