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What It's Like Living in a Tourist Town

Fushimi Inari Shrine in Tokyo, Japan Martti Salmi via Unsplash.com CC0

What happens when the thing that brought you to a place becomes the thing you like least about it?

In life, we sometimes have to learn lessons the hard way. As is often said, sometimes the grass isn't always greener on the other side. Sometimes when you visit a city as a tourist, you can't help but think, "I'd love to live here one day!" While getting to do so is an amazing feeling, it is not always all it's cracked up to be.

Currently, I live in Kyoto—arguably the second-most popular city to visit in Japan after Tokyo.

However, Kyoto and Tokyo couldn't be more different from each other. While Tokyo is the largest metropolitan in the world, Kyoto is a big city with a small-town feeling. Kyoto's small-town feeling is a part of its charm, which in addition to its integration with the surrounding nature, is what made me want to live here.

My decision to live in Kyoto was heavily influenced by my weekend trip in November 2022. While it was only a short time, my time seeing the sights was extremely memorable and made a strong impression on me. In my life, I'd never wanted to live in a city as much as I did Kyoto. I had no way of knowing that visiting a popular tourist spot versus living in one are completely different experiences.


I had no way of knowing that visiting a popular tourist spot versus living in one are completely different experiences.

The draw of Kyoto as a tourist spot is that is the cultural capital of Japan, housing some of its most famous temples and shrines. As such, the majority of the things to do are to go and see such spots. To accommodate this, the city of Kyoto has created many bus lines going to the most popular locations. The longer I lived here, the more I felt a feeling grow in me: a dislike for tourists and the places they frequent.

I live in a residential area of Kyoto, where virtually no foreigners live.

It is normal for me to be the only non-Asian I see in a day. I enjoy this feeling, as I came to Japan to be immersed in its culture. This dynamic, however, completely changes when I go to certain areas of the city.

The majority of the shopping in Kyoto is done in a small downtown area, where the church I attend just so happens to be located. If I'm being honest, I always dislike going to this part of town. The streets suddenly become extremely congested with foot traffic and it's normal to see more foreigners than Japanese people. Getting on bus lines and going to tourist locations is a similar experience. It feels as if the city can barely handle the amount of tourists that frequent certain areas of the city.

In addition, the responses of the Japanese people living in these areas are naturally to try and profit off of the huge amounts of foreigners. I've seen restaurants and bars downtown charge more for the same item on the English menu compared to the Japanese menu. I've seen shops specifically marketed to foreign sensibilities, which are markedly different than Japanese sensibilities. Fashion is a good example of this. The result is that an influx of foreigners into an area actively makes the area less "Japanese."

This is something a tourist isn't likely to catch, especially if they don't understand Japanese. But as someone who isn't a tourist and can understand Japanese, I actively avoid going to tourist locations if I'm able to. To me, the appeal of Japan is its Japanese-ness, which gets diluted as stores try to accommodate tourists.

There was a time when I wondered if I made the right choice to live in Kyoto, as it felt like my negative feelings towards areas of the city overpowered my positive feelings. However, as I've explored lesser-known areas of the city, which are not listed on travel spots, I rediscovered my love of Kyoto. Nothing has aided this more than hiking the mountains surrounding the city.

Living in a city popular with tourists isn't all it's cracked up to be in many ways. In a lot of respects, you have to love your city despite all the tourists. But if you can move past that, you'll remember why you wanted to live there in the first place.


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Published in Study Abroad Blogs
Parker Blair

Parker Blair is an American currently studying Japanese in Kyoto, Japan. He is passionate about all things tea and getting to see how other cultures experience life. His current stay in Japan is the third of his international adventures.

Website: https://borderlesssage.wordpress.com

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