Kyoto Wants to Stop ‘Paparazzi’ Tourists Taking Photos of Geishas

tourists geisha paparazzi ban photography tokyo japan

The city of Kyoto wants to stop tourists taking photos of Geishas — with tensions over the issue reaching boiling point.

Geisha, who are women who perform Japanese traditional arts in traditional kimonos and make-up, mostly work and reside in the Gion neighborhood of Kyoto.

However, when these iconic Japanese women commute between work and home, they have to walk through the picturesque streets of Gion.

In recent years, these geishas’ commutes have become a tourist attraction, with throngs of visitors trying to take photos of these women during their walk to work.

‘Geisha Paparazzi’

In 2019, there were reports of tourists and street photographers — who have earned the name “geisha paparazzi” — chasing down geishas with cameras and smartphones, entering private property without permission, and pulling on their kimonos and hair ornaments (kanzashi) to get a photo.

According to a report by CNN, Isokazu Ota, representative secretary of the Gion-town South Side District Council, says that “geisha paparazzi” is still a huge problem.

Ota tells CNN that tourists and street photographers have gotten more brazen in trying to shoot images of geishas and their “maiko” apprentices since the return of mass tourism to Japan after the pandemic.


In Gion, there are signs in three languages that explain that geisha photography is not allowed without a permit, and that violators could be charged up to ¥10,000 ($67). However, Ota says that this fine is unenforceable.

Amid growing concern, the local council in Gion hopes to make narrow alleys completely closed off to tourists by April 2024. But photography on the main thoroughfare of Gion cannot be banned since they are public streets.

Most maikos and geishas use this road, making it the prime spot for “paparazzi” to gather.

“The people taking pictures of the streets of Gion on the main street and the tourists taking pictures of maiko from afar are probably unaware of the rule against photography,” says Ota.

“But I think the foreign tourists waiting for maiko to come out in the alleys of Gion’s photography-prohibited areas know the rules but are ignoring them.

“Even if we warn tourists, it is difficult to get through to them at this point.”

According to CNN, Ota and other Gion residents are looking for ways to curb the “geisha paparazzi” issues. He has suggested requiring all tourists to the neighborhood be required to have a Japanese tour guide who can educate them about etiquette.

Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.

Update 3/1: On publication, Kyoto was incorrectly described as being in Tokyo. This has since been updated.