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1,300-year-old Kyoto shrine changes bell policy following altercation with foreign tourists

29 Comments
By Casey Baseel, SoraNews24

Construction for Kyoto’s Yasaka Shrine was founded in the seventh century, and it sits right in the middle of Gion, the city’s geisha quarter. That combination of cultural significance and easy-to-access location has made Yasaka Shrine one of Kyoto’s most popular sightseeing attractions, but following a recent incident involving some nighttime foreign visitors, the shrine has made a change to its operating policies, removing a traditional part of the Shinto shrine experience after sundown.

Shinto shrines typically have a collection box for donations that can be found in front of the building that houses the main alter. Visitors toss their coins into the box, then ring a bell mounted above the box by shaking a cord before offering prayers or making a wish. These bells aren’t the large, cast-iron ones whose notes echo throughout the surrounding neighborhoods. They’re about the size of a basketball and have a ringer inside, so there’s no need to use all that much strength in shaking the cord.

Yasaka Shrine has three such bells, and they could be rung at night, even after the shrine staff has left for the day. However, last week a video was posted online in which a Japanese woman confronts what appears to be a group of foreign tourists who had been ringing the bells with excessive force.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any video of the ringing itself, but in the conversation that followed, one side was clearly much more heated than the other.

“Enough. Enough. Enough. Enough. Get out of my sight,” one of the foreign men can be seen telling the woman, before another, who eventually states that he’s been a resident of Japan for eight years, steps forward and presents himself as the group’s spokesperson. After rapidly asking the woman three times in English, if she speaks English, he switches to grammatically sound if accented Japanese to ask her again if she can speak English, then bounces back to English before telling her to leave them alone. A foreign woman then comes forward to say “I misunderstood and I made it too loud. It’s not his fault,” after which the second man jumps back in and declares “You’re being very rude. Leave us alone.” Any pretext of polite conversation then breaks down, with the woman and second man both declaring each other rude in less-than-courteous choices of vocabulary.

The video was uploaded to X on May 23, and two days later Yasaka Shrine posted the following announcement on its official website: “Out of concern for the safety of all visitors, we will be putting away the main hall’s bell cords from 5 p.m. to 6 a.m. During that time, you may visit and worship as usual, but please be aware that you will not be able to ring the bells.”

The policy change doesn’t seem to have been triggered only by the May 23 video, as the shrine said, in a follow-up statement, that “There have been multiple cases of visitors shaking the cords strongly, and of the cords tearing, which led us to consider this change.” However, the timing of the policy shift indicates that at the very least the incident shown in the May 23 video was seen as the last straw regarding rough handling of the bells and their cords.

▼ The bells can still be rung during the day, when the shrine staff is present and the cords are in their down position, as shown in the video here.

Yasaka Shrine raising its cords isn’t completely unprecedented, but it’s a measure that’s usually only taken at New Year’s and during major festivals when the large number of visitors would mean significant wear and tear on the cords, and also during the height of the coronavirus pandemic when hand hygiene was a public health issue. In normal times, though, the bells have been available for visitors to ring day or night. The shrine does say, though, that from a religious standpoint not ringing the bell does not hamper the ability of worshippers’ prayers reaching the gods, just like how you don’t have to use a five-yen coin as your offering.

The pandemic years excepted, inbound foreign travel to Japan has been on a steady rise for much of the past 10 years. During the current post-pandemic, weak-yen boom, though, high-profile breaches of etiquette by foreign tourists seem to be occurring with increasing frequency, which risks souring Japan’s feeling towards visitors from overseas. As of now, Yasaka Shrine’s policy of raising the bell cords at night will remain in place indefinitely, but hopefully more respectful behavior from visitors in the coming weeks and months will keep it from becoming permanent.

Source: Yasaka Shrine official website, Nikkan Sports via Yahoo! Japan News via Jin, Kyoto Shimbun

Read more stories from SoraNews24.

-- Feel what it’s like to be a Shinto shrine maiden with shrine’s experience package for foreigners

-- A visit to one of Japan’s motorcycle Shinto shrines

-- Busting one of the biggest myths about the five-yen coin and shrine offerings in Japan

© SoraNews24

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

29 Comments
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This is a bad thing, however, the racism and xenophobia on the Twitter X comments of the video is just... Wow!

-7 ( +5 / -12 )

That foreign tour guide is now person non grata number one in Japan! His guiding company will have a hard time attracting customers now.

6 ( +10 / -4 )

https://www.reddit.com/r/PublicFreakout/comments/1czuxpv/a_confrontation_between_foreign_tourists_and/

The video is in the above link, however, as you can see, the Japanese lady was very rude, recording the people without their consent, and overall being very aggressive towards them. The tourists kept telling her to leave them alone and stop being so aggressive and rude.

As always, there is a 2 side of each story.

-11 ( +8 / -19 )

I have not seen the video, but travelers visiting religious sites, including shrines, temples, mosques, churches, and synagogues, should be mindful of the sacred nature of these places. These are places of worship for many people, and visitors should act respectfully. If unsure about proper etiquette, it's always best to err on the side of caution and be more reserved. Arguing and causing acrimony in such a place is shameful for both parties involved.

16 ( +17 / -1 )

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any video of the ringing itself, but in the conversation that followed, one side was clearly much more heated than the other.

No actual video to see what really happened to that bell, however original video of altercations are here

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ppniNJBED8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3VZi3SKNibU

.

Various tourists visit that shrine sometimes "to excessive" in ringing that bell.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYmvoSrjIGk

.

Just remember, J Govt who actually want those tourist, you got what you ask.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2024/04/17/japan/society/record-high-inbound-travelers/

-15 ( +2 / -17 )

https://www.reddit.com/r/PublicFreakout/comments/1czuxpv/a_confrontation_between_foreign_tourists_and/

The video is in the above link, however, as you can see, the Japanese lady was very rude, recording the people without their consent, and overall being very aggressive towards them. The tourists kept telling her to leave them alone and stop being so aggressive and rude.

As always, there is a 2 side of each story.

He might not rang that bell properly however nothing is broken or stolen, just a verbal altercation on how that bell should be rang.

-9 ( +6 / -15 )

These bells aren’t the large, cast-iron ones whose notes echo throughout the surrounding neighborhoods.

I always thought they were made of bronze.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

She was harassing the tour guy and the tourists, also calling the tour guy with "omae". The tour guy politely asked her if she can speak English so the other tourist would understand what is that she wants, or what is she was trying to tell her.

However she became very aggressive and rude towards them.

Just see the video before posting any comments.

-9 ( +4 / -13 )

Tourists here REALLY need to follow the, "When in Rome..." adage. It's the whole reason they visit, isn't it? To see/experience something different from their own culture, lifestyle, living.

Too many tourists visiting and doing exactly what they'd do back in their own country causing a plethora of issues. Leave all that at home. Come as an empty vessel and maybe leave a little wiser, more experienced.

Not just with tourists here in Japan, but the world over.

17 ( +19 / -2 )

They both seem as bad as each other,

That the women is filming the scene indicates she's looking to make a scene

That said if you want to keep working as a tour guide in Japan you can't talk like that.

A simple 大変申し訳ありません、

これから気を付けてます

And walk away

Would have defused the situation

Instead the guide is far too aggressive

8 ( +12 / -4 )

Watched the video and read the Japanese lady's blog.

She was filming the tourists because of their bad behaviour, she confronted them and told them it was unacceptable to ring the bell aggressively by each one of them and laugh about it. An older lady of the group apologized that she rung the bell too loudly.

The so-called foreign guide was arrogant and pretended that he couldn't speak Japanese and asked the lady if she spoke English. Clumsily, he reveals that he has lived in Japan for 8 years and is married to a Japanese person.

He calls the lady rude, in return she says,

"Rude? OMAE! (You! Used mainly by men)

In reply, the guide suddenly shows that he can curse quite well in Japanese as he shows his true colors.

He then pretends to not know what is going on and talks to a foreign woman (out of screen) who explains that the complaint is that his group was disrespectful at the shrine. He dismisses the idea and walks away ignoring the facts explained to him.

Unfortunately, there are always going to be foreigners who give us all a bad name, I hope this idiot is made to feel ashamed of his behavior.

It is a shame as many wonderful places around Japan will make changes due to the actions of a few rotten apples.

11 ( +15 / -4 )

@ DanteKH

Found an extended version of the video.

We can now see the other foreign lady's face as she explains to the guide that they should have apologized first for their actions. The guide explains they already had.

The guide then explains to the lady filming that he will contact the police next and asks the video footage to be deleted and then really impolitely asks for her name.

She repeats how he rudely asked for her name.

He curses again in Japanese for her to shut up and walks away!!

It wasn't harassment from the Japanese lady but the bad arrogant behavior of some unwelcome tourists!

https://www.instagram.com/tokyow0rld/reel/C7X_dNFvFnJ/

9 ( +14 / -5 )

I agree the guy was in the wrong and if he's a tour guide, the least he should do his stop his tour members from creating a nuisance. Having said that, the lady posted the guy's video all over the internet and people are leaving bad reviews for his business. It might be justified but what about the lady? Does anyone know what she looks like? Japan has a law about posting people's photo's or videos on social media without their consent.

The guy is getting castrated while the lady walked away scot free. I do not blame the lady for being angry. She might be local in Kyoto and with the influx of tourists and some of them being absolute menace in the city, I can imagine her frustration.

Both should be called into questioning and the lady must also face the consequences for posting the guy's video publicly.

8 ( +10 / -2 )

Is there a video of the bell ringing itself? The Japanese lady is ticked that's for sure.

Tourists here REALLY need to follow the, "When in Rome..." adage

0 ( +3 / -3 )

The Japanese woman is so rude. Did anyone watch the video before commenting? The Japanese woman was stupidly rude to them and I find these obatarians to be increasing in numbers. The foreigners were absolutely minding their own business. Kindly told the Japanese lady to leave them alone and she was so rude with her words first. Japanese lady was shameful. Anyone have her face pic also?

-12 ( +6 / -18 )

Tourists have a bad name anyway, thanks to endless stories about the wrong they do. But we are all suspected of being tourists now, so get used to it.

The other day I was queuing in a konbini at a large popular station in Kansai and eventually got to the cashier and she asked me quite sternly if I had been in the queue, yet she had beckoned me over. It was bizarre. Sometimes the queue in convenience stores is only up one of the narrow aisles and some foreigners in a hurry may be unaware that there is one, or perhaps believe that you line up in front of one cashier, not as one long queue, as is often the case elsewhere. They may inadvertently push in and this may even happen a lot in this station but I guess this lady cashier jumped to conclusions. Even more bizarrely was that there was actually nobody behind me.

Expect to be accused of all kinds of things as the negativity surrounding tourists permeates the collective psyche. The vernacular media is drowning in such stories.

-5 ( +4 / -9 )

Trouble in paradise again.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

“Enough. Enough. Enough. Enough. Get out of my sight,” one of the foreign men can be seen telling the woman, before another,

I would have just asked the woman if she is from China, or Korea.

-7 ( +4 / -11 )

Foreigner tourists behaving badly.

Should have sent them back to the countries they came from.

-3 ( +4 / -7 )

People need to be more tolerant of visitors who may not understand every aspect of the culture.

-4 ( +6 / -10 )

DanteKHToday  07:34 am JST

https://www.reddit.com/r/PublicFreakout/comments/1czuxpv/a_confrontation_between_foreign_tourists_and/

I watched your link, but it does not tell me anything, other than that the woman is pretty aggressive. Without context, I can not judge who is right or wrong here.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

WiseOneIn Kansai

https://www.instagram.com/tokyow0rld/reel/C7X_dNFvFnJ/

Thanks for the longer version. The video still does not explain how the whole kerfuffle started, so I am still not judging. However, at the end the tour guide too gets extremely rude too, which was totally un-called for and can only lead to more bad blood. The tourists themselves seemed to be quite polite and apologetic, the squabble is between the woman and the guide.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

Everyone is quick to judge here. Definitely the English tour guide appears to be rude - someone even comments to him in English that he can be rude, so it is clearly a character trait. However, we cannot see the evidence that leads up to this incident.

We see 100% of what happened after she pressed record, and 0% of what happened before she pressed record. Or maybe we saw 100% of what happened of the footage she released, and bot footage that she choose not to release.

The Japanese woman behind the camera may have been haranguing them for ages before that. She may even be someone who hangs around there just to berate foreigners. After all, isn't it the temple's job to stop people ringing the bell, not middle aged self-appointed guardians of Japan's heritage? The guide said that they had already apologised, so why wasn't that the end of the incident?

I am not saying that the guide acted well, but you cannot come to a conclusion without the whole story and both sides. I would be interested to hear what Joshua has to say.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

More details have appeared about this guide who apparently was running his business illegally.

This is a video commentary from a Frenchman who explains his own discovery of the whole episode and how disgusted he is with behavior of the guide.

https://youtu.be/AiqIwSkNVnU?si=aA8PITjsZx6LqR24

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Sounds like this guy was running a scam

Hope he gets kicked out of Japan, idiots like this just make it harder for everyone else.

They ghosted us. Dude came by with a paper saying (name omitted) said he needed a few minutes to sort things out and never returned. Check out the reviews here. Total scam. I'd give a lower rating if it were possible.

This is a pattern. The one 5-star review was probably from a friend. Completely bogus outfit.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Even if the Japanese lady was being rude and the alleged rough handling of the bell wasn't caught on camera, (her tone was on the ruder side but she was warning them to handle it with care) that does not give the tour guide an excuse to say “so loud, disappear. (Urusai. Kiero.)”

He says the Japanese woman is being rude and tells her to leave them alone and seconds later he tells her to disappear?? That sounds pretty hypocritical to me.

Yes, I know xenophobia is a very big problem in Japan and many people have been harmed by it but you can’t just use that as an excuse for his actions.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Clearly the tour guide is completely out of line.

First of all, managing his group of tourists and explaining to them what is and what isn't appropriate is one of the main parts of his job. He obviously failed to do so.

But what's even more insidious, is the way he uses polite English to the Japanese woman. He does so not only to belittle her for not being able to speak English, but also to save face in front of his customers. The moment he switches to Japanese he starts cursing and using profane language.

Foreigners staying, working in or visiting Japan should at least make some effort to adapt to local customs and behave in a appropriate way in public life. With overtourism and skyrocketing immigration, this will only get worse I'm afraid and it's high time the Japanese government takes action against this.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@Wim Chan

I can't agree with you more.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It's not racism or xenophobi.

I'm a Japanese man. If I saw a Japanese man disrepect our shrine, I would be tempted to punch him in the face.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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