Mar. 04, 2020 UPDATE

Novel Coronavirus Street Interviews with Tourists in Kyoto

We took to the streets to ask foreigner travelers to Kyoto what they thought about the current state of Kyoto amidst the coronavirus outbreak.
Shin[ Sharing Kyoto Staff ]

As fears of the spread of the coronavirus mounts in Japan, I headed out to see what overseas travelers on the streets of Kyoto truly felt about the city at the moment.

If you’re planning a trip to Kyoto, then you’ll probably have a pretty similar outlook on the situation as the people I asked, so definitely give the article a read and see what everyone had to say.

In recent weeks, the novel coronavirus has made big news around the globe. In January, the virus made its way to Japan, and the media has been reporting on it every day since.

As a result of the coronavirus, the number of travelers to Kyoto also began to fall in January. Places usually overflowing with visitors, such as Arashiyama and the Nishiki Market, are seeing fewer and fewer people every day.

While some fear that at this rate, tourists will stop coming to Kyoto completely, you still see plenty of people from overseas on the streets despite the risk of traveling to Japan. That made us wonder, how do foreign travelers here feel about Kyoto at the moment?

Our writer Shin took to the streets to ask people what they thought of Kyoto after seeing the news and then actually coming here.

Below are the honest opinions of real travelers to Kyoto about the current situation in the city.

▼ Questions

Q. Before coming to Japan, were you worried about the coronavirus?

Q. After coming here, did you feel that what was portrayed on the news was different from the actual situation?

Q. Why did you decide to come to Kyoto now?

Q. Can you give us your honest feelings about how it has been staying in Kyoto?

Q. What would you tell people thinking of coming to Kyoto at the moment?

For this article, we asked 6 groups of 11 people the above questions. The respondents consisted of a French man, two American men, a couple from Kuwait, two American men from San Francisco, two Australian women and a Spanish couple.

The interviews were conducted on February 26.

Q. Before coming to Japan, were you worried about the coronavirus? YES/NOBefore coming to Japan

Yes: 7 | No: 4

The United States (San Francisco):

No, we read about it and looked to say, "oh, should we not go to Japan?" And there was nothing that said we shouldn't, so we came.


Yes, we were worried. We're going home one day early.


Yes. I’m always looking at the news about Novel Coronavirus.

Shin’s Comments:

I thought everyone would be really concerned, so I was surprised four people answered NO. However, among those four people, while some responded that they were "utterly unphased so came," others were "slightly concerned but not enough to stop them from coming." So it seems that there was a difference even among the people who answered NO.

Q. After coming here, did you feel that what was portrayed on the news was different from the actual situation? YES/NOAfter coming hereKuwait:

Yeah, it's very safe. It feels very clean. Masks and sanitizers are hard to find because everyone’s scared, but every shop had sanitizers and we brought some from our house. It's empty. The Temples are nice.

The United States (San Francisco):

I think so. The news is saying that there are hundreds of people infected here but WHO is saying there are only 150. It seems exaggerated on the news.

I didn't know Japan was having a problem with the virus. Just thought it was China. I haven't seen that it's a huge problem in Japan.


We didn't watch the news. I looked at Smartraveller (an Aus Govt. website) and it said to be careful. Yes, there was a gap between the news and real life.


Woman: Maybe. I don't think so.

Man: I think yes.

I think there's a problem and the news reflects the problem. We haven't seen the problem itself, but it is here, in Spain and around the world. It's a problem, and the media is reporting it, but the fact that you don't see the problem doesn't mean that it doesn't exist.

Shin’s Comments:

Everyone was very detailed in their responses. Overall, a lot of people answered that it was safer than they thought. I got the impression that, while the virus is spreading and there’s no doubt that the situation has become dangerous, from the perspective of those from overseas, what the Japanese media is reporting sounds exaggerated. 

Q. Why did you decide to come to Kyoto now?Why did you decide to come to Kyoto nowFrance:

I just wanted to come to temples. 

The United State (San Francisco):

Because we planned it like 6 months ago. 


We brought the plane ticket before all this coronavirus stuff. If we hadn’t, we might not have come. 

Shin’s Comments:

Most people decided to take the leap and travel after weighing their concerns about the coronavirus and their long-held desire to come to Kyoto.

I think that if I’d done the same and purchased the plane ticket before the corona outbreak, I probably would have come to Japan too.

Q. Can you give us your honest feelings about how it has been staying in Kyoto?how it has been staying in KyotoFrance:

It’s great. Everything is nice and safe. I don’t get into big trouble. Just great.

The United State:

Great. Really enjoyed it. I haven't been too worried about it. I see a lot of people wearing masks, but it doesn't seem like anyone's coughing. It seems normal, it seems fine.


People are friendly, it's very clean, this time it's quite. I came in the summer, and it was packed. Especially the Nishiki Market, it was full of people. But I feel like nothing's changed in Kyoto. People are happy, it's good, everything's ok.


It’s been wonderful. Not dangerous. 

Shin’s Comments:

As someone who lives and works in Kyoto, I feel like there are more people with masks, fewer people on the street, and the whole town has little by little begun to change. But it appears that from the perspective of people from overseas, everything seems fine. While there is concern about the spread of the coronavirus, there haven’t been any incidents like coronavirus related hate crimes, so I think everything’s fine in terms of public order.


Q. What would you tell people thinking of coming to Kyoto at the moment?What would you tell people thinking of coming to KyotoFrance:

I tell them to come. I recommend.

The United States:

If they're able to, definitely come. It's a really cool experience being outside of your county, being in a different culture. We got asked if we'd traveled to China, which we haven't. It's my first time here, but I feel like it's pretty normal. It's ok. No worries.


Come. There's nothing here. Just stay safe, wash your hands, and I think you'll be fine. If anything, we had more fun at the temples because they were empty. We got to see it alone and take pictures. It was lovely.

The United States (San Francisco):

They should come. Unless something changes, there's no reason not to come. Even in America, they're freaking out. But based on how it is at the moment, I would come back in a heartbeat.


It's safe. Kyoto is alright, but Tokyo is very worrying. And we have to go through Tokyo.


Man: I would recommend coming to Kyoto. Yes, bring masks. 

Woman: I recommend waiting and maybe coming later when the coronavirus is gone.

Shin’s Comments:

Among reports of the virus spreading, I thought that more people would say to stay away for the time being, so these responses were quite unexpected.

Some of the respondents seemed to be taking the drop in tourists as a positive and were enjoying being able to sightsee around Kyoto with fewer people. However, as the situation continues to change daily, it’s important to keep updated with the latest news as you make your plans.  

A comment from the staff
As the coronavirus continues to spread in Japan, I’m stuck feeling conflicted between wanting people to come to Kyoto and not being able to recommend doing so in light of the situation. If you’re considering a trip to Kyoto, make sure to do so based on the latest information that’s come out. If you’re already planning on coming to Kyoto, then I hope you can use this article to see how other travelers are feeling about the situation here.

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