Kyoto, Japan’s beautiful former imperial capital, is rapidly going bankrupt.

view of the temple
File photo shows Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto, Japan.

John Banagan Photography/Getty

Tokyo — Kyoto’s glorious ancient monuments, Zen temples and towering pagodas have been major tourist attractions for a century. Although the Japanese city has a population of only about 1.5 million, it boasts 17 individual UNESCO World Heritage Sites. But Kyoto’s treasure trove of precious relics is not a painful reality. The capital of Japan’s majestic empire is emptying out.

“We are on the brink of bankruptcy within 10 years,” Kyoto Mayor Daisaku Kadokawa said at a shocking press conference last year.

Without sharp cuts in public services, the city is expected to be in debt by $2 billion within five years, with all reserves depleted.

Japan continues to ban entry of tourists coronavirus infectious disease global epidemic Especially in Kyoto. The city helped attract a whopping 31 million Japanese visitors in 2019 alone, but now its tourism industry has shrunk to mostly local visitors. Last year, Japan’s total inbound tourists plummeted to about 250,000, the lowest level since records began in 1964.

Golden Week Holidays Japan Tourism
On May 3, 2022, during the Golden Week holiday in Kyoto, Japan, the path to Kiyomizu-dera is crowded with local tourists. Japan’s hospitality industry is urging the government to reopen for more overseas visitors.


But epidemic-related costs and the collapse of the tourism industry have exposed the city’s mismanagement of finances for decades. The red ink began to flow 30 years ago when Kyoto eventually swelled to $4 billion as it built a second subway line. The Tozai line did not meet its daily passenger goal.

Officials have also invested $120 million in a luxurious upgrade and refurbishment of the City Hall, complete with stained glass windows, European damask walls, a Japanese tea house, a rooftop garden and even an underground corridor that connects to the White Elephant Underground. . Residents cynically point out that the hallways are rarely used.

So last fall, the ax finally fell. The city government has cut public transport subsidies for the elderly, raised childcare costs and cut salaries for civil servants, despite concerns that austerity measures will speed up the escape of already concerned Kyoto residents.

The Catholic Church’s income has fallen sharply due to a lack of tourism in the Vatican during the coronavirus pandemic


Last fall, a section of the Asahi Broadcasting network reported that City Hall received 9,000 comments on the budget cuts, along with widespread opposition to the tightening of the belt. Some residents have called for a reduction in the salaries of city councilors, that is, the number of politicians.

Even the city’s zoos have been reduced to finding handouts. Food manufacturers and horticultural companies donate everything from radishes, frozen melons and cucumbers to cut trees. The zoo’s vice president, Seitaro Wada, told local Kansai TV last fall that all of this has helped cut the zoo’s food budget by about 10%.

Japan is now moving tentatively to reopen its borders. Dozens of tourists are expected to enter the country on a test basis in the coming weeks. But Hiroyuki Mori, a regional public finance expert at Ritsumeikan University, told YTV News that “even if the number of tourists increases, the deficit cannot be offset,” so the budget problems of the former imperial capital have been on fire.

Alley with Yasaka Tower in Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, Japan
File photo overlooking a road in Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto City, Japan.


“The key to city revenue is local and property taxes.” He said Kyoto was lacking in two ways. Only 43% of residents pay local taxes, in part due to its many universities and a strong student population of 150,000.

To preserve Kyoto’s unique traditional scenery, high-rise office towers and condominiums (typically a lucrative source of property taxes in Japan) are banned.

The city is also covered with an astonishing 2,000 Buddhist temples and shrines. All of them militarily resisted attempts to change their duty-free status.

Without divine intervention, the first cut might not be enough to save Kyoto from bankruptcy and the government to take over the finances.


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