TOKYO - At least 100 bamboo trees in Kyoto's famous Arashiyama bamboo grove were found to be defaced with carvings in English, Chinese and Korean alphabet, local media reported on Thursday (May 17).
The bamboo grove, located on the western outskirts of Japan's ancient capital of Kyoto, is a Unesco World Heritage Site and is one of the city's most photographed locations.
Such irresponsible behaviour could endanger other trees in the grove, manager of the bamboo forest, Mr Takayuki Suzuki, said as he told the Nippon News Network that he was "past the stage of anger and is feeling deep sorrow".
He added, to Japanese public broadcaster NHK: "Bamboo trees are connected by their roots and so if one is damaged the other trees will also get affected. In such a situation there will be no other choice but to chop down bamboo trees to protect the entire forest, and so, please stop such behaviour."
The news came on the same day the Japan Tourism Board (JTB) reported yet another surge in the number of foreign tourists to Japan.
There were 10.5 million visitors between January to April this year, an increase of 15.4 per cent over the same period last year. Koreans accounted for the most number of arrivals, followed by Chinese and Taiwanese. The JTB also said that the number of visitors broke the 10 million mark on April 25, 18 days earlier than last year.
Visitor arrival records have been smashed annually as Japan pulls out all stops to woo foreign tourists as a driver of economic growth.
Last year, the nation drew 28.7 million tourists - up 19.3 per cent from 2016 in what was the sixth straight increase. It is targeting 40 million visitors by 2020, when Tokyo is due to host the marquee Olympics and Paralympics sporting event.
In response to the vandalism, Kyoto City will be putting up notices in multiple languages to warn tourists against defacing the trees. It is also considering raising the height of fences to better protect the trees.
The grove, known for its towering trees, has drawn scores of tourists since access was made free-of-charge three years ago.
Kyoto City said it has observed trees being defaced since February, though the number of vandalised trees "rapidly increased" last month. Tourists are alleged to have used sharp objects such as penknives to engrave their names, initials or messages onto the trees.
Ebisuya, which runs rickshaw services in the bamboo forest, said in a Facebook post this month: "There is no choice but to chop down bamboo trees that are damaged and the number of trees will decrease steadily. In this way, a beautiful tourism site will be lost."
The Kyodo news agency quoted an official of Kyoto City as saying: "These visitors might have carved their names to commemorate their trips, but we cannot accept such behaviour."
Some Japanese media have dubbed such phenomenon 'kanko kogai', or tourism pollution, as cities with inadequate infrastructure get overrun by tourists - not all of whom are respectful of local cultures and norms.