11/13/2021, 13.37
JAPAN
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Without tourists Kyoto is on the verge of bankruptcy

Tourism in Japan’s former imperial capital fell by 88 per cent in 2020. The deficit in the current fiscal year hovers around US$ 440 million. While the mayor is trying to avoid bankruptcy with a restructuring plan, some see it as not ambitious enough.

Kyoto (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The City of Kyoto is waiting for the return of tourists to get back on its feet financially.

The prolonged decline in tourism, down by 88 per cent in 2020 over 2019, is weighing heavily on the finances of Japan’s former imperial capital.

The situation is such that Mayor Daisaku Kadokawa warns that his city faces the “prospect of bankruptcy within a decade”.

As Le Monde points out, the deficit for the fiscal year ending in March 2022 is expected to be around 50 billion yen (about US$ 440 million), which will be added to the 860 billion yen (US$ 7.5 billion) of accumulated debt.

If the trend continues, annual losses could reach 260 billion yen (US$ 2.3 billion) by 2025.

At present, hotel reservations are not even a third compared to 2019, and this winter does not seem promising.

To make matters worse, the government has postponed its "Go to Travel" subsidy programme, currently under review, to February 2022, "to be made safer from a health point of view", to quote Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

What is more, foreign visitors, including international students, are still denied access to the country.

Kyoto mayor’s plan to restructure the city’s finances includes cutting 550 jobs by 2025 and reducing social assistance. This would save 160 billion yen (US$ 1.4 billion) and prevent the central government from taking over the city like other municipalities.

Other problems remain. The municipality has not yet to pay off one of the city’s two metro lines built in 1997 whose ridership is far below expectations.

The city’s tax basis is limited because 40 per cent of the population is made up of students or people over 65 who hardly pay any taxes.

Temples and shrines are also exempt from property tax, while machiya, traditional wooden townhouses (pictured), enjoy lower taxation.

According to critics, Kyoto should loosen construction legislation that bans the construction of buildings taller than 31 metres, a height that drops to 15 metres in the historic centre.

The “area around Kyoto Station might be one place to be developed and attract new commercial investment," said Risa Emura, a Kyoto city council member.

“A big problem is that many young people want to work in Kyoto, but they can’t find a good job or career here. So they’re forced to move somewhere else to look for work,” Emura added.

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