- JAPAN IN FOCUS
Hiroshima: Visitors to Miyajima to pay island conservation tax
8:29 JST, March 27, 2021
HATSUKAICHI, Hiroshima — Millions of people from all corners of the globe have traveled to Miyajima Island in Hiroshima Prefecture to stand in awe at Itsukushima Shrine’s picture-perfect 16.6 meter-high orange Otorii gate that appears to float on the sea at high tide.
In the future, visitors to the island can expect to have a new tax levied upon them by the local Hatsukaichi city assembly. The tax ordinance, which the assembly voted in favor of on March 15, was drafted to raise funds to protect the island’s culture and nature. The municipality hopes to start collecting fees by the end of fiscal 2023.
A tax of ¥100 per visit is to be imposed on each visitor to the island, excluding its residents, commuters to the island and students on school trips. The tax will be collected by adding it to the cost of ferry tickets. The tax’s projected annual revenue currently stands at about ¥300 million.
For frequent visitors and businesspeople who have business partners on the island, the municipality plans to make a ¥500 annual pass available so that such visitors do not have to pay the ¥100 standard fee every time they arrive on the island.
For the ordinance to be implemented, it still requires the consent of the internal affairs and communications minister as well as modifications being made to ferry companies’ ticketing systems.
Because of the uncertainties brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic, the city government expects it will take at least two years to start collecting the tax.
Itsukushima Shrine’s iconic symbol, the Otorii grand gate standing in the Seto Inland Sea, is currently cloaked in scaffolding and other construction equipment due to restoration work that began in June 2019. But even with this sightseeing setback, a record 4.65 million people visited the island in 2019 before the novel coronavirus pandemic essentially quashed international tourism.
Even though the area has been enjoying a years-long tourism boom, the municipality has been struggling to secure the financial resources required to protect its world-class nature because of a declining, and aging, population.
“Even if the number of visitors to the island leads to higher profits in businesses affiliated with the tourism industry, corporate tax is paid to the central government. The tax revenue that the city receives is very small,” a city official said.
25 yrs as a World Heritage site
Itsukushima Shrine and its surrounding nature were registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996, along with Hiroshima’s Atomic Bomb Dome. This year marks the 25th anniversary of its listing.
The virgin forests of Mt. Misen, which are also included in the World Heritage site listing, are located behind Itsukushima Shrine and the surrounding town.
Miyajima has become a worldwide hotspot not only because of the island’s natural beauty and ancient Japanese architecture, but also perhaps because of the locals’ open-hearted hospitality.
Initially, many local shopkeepers were icy toward the prospect of registering the area as a World Heritage site, with some of them saying they didn’t know how to deal with foreign visitors.
But as the island began to attract more and more international visitors, some shopkeepers warmed up to them by doing things like placing world maps near their cash registers to facilitate conversations with the folks from abroad.
Over time, many Miyajima restaurants became increasingly aware of the needs of their foreign guests and began providing English menus.
Recently, some of the souvenir shops have internationalized their otherwise traditional treats by adding cheese, blueberry and sweet-potato flavors to their momiji manju — a sweet red-bean-paste bun shaped like a momiji maple leaf that is one of the island’s most popular confections.
The ferry from Miyajimaguchi on the Honshu side to Miyajima takes about 10 minutes. The island is considered one of the three most beautiful spots in Japan, along with Matsushima in Miyagi Prefecture and Amanohashidate in Kyoto Prefecture. According to legend, Itsukushima Shrine was founded in 593 but it remains unclear if that is when it was first built. According to the records left by an Itsukushima Shrine priest and other documents, it is said that around 1168, Taira no Kiyomori, a strong man of the time, built a shrine on the same scale as the one that’s there today.
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