After a long absence, tourists are back to Kyoto in full swing. Unfortunately, tourism means tourism problems – including scams. One Buddhist template in Kyoto is warning visitors of a new racket intended to separate them from their freshly converted yen.
Beware the picture-takers
The temple, Nanzenji, is a historic Buddhist temple dating back to 1291, Japan’s Shou-ou Period. Located in Kyoto’s Sakyo Ward, it serves as the head temple of the Nanzenji faction of the Rinzai school of Japanese Zen Buddhism. The entrance is known for its distinctive three-gate design.
Unfortunately, it’s now becoming known as a place where visitors should have their guard up.
The temple says they’ve received two reports recently of a photography scam targeting temple visitors. In this scam, a group of women asks a man if they want to take a picture with them. When the man consents, they take a picture either with his camera or theirs. Once it’s done, however, they turn around and ask anywhere from 500 yen to over a thousand yen ($3 to over $7 USD) for the privilege.
Obviously, the temple isn’t too keen that people are using the grounds to fleece visitors. It calls the scam “unacceptable” and is warning visitors via a loudspeaker to be wary.
The Nanzenji scam is fairly low-rent as far as scams go. And it’s bold to pull it off on holy grounds. But it’s not unexpected: authorities say they’re seeing a general uptick in scams as Japan’s economy continues to stagnate.
Many scams operate out of Japan’s red-light districts and work by pulling in customers and then sticking them with large bills. Nagoya police say they’ve seen a 1.5x increase in consultations over such scams since last year.
Soliciting (客引き; kyakuhiki) is generally illegal in nightlife areas such as Tokyo’s Kabukicho. In Nagoya’s Sakae district, locals say scammers get around this by hanging out just outside the areas that ban soliciting – or move quickly to these areas when they spot the cops.
To avoid these risks altogether, some scammers use dating apps to lure men to fake “bars” that exist solely to separate them from their money. A loudspeaker at the entrance to Kabukicho plays on loop warning visitors of the potential danger.
Police have also cracked down this year on otherwise legitimate businesses in Kabukicho that have crossed the line into illegal activity. In March, police arrested the owner of Soft on Demand’s SOD Land for offering conversation time with the company’s adult video stars without obtaining the proper licensing under Japan’s Entertainment Law. Authorities have also busted several men’s “concept cafes” (con cafes) for serving alcohol to minors.
Bottom line: be careful out there. And always pay in cash.
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