A small town in Hokkaido enters the spotlight A small town in Hokkaido enters the spotlight
Backstories

A small town in Hokkaido enters the spotlight

    NHK World
    Correspondent
    Biei is a town located at the center of Japan's northern island of Hokkaido. With its idyllic landscape of rolling hills, it's a popular tourist destination, especially for travelers from South Korea and China. Last year, the number of visitors to Biei was over 2.2 million.

    But for the some 10,000 residents, mostly working in dairy and agriculture, this sudden influx has brought some challenges.

    A big problem for residents is tourists trespassing on farms, trampling on crops as they search for the perfect spot to take pictures. Their presence brings the risk of pests and diseases, carried unwittingly.

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    Biei is popular for its many 'Instagrammable' locations.

    One of Biei's most popular tourist draws used to be a large poplar tree. But the farmer whose property the tree was on cut it down three years ago. He said he had no choice because tourists kept sneaking onto his fields to take pictures. The incident was a wakeup call and brought the negative effects of tourism to the fore.

    Tomoki Ohnishi grows wheat and soy beans. He says trespassing tourists are a significant source of stress for farmers.

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    This poplar tree was once a popular tourist destination. It was cut down three years ago because visitors continuously trespassed to take pictures of it.

    But tourism is crucial for the town's economy. To coexist with visitors, residents have started taking various measures.

    One of these is to create a sense of connection between the tourists and the farmers. The project is the brainchild of a group of young farmers, including Ohnishi, who raised money for it through crowd-funding. It involves placing signs at the three locations in Biei where trespassing occurs most often.

    The signs include QR codes which, when scanned, will take visitors to the websites of the farmers who own the fields in front of them. The sites include information on what grains or vegetables are grown and where they are sold. The purpose is to build a sense of closeness with the farmers and encourage the tourists to think twice before stepping onto the fields.

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    Biei had about 2.2 million visitors last year.

    Another effort is being led by a local organization. The group started a program in June to help police trespassing.

    If tourists enter fields or violate other rules, residents or other tourists can send photos or videos to the organization. Staff are then sent to the scene to talk to the violators. The group also regularly patrols areas where many cases are reported.

    "We want to involve everyone in the effort to improve manners," Masanori Satake, an executive of the organization, says. "We expect our program to contribute to preserving Biei as a sustainable tourist town."

    With the summer tourism season just around the corner, Biei is searching for a solution that will be beneficial to residents and visitors alike.