The Ethics of Tourism around Religious Sites

It is 3:08 am in Japan, still not quite recovered from jet lag….

So I went on my first little outing yesterday, and thanks to the wonderful ladies at the front desk (whose English sounds better than mine!) I was able to find the religious spots near my hotel. But here’s where things get strange. I visited the Gasshoji thinking I would be fine to take a couple of pictures, but when I walked in, I saw the cemetery and realized “this is where people keep their dead. People WORSHIP here.” Not only that, but it just had this aura of a place where I should not take pictures. It just didn’t seem appropriate.

I went on to the Benten chapel in Inokashima, but was too busy fangirling to even consider snapping a picture before entering. However, as I was in there, some other Western tourists crossed onto the little bridge and just stopped. They were talking loudly (I couldn’t understand about what; I think they were speaking in French). Then one of them took out their camera and started taking pictures.

And I felt irritated. They didn’t come in and look around. They just stood there and stared like it was another tourist site, and not a place where people (including me, actually!) were praying.

I wonder about all this because I know plenty of tourists flock to the Vatican and other famous churches, for example. That doesn’t make me so uncomfortable, even if the tourists are non-Western and know little about Catholicism. Maybe it’s because those big churches are different from a little Benten chapel somehow? Perhaps because the Catholic Church is a massive sociopolitical cultural organization, and a better analogy would be Japanese tourists walking into a small Baptist church and just gawking at the worshipers.