Great snow conditions, promoted by word of mouth overseas, have attracted a growing number of foreign visitors, mainly from Australia, to Niseko Mountain Resort Grand Hirafu, a ski resort in the Niseko highlands in Hokkaido.
The ski resort in Kutchancho, west of Mt. Yotei, is part of the Niseko ski resort area. The mountain is nicknamed the “Mt. Fuji of Hokkaido.”
Mark Rodgers, a 25-year-old company employee from Sydney, described everything as “perfect,” while hoisting a mug of beer in a restaurant at the resort. Besides the powder snow, he was praising the sushi and beer.
He said he was going to spend two weeks out of his 25-day vacation in Japan at the ski resort. He also said he appreciated the beauty of the natural environment.
Fumio Sato, 43, chief of the ski resort’s business planning division, said, “On weekdays, it seems that about a half of our visitors are from overseas.” Last winter, foreign visitors accounted for about 20 percent of the holidaymakers. He predicted that the percentage would be higher this season.
Data from the Kutchancho town government also show an increase of foreign visitors. Australians who stayed in the town increased from 214 in fiscal 2001 to 7,696 in fiscal 2005.
Hajime Sekiguchi, 54, chief of the town government’s commerce, industry and tourism division, said, “The number [of Australians] will exceed 10,000 this fiscal year [ending March 31].”
Around the ski resort, holiday condominiums targeting such tourists are mushrooming.
Based on benchmark land prices announced by the Construction and Transport Ministry last year, prices of residential land in the ski resort area rose 33.3 percent, compared with the previous year–the sharpest increase in the nation last year.
Simon Robinson, a 46-year-old Australian who runs a real estate firm that manages about 80 holiday condominium units in Kutchancho, plans to add 30 units this year and 20 next year.
He was upbeat, saying demand will grow as the number of visitors from other Asian countries, Europe and the United States has also been increasing.
However, people in the town voiced some anxiety regarding the bubblelike boom. Sekiguchi said, “I’m afraid this town may face ruin if the boom ends.”
The town was trying to make itself more attractive by, for example, improving shopping malls and offering free night buses.
The whole of the town is doing its best to advertise the name “Niseko” to the rest of the world.