Niseko, the Winter Frontier

If you keep up with Japanese society and economics even a bit, you will know something of Japan’s uncertain future. The outright biggest problem is the simultaneously aging and decreasing population. In Japanese, it is referred to as 少子高齢化 shoushi (less children) koureika (increasing age).
Japanese people are having less children, and in fact, a recent survey has shown that there is even a decreasing interest among young people toward sex and relationships. Simultaneously, due to modern medical techniques, Japanese people are living longer than ever, illuminating the burden the current young generation will face in terms of welfare and elderly care. This is really just the tip of the iceberg however. It’s the overarching problem that will subsequently make the other social and economic issues far worse;
low self sufficiency rate for food production, very expensive yen, high dependence on other imports, and a discouragingly stale educational system that focuses on memorization and routine rather than creative and interpretive thought…

But what does this mean?

Tokyo and Osaka of course will remain as powerhouses of convenience and opportunity (albeit with an impending aging population), but there is much much more to Japan than simply its booming urban areas. Long story short, small Japanese towns that exist on the margins and have existed primarily through local agriculture, refining traditional crafts and skills, and making use of natural resources of the area are becoming less relevant in the modern day of automation and foreign importation on a large scale. Furthermore, these towns are seeing a massive migration of young people to larger metropolitan areas in search of more prolific work and a more exciting lifestyle.

A map of Japan showing the location of Niseko

That being said, the time is now to rediscover the value that smaller Japanese towns have to offer and harness the economic potential of them. We have seen recent efforts to spur projects in more rural areas of Japan to revive the economy, and more importantly generate foreign interest and investment. At a recent American Chamber of Commerce in Japan event, we heard a presentation on the lesser-known ski resort Niseko in Hokkaido. It was “discovered” by Australian skiers in the 90’s and has since gained momentum as possibly the best place to ski in the world. It receives higher snowfall than almost anywhere else, and thus a constant flow of quality powder from about December to March.

 

An image of Mt. Yotei, which is said to be the Mt. Fuji of northern Japan
Mt. Yotei

 

The fact is, the infrastructure of Niseko is seriously underdeveloped for the amount of notoriety it has gained as a potential world-class ski resort; it’s just not prepared. Ricardo Tossani has been making headway into improving lodging, shopping facilities, and general functionality and appeal of the town using his architecture expertise and vast business network. He has already contracted various estates and hotels in the area, and is now leading a project to beautify the main street of Hirafu, a town in Niseko.

The momentum is present, and the ideas to turn this place into a premier vacation destination have been put into place. International tourism to the area has increased dramatically over the last decade, and almost overnight through contributions and investments, the reality of Niseko being an internationally oriented spot has come to fruition. Up until now, it was largely designated for domestic tourism and moreover the “Japanese style” of vacationing, which is generally only a whirlwind tour of one or two days. However, Mr. Tossani noted in his presentation that the average Australian who visits a resort abroad is likely to spend an average of 10 nights there. Thus we can hope to see lodging that is more comfortably designed for a longer stay, as well as more nightlife activities, shopping centers, etc, making it more appealing to the average powder-seeking tourist, and also an appealing place to start a career for a young Japanese person.

"The Rocks" resort lodge in Hirafu, one of the popular ski destinations in Niseko
“The Rocks” in Hirafu

All in all, this is just one place of countless in Japan that have potential to be developed in order to generate foreign investments, and most importantly renew interest and appeal for the area in general.
After all, as of now, how many visitors to Japan realistically travel anywhere other than the major tourist hotspots: Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Sapporo? and possibly a couple of very nearby areas on the smaller side: Hakone, Nikko, Nara?
Japanese people, foreign investors, and interested parties alike need to step up and discover the irreplaceable and unique value that the diverse areas of Japan have to offer all year round, and work to figure out a way to lessen the blow of impending economic and social strain