We have invited people who have immigrated from abroad and are now living in the Shiribeshi region of central Hokkaido to contribute columns from a variety of perspectives. The columns appear in Japanese in the morning edition of the Hokkaido Shimbun newspaper every other Monday. https://www.hokkaido-np.co.jp/series/s_cool_otaru
In this section, the columns are posted in the author's original text.
【Column】 Niseko’s focus turns domestic
In English the word “lemon” is sometimes used to describe something bad. There is an expression: “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade”. We say this when things are bad to try to help find of a positive solution.
This year, Niseko’s tourism industry – along with much of the world – has been handed a giant bag of lemons. The Niseko ski resort business model has been built on the popularity of this area among foreign travellers, which until now has grown almost every year over the past 20 years. However, as there is currently no plan by the Japanese government to allow visitors into Japan for tourism, ski resort businesses are expecting their traditional customer base might be close to zero this winter. Meanwhile these businesses still have rent and salaries to pay, and usually need to hire extra staff for winter.
It is not just the big companies run by foreigners that are affected. This also affects many big Japanese businesses – such as Tokyu Resort Service and Chuo Bus – and small family-run restaurants, ski guides and other businesses that have become reliant on foreign tourists over the past two decades.
So what to do now? Let’s make lemonade.
One of the most obvious ideas to combat this situation is to fill beds and sell ski lift tickets to Japanese people. There was a ski boom in the 1980s and 1990s and Niseko was filled with visitors, and investors, from Tokyo and across Japan. Can it happen again?
I believe the best chance the people of Niseko have to survive over the next 12-24 months is to somehow let people around Japan know there is an incredible international resort within their own national borders. Niseko United is like no other ski resort in Japan. Over the past decade, billions of dollars of foreign investment have been poured into Niseko to make it resemble the world’s best luxury ski resorts in the US, Canada and Europe. Resort masterplans for Hanazono, Niseko Village and Moiwa have been made by Ecosign Mountain Resort Planners, the designer of Whistler in Canada, which is renowned as one of the most lauded ski resorts in the world.
While other ski resorts around Japan close lifts, Niseko United has built or renewed eight new lifts over the past decade. Two more are expected to be completed at Hanazono next year. In Hirafu, everywhere you look there are foreigners of many nationalities walking the streets and serving customers in local businesses. Restaurant menus and village street signs are in English. Instead of katsu curry for lunch, you can ski into a five-star hotel with Michelin-recognised chefs. Many Japanese people who visit Niseko can’t believe that this is Japan, and some say it is like walking around a movie set.
Every wealthy skier around the world now dreams of visiting Niseko. Now we want the people of Japan to discover Niseko too. This winter Japanese people may not be able to travel internationally, but they can travel “overseas” (over the Tsugaru Strait) to experience Japan’s world-class ski resort.
We will be working with Niseko Tourism this winter to try to bring TV shows, celebrities, influencers and other media up here to try to let as many people as possible in Japan know about the new Niseko to try and kickstart a buzz, which will hopefully lead to a boom. Any help or ideas you can give us to make connections with mainstream media would be appreciated.
So while this is a terrible situation now, it could turn out to be a huge positive if we can start to bring more Japanese people here this winter. This could then bring economic benefits to local families in Niseko and the Hokkaido economy for many years to come.