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Date of Issue:15/February/2008

Silver Slopes Draw Australian Skiers

Seiji Fukushima
Mayor
Kutchan Town, Hokkaido


Hokkaidofs Kutchan (population 15,700) is the gateway to the Grand Hirafu ski fields (Niseko-Annupuri 1,308m), which every winter attract hordes of Australian skiers in search of the ultimate powder snow.

On 3 October 2007, I had the opportunity to participate in the Hokkaido Investment and Tourism Seminar, an event organized by the Institute for International Studies and Training in conjunction with the Hokkaido Bureau of Economy, Trade and Industry and the Australian Consulate in Sapporo. Held in Sydney, Australia, the seminar formed part of a trade and investment facilitation exchange project, as well as a dispatch project promoting understanding of Japan. Within the purview of the latter, I briefed those Australian firms attending the seminar on real estate investment by Australian capital in the Niseko-Hirafu area to date and the current situation in terms of tourist influx, as well as the attractions of Niseko, which are admired both at home and internationally.

My high hopes for the seminar were answered by an attentive audience and the great interest expressed by those who took part in the afternoon private sessions, and I was delighted to note the ongoing strength of Nisekofs reputation.

From back in the early 20th century when skiing was in its infancy, Kutchan has called the Niseko mountain range the San Moritz of the East, and has benefited both directly and indirectly from the 1964 formation of a sister-city relationship with the real San Moritz, a top European ski resort area. The Niseko Kokusai Hirafu Ski Resort (now the Grand Hirafu) has gone on to become one of Japanfs top ski fields both in name and in practice, contributing to the success of two winter National Athletic Meets as the location for the alpine events. These days, the Grand Hirafu on the eastern slope of Mt. Annupuri offers expansive ski-fields with a vertical drop of 940 meters and a maximum course distance of 5,600 meters.

During winter, if you make the 15-minute trip from the center of Kutchan to Grand Hirafu, you will find flocks of foreign tourists, often with their families, in a ski area packed with Western-style buildings-so many foreigners, in fact, that it can seem that youfve somewhere crossed the border into another country.

Rafting and other summer water sports set up by Australians who have been living in the Niseko area from the early 1990s have become very popular and successful. Further, the excellent quality of the snow has been passed on among Australian skiers by word of mouth, with the September 11 terrorist incident in the States spurring a sudden rush of Australian tourists attracted by public safety, a limited time difference, and fine powder snow. The 214 Australian skiers who came in FY2001 (from a total of 1,684 Australian skiers) swelled to 2,924 in FY2003 (from 23,510), while last year this rose to 9,418 (from 70,335), equivalent to 60 percent of the townfs population.

This influx of tourists has been absorbed thanks to the rush of construction over the past several years of long-term-stay condominiums. Real estate transactions have been so brisk that itfs now impossible to find an untouched empty lot. Media reports throughout the country have noted that the posted standard land price has soared, up 33.3 percent last year, then 37.5 percent this year, to top national rankings for residential land for two consecutive years. As at the end of August last year, the area boasted 33 local affiliates funded by foreign capital, most of it Australian, while real estate traded in the Niseko-Hirafu area centering around Kutchanfs Aza-Yamada district is being both bought and sold primarily by Australians.

The Australian economy is driven by demand for natural subterranean resources such as iron ore on the part of Japan, and, more recently, China and India as they continue their swift economic development. Economic growth has held at around an annual three percent, and solid growth is expected to continue in the years ahead. I hope that the Niseko area will continue to advance based on good relations with Australia, and I look forward to working to develop the area with the support and cooperation of all involved.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone at the Institute for International Studies and Training for their kind assistance.


 
 
 

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