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 Nisekofs 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 Japanfs 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 youfve somewhere crossed the border into another
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 townfs 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 itfs 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 Kutchanfs 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.
Institute for International Studies and Training (IIST)
2nd Floor, Toranomon Jitsugyo Kaikan
1-1-20 Toranomon, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan