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Author Topic: Nagano resort on slippery economic slope  (Read 6844 times)


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Nagano resort on slippery economic slope
« on: December 05, 2008, 12:32:42 AM »
Thought this was an interesting article apart from a couple of obvious typos

A 95 year old resort?

Skiing introduced by an Australian?

Original article:

Nagano resort on slippery economic slope

NOZAWA-ONSEN, Nagano Pref. (Kyodo) Once among the most sought-after ski resorts, with its pristine powdered slopes peppered with trendsetters and winter sports fans, Nagano's Nozawa-Onsen Snow Resort Co. has fallen prey to the same steady economic decline that finds many rural communities scrambling with snowballing debts and searching for a way to resuscitate their existence.

The Mini kids Class skiing school at the Nozawa-Onsen ski resort in the village of Nozawa-Onsen, Nagano Prefecture, provides hope for the future of the local economy.

Nagano's ski-lift use -- with 105 ski resorts in the prefecture -- ranks highest in the country, with about 92 million rides recorded in the year ending last March, according to Japan Cable Co.

But the number of skiers has been in decline nationwide after peaking at 18.6 million in 1993, said the Japan Productivity Center for Socio-Economic Development in Tokyo, and by last March, Nagano's ski-lift users fell to only 40 percent of the level in 1993.

"Fashion-conscious young people who started out skiing or snowboarding, went to other winter sports," a researcher at the center said.

Trend-chasing youths hopped on the ski bandwagon in the 1980s and early 1990s after the 1987 film "Watashi-wo Ski-ni Tsuretette!" ("Take me skiing!"), directed by Yasuo Baba, and skiing-related pop songs by Yumi Matsutoya.

Nozawa-Onsen ski resort's visitors had hit a record high 1.1 million by the end of March 1991. But then despite the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, the number of visitors had plummeted to 380,000 by the end of March 2004 and the resort found itself 2 billion yen in debt, leading it to become a public-private venture the same year.

But some residents of Nozawa-Onsen, which has a population of about 4,350, are determined not to let the steady 13-year economic decline put a damper on their spirits and believe that by working together, they can put the resort back at the top of the world again.

The villagers rejected full privatization of the ski resort -- a common method used in rebuilding in which sponsorship and capital comes from outside entities such as hotel chains.

Instead, Nozawa-Gumi, a body that has been managing the resort's hot springs since the Meiji Era (1868-1912) in collaboration with the village, financed and established a new joint public-private venture for reconstruction in July 2005.

"The villagers' bond of solidarity, amassed through long experience of administering their own affairs, is a strong weapon for our company," said Harumichi Shimokawa, 64, who worked in resort development at a real estate company and was invited to become general manager of Nozawa-Onsen Snow Resort.

Some village landowners agreed not to charge ground rent for ski slopes. And the village set up a short home-stay program, offering Tokyo's junior high school students a chance to experience life in a snow-covered village.

Innkeepers help visiting children learn how to ski, and serve local products such as Nozawa-na pickled vegetables to promote their fare.

Nozawa-Onsen Snow Resort President Hiroaki Kono, 55, said he is optimistic that the 95-year-old resort can once again become an engine for the local economy and community, but added that the future relies heavily on today's children.

"Strengthening ski schooling for children is essential to the revival of 'the Ski Kingdom,' " Kono said.

The ailing resort area, one of the nation's largest, with a combined 300 hectares of ski slopes, has embarked on a quest to create attractive ski schools for children.

"Let's show your mama and papa that you can now stop with your skis," a female instructor at Nozawa-Onsen Ski Club told a child.

The club, a society of skiers formed in 1923, now teaches children through a relaxed approach instead of emphasizing technical training. The club has fostered 15 Winter Olympics athletes, including Takanori Kono, winner of the Nordic combined gold medal at the 1992 Albertville Olympics. Nozawa-Onsen's Kono is a former chairman of the club.

The "don't hurry, don't rush" training program begins by getting children used to snow through games and exercises with hula hoops. The students hold out both arms and repeat sliding and stopping exercises to find their balance.

Ski resorts have been important tourist revenue sources since skiing was reportedly first introduced in Niigata Prefecture in 1911 by an Australian.

Kono said he hopes children will lure back their 30- and 40-something parents who fed the boom in the 1980s and early 1990s but these days can't find time to hit the slopes because of work pressures.

"Children will be the link between their parents and ski resorts," he said. "Children who experience the feeling of soft, gentle snow and the wonderful natural landscape will ask their parents to go skiing."

Mikio Katagiri, 52, vice chairman of the club, agreed.

"We hope the ski school serves as the first step to becoming a lifelong skier," he said.

By the business year ending last March, the new venture company had reduced its outstanding debt by several hundred million yen due to steady cost-cutting efforts, even though the number of visitors remained below the target of 400,000.

While it might be a good first step, most agree that much remains to be done.

"It is meaningless for the management company to earn profits only by cost-cutting. The name of the game is how to secure local jobs and increase visitors," a researcher at a major think tank said.