NISEKO, Japan - Foreign visitors have been visiting Niseko, an international ski resort area in Hokkaido, at a record-setting pace this fiscal year.
Languages such as English and Chinese are heard in restaurants at the resort as frequently as if it were in a foreign country.
This is especially true on weekdays, when the resort area in Kutchan and Niseko, both in the prefecture, has few Japanese visitors.
The increase of foreign visitors is vitalizing the local economy, but there have been problems related to alcohol, spurring the town government and local tourist associations to take countermeasures, including self-imposed regulations on late-night services.
Niseko Mt. Resort Grand Hirafu is the largest ski resort in the area. On the afternoon of Jan. 13, most of the skiers there were from Australia, Europe, Hong Kong and other places abroad.
There were few Japanese, presumably because it was a weekday right after three consecutive holidays.
Ben Burger, a 23-year-old college student from Australia, said he came with eight people from two families and would stay in the area for a week.
It was his first visit and he praised the resort, saying he thought both the quality of the snow and the scenery were nice.
A-Bu-Cha 2nd is an izakaya pub in the Hirafu district of Kutchan, a main restaurant district in the Niseko resort area.
When night began to fall, the about 100 seats in the pub were filled mostly with non-Japanese visitors. Though all of its staff are Japanese, the languages heard in the pub were mainly Chinese and English.
A man and two women in their 20s sitting at a counter said they are friends from Australia and New Zealand. The man said it was his second time to the resort area, and he wanted to come again because the snow and the food were wonderful.
As he spoke, he skillfully ate fried shrimp with chopsticks.
Cheap yen's influence
According to a survey of 10 major facilities in the area by the Niseko Promotion Board, the number of tourists who stayed with them in November and December last year was 84,672, up 12 per cent from the previous record set in the same months in fiscal 2013.
The Hokkaido prefectural government said 382,000 foreign tourists stayed in the resort area in fiscal 2013.
"If the figure keeps increasing at this pace, the number for this fiscal year will surely be a new record," a board official said.
The board believes the area is popular among international tourists because the yen's value has declined, and it has been three years since the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. There were fewer tourists shortly after the disaster.