TOKYO — Ski resort operators around the country are seeking to attract skiers from neighboring countries and territories to make up for the rapid decline in skiers at home.
The move follows a gradual increase in the number of visitors to domestic ski resorts from China, South Korea and Taiwan in recent years.
This year marks the centennial of Japan's initiation into skiing by an Austrian Army major who came to Japan to study how the Imperial Japanese Army fought in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5) and taught local people in Joetsu, Niigata Prefecture, how to ski.
A Taiwan family of four recently visited the Akakura Kanko (Akakan) Ski Resort in Myoko, Niigata Prefecture. "The snow conditions here are very good, said Tim Chen, 42, president of a Taiwan trading company. "The slopes are not crowded during weekdays so we can enjoy skiing to our hearts' content."
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Chen appeared to like the city and the way he was politely served by local shops and other facilities.
The number of skiers visiting the prefecture peaked at 15.97 million in fiscal 1992, after which the figure steadily declined. In fiscal 2009, a disappointing 4.93 million skiers visited the prefecture.
The Akakan Ski Resort focuses on attracting tourists from South Korea, China and Taiwan and believes its South Korean staffers who serve as interpreters have contributed to a significant increase in the number of South Korean guests.
"We have a good reputation among South Korean skiers, who say they have no trouble communicating," the resort's hotel's assistant manager, Naoki Tako, 47, said.
Zao Onsen Ski Resort in Yamagata operates a shuttle bus between the resort and Sendai Airport for travelers from Inchon International Airport in South Korea.
When a group of South Koreans arrives at the airport, smiling hotel staffers welcome them by saying, "An nyoung ha seh yo," meaning "hello" in Korean.
In Zao Onsen, there has been an increase in the number of hotels and inns that employ South Koreans.
At Yoshidaya, a Japanese-style inn in Zao Onsen, Lee Choul Won, 28, is in charge of South Korean guests beginning this season.
Yoshidaya's owner, Chigusa Sato, 42, said, "I thought we shouldn't miss the chance to attract foreign customers."
Lee, who updates the entries of Yoshidaya's Web site that are written in Hangul, said, "South Koreans often check the reputation of (inns and hotels) on websites and decide where to stay."
According to the Association of Zao Hot Springs Tourism, the number of Asian visitors more than doubled last season from the previous season.
The Yamagata prefectural government has also been making efforts to attract visitors from other Asian nations and territories.
Chartered flight services have been launched between two airports in Yamagata Prefecture and Taiwan. The prefecture plans to hold foreign language classes for employees of hotels and inns, and also will post officials in Shanghai.
Appi Kogen Ski Resort in Hachimantai, Iwate Prefecture, is crowded in ski season with tourists from South Korea and Taiwan. Hotels around the ski resort hire fluent speakers of foreign languages.
Iwate Hotel & Resort Co., which operates a ski resort, holds business fairs for travel agencies three or four times a year in South Korea and elsewhere in Asia. The company, which has an office in Seoul, sponsors a snowboarding competition in South Korea.
"There are not many ski resorts in South Korea," said the firm's managing director, manager, Kei Kobayashi, 40. "So South Koreans think Japan is convenient to travel to in winter. If our reputations remain good and spread, we can expect to have more regular customers from abroad."