Famously combining ultra-modern infrastructure with a colourful and enduring culture, its no surprise that the FutureBrand Country Index – which rates how countries are perceived around the world – put Japan at No 1 in 2020. The fact FutureBrand has done so every year since the index’s inception in 2014 underlines the world’s continuing fascination. Their 2019 report commented that “Japan’s rich culture, which encompasses a favourable quality of life, natural beauty and heritage, beckons visitors from around the globe”.
Dedicated to tourism growth
Where the country once was standoffish in its attitude to foreign arrivals, the welcome mat has now well-and-truly been laid out. It was only in 2013 that arrivals topped 10 million for the first time; in 2019 the figure was more than three times that. The government has said it aims to grow this to 60 million by 2030.
As global tourism returns post-pandemic, expect the country to try hard to win back tourists and resume that sort of growth, with the infrastructure built for the rescheduled 2020 Olympics benefitting Tokyo especially.
Outside the cities, much of the countryside is forested and mountainous, inviting outdoor lovers in all seasons. Foreign and domestic tourists alike flock to hiking trails and ski hills and Hokkaido has been a particular favourite in recent years, thanks to its milder, less humid summers and incredibly snowy winters. Any talk of the latter inevitably leads to mention of one place in particular, an area that has gone from relative obscurity as recently as the 1990s, to a place among the world’s greatest ski resorts: Niseko.
A mecca for snow lovers
In the southwest corner of the northern island of Hokkaido, Niseko is ideally placed to draw huge dumps of snow from the weather systems that regularly reach Japan from Siberia in winter. Not only does this make it one of the snowiest resorts in the world, but that snow is incredibly dry – Japow, as it is commonly referred to by the increasing numbers of foreign skiers and boarders that come here from before Christmas until April or even into May.
Leading Japan’s opening up
Its emergence into global prominence has gone hand-in-(ski)glove with Japan’s opening up to foreign tourism. The entire island of Hokkaido was a backwater for even local tourists until recent decades but today people from all over Asia head north year-round to enjoy its wide spaces, clean environment and unhurried quality of life.
Niseko as tourism model
Those factors are especially important in a post-pandemic world and as national tourism resumes its upward track, Hokkaido is likely to claim an increasing percentage as its appeal broadens to more markets and across the calendar. Niseko, with its growing number of big-name hotels to go with upscale condo-style developments and international restaurants, is central to the island’s appeal.