Some observers reckon the Australian influence in the Niseko ski area
is a bit like the Japanese investment on the Gold Coast a couple
of decades ago. The Australian condominium developers are building,
willy nilly, inappropriately designed buildings, riding roughshod over
local objections (aided by a pathetic, ineffectual local government
that knows it should rein them in but can’t bring itself to do so),
blocking
out long term residents’ views and building too much on small pieces of
land and creating snow clearing problems for neighbors (about 14 metres
of snow falls – cumulatively – in the Niseko area each winter).

They are charging outrageous prices for small apartments, and even more
outrageous management fees – 35% plus outgoings, which are enormous
because of the use of expensive oil heating and snow clearing costs
(!!!!), locked in contractually for the first five years of ownership –
all on the basis that these prices are “international ski resort
prices”.

Indeed they might be, but any claim that Niseko is an
international ski resort at this stage – with only one 7/11-type local
convenience store
in the whole of Hirafu, a ramshackle collection of shanty dwellings and
cheap B & B establishments where all the tourists stay, is drawing a
very long bow indeed.

The Australian real estate agents – all young, inexperienced cowboys –
have succeeded in driving up prices in central Hirafu from almost
free to around $A1,500 per square metre in the space of five years,
creating a property “bubble” that has the Japanese – who went through a
fairly big one of their own and know the consequences – extremely
worried, and opting not to get involved in the investment spree, taking
the view that it is all a pack of cards that will come tumbling down,
and that if it would be better then that only Australians get hurt.

They do it because Australians by and large still only remember the
Japanese boom days – long gone – and don’t have any idea that in Niseko,
which is still classified as a depressed rural area, even as recently
as five years ago, builders were GIVING AWAY land so long as you agreed
to
have them build something on it for you.

On top of all that, these Australians have all divided into factions,
each of which hates the other with a passion, badmouths the others
everywhere, and blocks any form of cooperative, cohesive action that might assist overall development in everyones’ interests.

It is like a soap opera, and would be funny if it weren’t so serious
and potentially damaging – to the interests of a lot of individual
Australian suckers – the sort of people who go there and like the
powder snow (which TRULY IS wonderful) and, simply because one of the
Australian mafioso tells them it is great value, forks out ridiculous
amounts of money for land that they can’t even see under metres of snow,
in a village that the author of a recent JETRO report described as one
of the ugliest built environments in Japan – and to Australia’s image
as a whole.

With all of this going on, the evaporation of the bonanza that was
promised the locals by the Hanazono developers could pale into
insignificance.

Peter Fray

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