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Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2010

Rural inns pitch long-stay rates to boost economies, real leisure


By MIKI ONOZUKA
Kyodo News

Tomio Tsuchiya runs a website to woo travelers into long-term stays in Yamanouchi, Nagano Prefecture, the town known for the Shiga Kogen ski resort and Yudanaka spa.

News photo
Long-term plans: Kichiro Sugimoto, owner of Suisenso inn in the hot spring district of Yamanouchi, Nagano Prefecture, poses for a photo with his family at his inn last month. KYODO PHOTO

"A French translator stayed in town for three months, working between ski outings during the day," Tsuchiya, 60, said in November. "It's cool if work and leisure are compatible."

Tsuchiya's site — choukitaizai.com — is designed to promote long-term vacations, a concept not well known among Japanese tourists, whose domestic travels rarely last more than a couple of days.

Seven inns in the region participated in the site, offering bargain accommodations ranging between ¥20,000 and ¥30,000 for a week and ¥60,000 and ¥70,000 for a month.

Tsuchiya, who also runs a real estate agency, is working with colleagues to publicize long-term lodging as a way to make use of rooms that would otherwise be vacant.

With the economic slump, Yamanouchi is among communities seeking to survive by drawing tourists both from within and outside Japan.

A survey published recently by Kyodo News and its member newspaper publishers showed 45 percent of local government heads are pinning hopes on tourism to act as a pump primer for anemic rural economies — in place of the long practice of relying on public works projects, which have been coming under greater scrutiny amid the political call to cut budgetary waste.

In Yamanouchi, many long-term visitors are retired baby boomers who have plenty of time. Some engage in writing, like the French translator. Then there are university professors, who can work almost anywhere if they can go online.

Before the war, it wasn't uncommon for families to spend a month in mountain retreats, according to Kichiro Sugimoto, owner of the Suisenso spa inn in the Yamanouchi hot springs resort.

Reminiscing what the town looked like decades ago, Sugimoto, 83, said long-term visitors declined after the war as the nation went through rapid economic growth.

But in recent years, he said, families may spend about one month at his inn while the male breadwinner mostly stays in Tokyo to work and only occasionally visits on weekends, he said.

"Japan has become a country where people work like hell. I just hope there will be a climate some day where people spend time leisurely at a hot spring," Sugimoto said.

Teruhisa Kaneda, 63, and his wife, Noriko, 58, from the city of Wakayama, stayed some five times, each visit lasting about a week, this year at Chojiya in Yamanouchi, one of the seven inns on the website, along with Sugimoto's Suisenso.

Website operator Tsuchiya said, "We hope people would stay for one month, but many Japanese don't have the luxury of spending time leisurely or don't know the luxury of doing nothing."

But he added, "If people can get to know about what long-term stays are like, I believe there will be demand for more leisurely travel."

According to the Japan Tourism Agency, travelers spent an average of two nights per trip in the country in 2008 and logged 5.6 nights that year.

The figures compare with an average 5.6 nights per trip and a total 19.7 nights per year for travelers in France. Tourists in Britain spent a total 6.1 nights in the country, somewhat closer to Japan's figure but people in Britain had 1.12 overseas trips, nearly 10 times more than the number of trips abroad for people in Japan.

One of the often-cited factors that makes it difficult for Japanese to take long-term trips is vacation limitations placed on the working population. An average Japanese worker takes around eight days of paid leave, whereas in France, workers take about 35 days and employers are obliged to provide two consecutive weeks of paid holidays.

While the government is urging businesses to encourage more workers to take paid leave on consecutive days, employers are not officially required to pursue this course.

Kazuko Murata, a journalist dealing with tourism and travel, said, "Even if adults take a paid vacation, their children may have to go to school, so they end up not being able to take long holidays."



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