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Saturday, March 12, 2011

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When in Rome: Chinese tourists have dinner at a Japanese inn run by a Chinese businessman (left) who goes by the Japanese name Ryunosuke Hayashi, at the Isawa hot spring resort in Yamanashi Prefecture in January. KYODO PHOTO

Chinese-owned Fuji-area 'ryokan' cuts the frills — and room rates

KOFU, Yamanashi Pref. (Kyodo) A Chinese businessman has resurrected "ryokan" inn in the Isawa hot spring resort area near Mount Fuji in Fuefuki, Yamanashi Prefecture, hoping to lure his fellow compatriots.

He is one of a growing number of foreign investors making forays into Japan's hot spring business, according to industry sources.

While some are worried that the entry of foreign operators could lead to a collapse in the rates charged by inns, which are already seeing a decline in visitor numbers, many others are welcoming the move, saying it will help to revitalize the local economy.

The businessman's inn, Miwa, welcomed around 50 Chinese guests in late January.

Zhong Juying, a 24-year-old visitor from Zhejiang Province, said, "This is my first trip to Japan and I'm happy I was able to visit Mount Fuji, which is a special place for me."

The overnight stay at Miwa was part of a five-night, six-day tour priced at ¥56,000 that included visits to Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo Disneyland.

Miwa charges ¥6,500 per person for board and two meals, compared with more than ¥10,000 charged by the majority of inns in the Isawa spa resort area.

Miwa has managed to set such a low price by serving deep-fried chicken and vegetables instead of sashimi as the main dish. Alcohol beverages cost extra.

The inn's 43-year-old Chinese owner, originally from Fujian Province and who uses the Japanese name Ryunosuke Hayashi, was captivated by Mount Fuji and the grapes grown in the area when he visited a friend five years ago in Yamanashi Prefecture.

He bought the three-story inn, which had gone bankrupt, for approximately ¥80 million, refurbished it at a cost of around ¥40 million and opened it last December.

Hayashi targets 1,000 guests on group tours from mainland China and Taiwan per month. "The number of guests is increasing despite the negative aftereffects of the Chinese fishing boat's ramming of two Japan Coast Guard vessels. I'm confident of demand for my inn, as some facilities in Isawa do not accept foreign guests on group tours," he said.

Hirokazu Nunoyama, secretary general of the Japan Spa Association, said foreign-owned businesses operate in scores of hot spring resort areas across Japan, including those run by Japanese operators on a commission basis.

Foreign investors are attracted to facilities being offered at bargain prices, as some hot spring resorts are on the decline.

Foreign operators sometimes face difficulties and opposition.

Another hotel that opened in Isawa last spring, which Hayashi helps to manage, was forced to temporarily suspend business because its operator was unaware of the requirements of the Building Standards Law.

An official of Isawa Onsen Spa Cooperative said some innkeepers have voiced concern that Miwa's low prices could result in poor service.

However, the majority of local people welcomed the opening of Miwa. Co-op director Yasuhiro Yamashita hopes the move will help revitalize the local economy, saying attracting tourists from around the world will help to open up the town.

Financial institutions are also hoping for opportunities to increase business.

Tsuyoshi Wakao, manager of the Isawa branch of Yamanashi Kenmin Shinyoukumiai, a local credit union, said it has decided to extend loans to Hayashi after concluding that Miwa, which is affiliated with a company that operates agencies in major Chinese cities, should be able to attract tourists from China.

"More acquisitions are expected in the future as the Isawa hot spring resort area is close to the golden route of Japanese tourism that links Tokyo, Mount Fuji, Kyoto and Osaka," Wakao said, adding that another Chinese investor is said to be eyeing a property in Isawa.



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