By Tim Hornyak
By any measure, Reiko Suzuki was leading a great life. She’d lived in the United States, had a solid job with a major Japanese company, a husband and two children, and she enjoyed downhill skiing with her family every winter. But then she became obsessed with a mountain.
Mount Yotei is a stunning volcano that is almost the mirror image of Mount Fuji. Like Roy Neary obsessing over Devils Tower in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” Ms. Suzuki formed an idée fixe around being near Yotei, which is in Hokkaido. She had wanted to live on Japan’s northernmost island since falling in love with horses as a girl: Her father had told her that only people who lived in Hokkaido could have horses.
Three years ago, she drove past a plot of land for sale in the ski resort of Niseko with a view of Yotei. She decided to buy it on the spot. She and her children have just moved into a sleek new home on the site, bought for 30 million yen, or $273,000; her husband divides his time between Yokohama, a city south of Tokyo, and Niseko.
“I felt a thunderbolt when I saw Yotei,” Ms. Suzuki, 45, said. “It was calling to me. There was a spiritual connection that gave me goose bumps.”
Nature lovers and downhill aficionados have long answered the siren call of Niseko’s mountains. With an average snowfall of 15 meters, or 49 feet per year, Mount Niseko Annupuri is synonymous with the deep, fluffy powder unrivaled in this part of the world.
In recent years, the area has become a magnet for international capital. Chalerm Yoovidhya, the Thai heir to the Red Bull drink empire, has commissioned a chalet designed by the Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, according to industry insiders. Chains like Ritz-Carlton, Hyatt and Hilton are planning or have already opened hotels.
Companies have sold assets to foreign interests, as in Citigroup’s sale of Niseko Village ski resort to YTL Corporation of Malaysia for some $67 million in 2010. Riding a surge in tourism to Japan, investors from Hong Kong, mainland China, Singapore and elsewhere in Asia are joining Japanese and Australian financiers in building Niseko into a major global winter resort.
“Japanese were overdeveloping sites and had no real strategy or vision for bringing the international ski market here,” said Paul Butkovich, director of real estate sales at Hokkaido Tracks, an asset management company. “Development opportunities are running dry in places like Bali and Vietnam. Our Asian clients are looking for strategic investments, and Japan is an undervalued asset.”
The Niseko boom is buoying Japan’s real estate market, which is showing signs of life after the 1991 collapse of a property bubble. Land prices in the town of Kutchan, adjacent to Niseko, posted the highest growth in Japan, at 58.8 percent in 2018 compared with a rise of 1.2 percent for Japan as a whole, according to the Nikkei newspaper.
“It’s all about stellar dendrites,” said Kristian Lund, publisher of Powderlife, a local lifestyle magazine. “They’re six-sided snowflakes. The way they trap the air makes the powder deep and really incredible.”
Continue reading at The New York Times