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Japan's skiing population continues its downward trajectory

22 Comments

After winter's first snowfalls, many a tall passenger aboard a crowded train in Japan has narrowly averted a black eye, or mild concussion, at the hands of fellow passengers headed to, or returning from, a ski excursion.

Fortunately such incidents are almost certainly fewer than they were several decades ago. Writing on the eve of the Beijing Winter Olympics, Shukan Jitsuwa (Feb 10) reports that the popularity of skiing in Japan has continued to drop, particularly among its younger age segments.

The scale of the decline can easily be discerned by comparing figures in the White Paper on Leisure, published annually by the Japan Productivity Center for Socio-economic Development, for the number of individuals who ski. In 1993, at the peak of the ski boom, some 18.6 million people -- one out of every seven Japanese -- said they engaged in skiing as a leisure activity. By 2020, that figure had fallen to 2.7 million -- only 15% of the peak.

From the mid-1980s, each autumn sporting goods retailers would rearrange their merchandise to appeal to the ski market and even during the relatively short season sales of ski gear and articles of clothing accounted for between 50 and 60% of the stores' annual sales. Some stores also brought in young hunks to advise female customers about putting together their ensemble.

More recently, one retail sporting goods chain, Nagoya-based Alpen Outdoors, has considerably changed its marketing strategy. Of the 150 outlets in its chain, about 60 now place emphasis on inventories appealing to outdoor activities apart from skiing. This new strategy has helped the company realize record-setting profits, but also underscores the point that they were achieved by deemphasizing ski-related sales.

Not surprisingly, the decline in the popularity of skiing has had a significant impact on the retail, travel and hospitality businesses. At its peak, Japan boasted 661 ski facilities. As of last year, the number had declined to 442.

On Jan 6, the Tenzan Ski resort in Saga Prefecture -- the sole ski facility on the island of Kyushu -- filed for bankruptcy with debts of approximately 600 million yen. Tenzan began operations in 1989, and its slopes, surfaced with artificial snow, attracted enthusiasts from other parts of Kyushu as well.

The causes of Tenzan's demise were said to be a lack of natural snowfall (from some years previous) and the coronavirus pandemic.

What factors are most responsible for the drop in ski enthusiasts among the younger set?

"Perhaps the biggest factor has been the diversification of leisure activities, ranging from video games to inexpensive trips abroad," an associate professor of leisure at an unnamed university tells Shukan Jitsuwa. Another possibility, he suggests is that mobile phone charges are eating up more of young people's disposable income, pointing out that people who run up monthly bills in multiples of 10,000 yen means they have less money for activities like skiing.

"Also, in the past it was common to find ski clubs at many universities, which were able to give their members a break on prices for equipment, transportation and so on," he said. "But now, fewer students are going this route."

Growing numbers of young people now engage in snowboarding, which is counted as a separate activity from skiing.

The ski business might be down, but not out. The member companies of the Japan Railways group continue to pour efforts into promoting attractive travel packages that include train, bus, accommodations and fees for access to the slopes.

Japan can also offer JAPOW, a word coined by combining Japan and Powder Snow. In recent years, the good quality of snow has attracted large numbers of foreign visitors from Asia, particularly from China.

"When the pandemic lets up and Chinese visitors start coming back, the numbers of skiers will be revived to some extent," Shukan Jitsuwa's writer predicts.

© Japan Today

©2023 GPlusMedia Inc.

22 Comments
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TrevorPeace , this is about Japan, not BC…. 

As a skier in Japan, I can unequivocally say that the reason for the drop in numbers in Japan is NOT the cost. 

Passes are way cheaper than in North America. 

With various discounts on offer, I very rarely pay more than 5000 yen ($45) and often pay half that. 

The main reason for the drop is the rise in snowboarders, and sadly this article does not give stats on that. Snowboarding is vastly more popular among the young here in Japan. Another big reason is surely the drop in the number of people of winter-sporting age in Japan, perhaps 30% in the last 30 years, due to the ageing population.

15 ( +16 / -1 )

Skiing/Snowboarding in Japan is cheap by world standards. Lots of snow too! Highly recommended

The fall in skier numbers is a complex mix of demographics, the end of an unsustainable boom, and impoverishment. While skiing is cheap by world standards, that does not mean that that many young Japanese can afford it.

9 ( +11 / -2 )

They don’t count snowboarding, so I’m not sure what’s the point of this article. Indeed, younf people are attracted more to snowboarding, it is “cool” and easier to learn. The pandemic surely reduced travel, and weather has become more of a liability. I don’t think skiing in Japan is too expensive, there are many cheap options

7 ( +10 / -3 )

This statement is just weird -

"..Growing numbers of young people now engage in snowboarding, which is counted as a separate activity from skiing..."

Skiing and Snowboarding are both part of the Snow-Sports package and has little to do with the article's main premise.

I've been skiing here for 25 years - the last 3 being greatly reduced due to covid and lack of snow - and have noticed a huge shift.

Without doubt the snow-scene was over-catered for as a result of the bubble frenzy. Insanely expensive infrastructure was built in places not easily accessible or remotely close to large populations. Something had to give and unfortunately 100s of smaller - midsize resorts have closed. My 2 favorite in West Japan had more going for them than most but couldn't survive the economic/weather upheaval of the last few years. 100s of local people from farmers to housewives to students lost an important part of their annual incomes when their jobs vanished. Add to that the local businesses from gas stations to restaurants to conbinis to guest houses to hotels etc and it's been a massive blow to local economies.

The article rightly notes that a change in leisure preferences is surely another factor as the choice these days is wide and people have limited capital. But as others noted skiing in Japan does not cost an arm and a leg. In fact it could arguably be said to be the cheapest in the world out of all developed mature ski markets. When compared to my home country Australia - where numbers are growing - the costs are universes apart. I'd need 3+X more money to do the same there. So yes money is a reason of course, but not the be all and end all.

There something else too. I think it's related to the idea of risk taking, adventurous spirit and challenges seeing a decline in society. Pre-covid travel esp international had never been easier, cheaper and with unlimited options, yet young people in particular have been shunning interest in such for the past 2 decades. A constant as to why when asked, many people reply that Japan is safe, it's too much trouble etc.

Japan, blessed with unbelievable snow, should be a major snow-sports country. It is the envy of many other countries. It should have a snow sports culture like the Scandinavian and European countries which embrace what they have - although they do have some of their own difficulties. But you go with what you have. Hawaii has a great surf/marine culture because that's what exists - a world class environment. The same here for snow.

Going ski/boarding aside from the said money - requires effort, planning, rigmarole, energy, travel, accepting uncomfortableness ie cold at times, but the rewards can be wonderful.

Ski slopes are full of Grins. And Grinners are Winners. Get up and Get out.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

I wonder what the numbers would be, if they combined skiiing and snowboarding stats?

5 ( +6 / -1 )

The Shinkansen is too expensive, that's why I didn't go skiing. All my money would disappear on travel costs.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

If they're only counting skiers but ignoring snowboarders, then the numbers probably are declining. But snowboarding is still incredibly popular so has taken a huge chunk of people from the skiing population. And good luck to them. The only thing I don't like about snowboarding is the snowboarders who plonk themselves in the middle of runs and make themselves obstacles.

In any case, I love skiing here. Compared to Australia it's much more affordable and the snow - especially in Hokkaido - is phenomenal. Going there shortly, as a matter of fact.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

On Jan 6, the Tenzan Ski resort in Saga Prefecture -- the sole ski facility on the island of Kyushu -- filed for bankruptcy with debts of approximately 600 million yen

Odd that they chose Kyushu to represent winter sports in this article. Tenzan was not the sole ski facility in Kyushu - I know of at least 2 others. Given the limited snow in Kyushu and the warmer weather, the best that can be offered is tiny bunny slopes with mostly machine-made snow. Fine for the kids to practice, but nothing that would satisfy any real skier or snowboarder. Those who went to Tenzan could instead drive a few hours into Honshu and find proper skiing.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

How much of the decline is caused by the shift to snowboarding? They are equivalent from an economic standpoint. I’m an instructor. I do both. This article misses the mark.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

The main reason is FREE TIME! Why do they even bother making articles like this? People working in Japan have no free time. I've only been snowboarding once this season. Many people I work with love skiing and snowboarding but haven't been in years. The drunk Australian horde being absent these past two years will likely lead to some ski runs closing. Years ago my local ski runs were already on the brink because no one has any time or money anymore. No families, holidays or leisure activities for Japanese workers. Just commuting, zangyo and poverty wages.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Those who gave up on skiing are the ones who wanted to be seen on the slopes, not for the pure enjoyment. I seen growth in snowboarding in the last decade. But these kids are not the big spending “have to be seen” skiers of the 90,s. I see it that the numbers are fairly the same. What change is the spending culture.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Skiing was a fashion back in the 90's... 

Not just in Japan it seems. In the USA, it seems the number of ski resorts has dropped since then.

https://www.statista.com/statistics/206534/number-of-ski-resorts-operating-in-the-us-since-1990/

Where I live now in Scotland, cycling has become a big business - mainly mountain biking. (I wonder if some of the people now cycling would previously have gone skiing.) Is there a similar pattern in Japan?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

As a skier, I can unequivocally say that the reason for the drop in numbers of people skiing is the cost. A day-pass at a decent ski hill (plenty here in BC) costs as much a nice dinner for two. Or two months at my squash club. But, I still have my 200cm powder skis and those $500 Raichle boots, wishing for the day.

0 ( +5 / -5 )

Japan is great for skiing. Low cost, tons of very accessible hills for Tokyo dwellers and great snow. The onsen and nihonshu/craft beer apres ski is almost half the fun. The downside recent is covid restrictions and climate change: there's too much snow!!!

If youngsters don't want to go, great. More runs for me.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

The sport reuires a big investment of time and money to be enjoyed, it is not surprising that the socio-economic situation make people choose a different kind of leisure that can be done more easily and cheaply. Climate change and the pandemic are just som extra reasons why this downward trend is accelerated.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

And a 4WD car which is a pricey option these days…

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Obviously, less money and the more aging society are the main reasons. Less younger people means less younger people interested in skiing. And they also have less money than older people, those having the money but seeing the potential dangers to their health and probable hospital and rehabilitation costs in cases of incidents. All logic speaks against keeping or rising numbers of skiing people, and the same for other similar sports and leisure activities.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Skiing was a fashion back in the 90's... The kids today (not so many of them in the first place) have come to realize that the tops of snow covered mountains are cold and miserable so choose to stay warm. Smart kids!

Mr Kipling finds snow to be exceedingly unpleasant. But the rest of you are welcome to enjoy it .

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

Skiing was a fashion back in the 90's... 

Eh? It was a fashion in the 1890s too.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Global climate change is making it too cold to ski.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Slow freezing lifts,bad access, overcrowded,bad weather,too pricey for gear,rental,and day passes for tiny resort areas.

Still miss it!

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

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