My New York style maven pseudo-cousin (I hail from Northern California, where family trees are...complicated) A.K. arrives in Tokyo today, years after she promised to drop by. As is the wont of one living on the bleeding edge of fashion and design, she will be trolling Tokyo for a couple of days, meeting with folks too far out even for Harajuku or Shibuya.
After only the briefest of stints in the capital, however, A.K. will be striking out for her real destination: Niseko. (Link)
That A.K., who goes everywhere in search of that which is most rarefied and daring, should leave New York to document the Christmas-into-New Years scene in Niseko means that the Hokkaido ski resort town has arrived. Not that this is any news to the ten thousands of Australians, Hong Kong residents and Singaporeans who have been traveling there each year to pound away at the mountain with their skis and snowboards -- and the tens of thousands of more folks from all over who visit the township in the summer. (Link - J)
The success of Niseko, and the way it has achieved its success through attracting not only foreign visitors but small-scale foreign investment (Link) should make the village the central focus of every national and local government effort to promote tourism and economic growth in rural communities.
However, nowhere will one find anyone in government flogging a "Learn From Niseko!" slogan. That national government bureaucrats would not want to do so is not surprising. But why not the politicians, when it is economic development of any kind that makes people's livelihoods better and Japan's government coffers fuller?
The Abe administration's glaring lack of interest in Niseko's market- and foreign-private-investor sector supported rise (I have never heard any of the economics-linked Cabinet members talk about the place) seems a strong indicator that the administration's free markets and private enterprise rhetoric is just that: rhetoric. Indeed from the way Abe and his folks maneuver, uncharitable eyes would see an administration interested only in economic transformation it can control. Whether it is rewarding multinationals with balance sheet inflating attacks on the value of the yen, coopting new industries though regulatory change and subsidies (the drafting Mikitani Hiroshi of Rakuten and the coddling of Nobel Prize winner Yamanaka Shinya and his pluripotent stem stells) or the promises of regulation-lite enclaves, all whilst dumping longtime partners on the down slope of economic history such as Japan Agriculture and the Post Office, the goal of Abe and the Liberal Democratic Party does not seem to be an internationally open economic environment -- despite the reality that this approach to economic transformation seems to work .Instead, the goal seems the formation of new, dependable and dependent voting blocs.
Which is just about the worst goal for an economics policy imaginable.