Population growth and rising property prices make Kutchan-cho a fascinating Japanese case study.

Kutchan-cho – a municipality of Hokkaido that encompasses much of Niseko United ski resort and its largest resort-side town, Hirafu – has topped a population growth chart published by Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

The report looked at household data from the last three years (2015–2017), during which Kutchan-cho’s population increased at a rate of 1.245%. Population growth figures were particularly strong in 2017, increasing by 2.55%.

The spike comes during a period in which many pundits have expressed grave concern over Japan’s declining population, which is expected to shrink by almost a third within the next 50 years in spite of government policies designed to boost birthrates.

Population growth, Kutchan

A Google-translated version of a population growth chart released by Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. Japan Times. Nikkei Business Publications.

Kutchan-cho’s trend-busting figures are largely acknowledged as one of the benefits of the rise in international tourist numbers to the area. A 10-fold increase over the last decade has given rise to a booming local economy and the development of luxury hotels, restaurants and infrastructure, which in turn have seen foreign workers becoming permanent residents, a baby boom, as well as migration from other parts of Japan.

In addition to population growth, the area has also recorded some of the strongest increases in property prices. A survey published by the National Tax Agency earlier this year listed Niseko Kogen Hirafusen St, in Kutchan-cho, as the street with the sharpest price rise in Japan (77.1%). It was the third consecutive year that the area recorded the steepest price increase in Japan.

It remains to be seen how much Japan can learn from this fascinating case study. Local government in the area has embraced immigration in a way that the Japan’s central government has not, and this is perhaps unlikely to change.

One thing we can say with certainty is that travellers have fallen hard for the powder snow, onsens and stunning landscapes of the Niseko region, and that is yielding results that will have other parts of Japan sitting up and taking note.