Hyogo Prefecture and Kobe City are embarking on a plan to convert unused corporate retreats and holiday homes in Mt. Rokko into accommodation facilities for foreign tourists.
Mt. Rokko is said to be West Japan’s version of Karuizawa, and was historically a popular summer mountain resort area. Following the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, tourist numbers dropped significantly and the area went into decline. A city investigation in 2016 found 171 of the 233 corporate retreats were not being adequately maintained and potentially falling into ruin.
The collapse of the bubble economy in the early 1990s also contributed to the decline in popularity with many companies closing their corporate retreats after finding themselves no longer able to afford the maintenance and management costs. Some of the abandoned buildings have become conspicuous eyesores.
One glimmer of hope for the resort community is the recent influx of foreign tourists. In 2015, the Mt. Rokko Cable Car & Tourism Company reported over 140,000 foreign visitors to the seven properties they operate, which include observatories, museums and botanical gardens. This number is more than 10 times the number of foreign visitors they received in 2008 and triple the number from 2013. Some foreign visitors were staying in the Mt. Rokko area because they were unable to find accommodation in Osaka.
In June, applications were open to property owners with three properties selected by the City to become model cases for accommodation conversion projects. The three properties include corporate retreats and former staff dormitories, including one pre-war property. They will be refurbished into guesthouses catering to foreign tourists. The local government will provide up to 500,000 Yen in initial costs. Because Mt. Rokko is located within the Setonaikai National Park, there are added restrictions that apply to accommodation providers. The city will provide assistance to property owners when applying for the relevant hotel licensing permits. Kobe City is also urging the national government to relax hotel licensing regulations in the Rokko area to help it return to its former prosperity.
The Rokko-san area is a mountainous area running from Kobe to Takarazuka. In the late 1800s and early 1900s the mountains became popular as a resort area with a number of foreigners building holiday villas. Various mountain roads are named after some of the early foreign residents. The nearby Kobe Golf Club, which was opened in 1903 by English expat Arthur Hasketh Groom, was Japan’s first golf course.
In the early 1900s, rival railroad companies Hanshin-Kyuko Electric Railway (now Hankyu Corporation) and Hanshin Electric Railway competed fiercely to develop the area. Hankyu were the first to open a hotel in Rokkosan with the Rokkosan Hotel in 1929. In 1931 they opened a ropeway. Not to be outdone, Hanshin opened the Rokko Cable Line one year later, followed by the Rokko Oriental Hotel in 1934. The Rokko Oriental Hotel, which had been rebuilt in 1968, closed its doors in 2007 and sits empty and overgrown.
Source: The Mainichi Shimbun, October 3, 2016.