Resort hotel

Northern Japan resort hopes international school will boost brand after 90s ski boom

MORIOKA – The Appi Plateau in northwest Iwate Prefecture was a thriving ski resort until the early 1990s, built on the excellent local snow conditions and powered by a Japan-wide skiing boom. But the boom ended and the slopes in the area haven’t been so crowded since. Now, however, a prestigious British international school is set to open a major branch near the plateau, giving life to hopes that the area can be revitalized.

Harrow International School Appi Japan is scheduled to open on August 29, in Hachimantai, Iwate Prefecture, on August 1, 2022. (Mainichi/Yuki Tsurita)

On August 1, a new dormitory, auditorium and other buildings for Harrow International School Appi Japan, which plans to open near the sprawling Appi Plateau in the city of Hachimantai on August 29, were unveiled and a ceremony to completion has taken place.

Harrow School was established in London in 1572 and is the alma mater of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. There are Harrow International Schools that tap into the educational expertise of the home institution in China and Thailand. Appi’s will be the first in Japan.

The boarding school is for students aged 11 to 18 and lessons will be taught in English mainly by British teachers. In addition to core subjects such as math and science, students can choose from a variety of courses such as design and computer science. The school also offers many extracurricular activities, including skiing.

This image provided by Harrow International School Appi Japan shows Harrow School, established in the 16th century, in London.

Tuition costs between 8.5 and 9.2 million yen (approximately $64,000 to $69,000) per year, and the school has mainly attracted wealthy families in Japan and overseas. In addition to students in Japan, children from more than a dozen countries and regions mainly in East Asia – including mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Thailand and Malaysia – have apparently already decided to register.

The school will accommodate approximately 180 students when it opens and plans to increase enrollment to over 900 in the next four years.

The new institution is committed not only to providing education, but also to act as a symbol to increase the brand power of the region. Iwate Prefecture, Hachimantai and Harrow International School Appi Japan recently signed a partnership agreement to internationalize the region. Iwate Governor Takuya Tasso said he fervently hopes the project will “improve the educational environment, promote understanding of multicultural coexistence, and encourage regional revitalization.”

A groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate the completion of Harrow International School Appi Japan is held in Hachimantai City, Iwate Prefecture on August 1, 2022. (Mainichi/Yuki Tsurita)

Iwate Hotel and Resort Inc. in the town of Morioka, which operates ski resorts, hotels and golf courses in the area, helped attract the school to the plateau. The company’s properties include the ANA Intercontinental Appi Kogen Resort, a luxury all-suite hotel costing more than one million yen (about $7,500) per night. The company aims to turn the area into a resort town for high-income people from around the world and hopes the school will be a local status symbol.

The project is a response to the declining number of skiers on the Appi Plateau since the region’s heyday in 1991 and 1992, when it attracted 1.5 million visitors. Inbound tourism had made up for some of the lost numbers in recent years, but that came to an abrupt end in 2020 with the coronavirus pandemic.

Looking forward to the post-coronavirus era, Iwate Hotel and Resort also envisions the area becoming a center for commercial and medical tourism, where visitors can receive state-of-the-art treatment while enjoying the resort. Its objective is to increase the number of permanent residents on the Appi plateau from the current 600 to 10,000.

From left, Iwate Governor Tasso Takuya, Harrow Appi Japan International School Principal Michael Farley and Hachimantai Mayor Takahiro Sasaki are seen on August 1, 2022. (Mainichi/Yuki Tsurita)

Meanwhile, some residents are wary of the project. A man who runs a boarding house for skiers in the Plateau said: “I have high hopes for Harrow International School Appi Japan, but I also have no idea what kind of relationship we can create with them.”

Appi Plateau was originally developed as a resort affiliated with Recruit Holdings Co., but some development plans were apparently scrapped after the ski boom ended. Observers are waiting to see if the opening of a prestigious school will help the plateau transform into a new kind of seaside resort.

(Japanese original by Yuki Tsurita, Morioka Office)