December 16, 2022
Open House Group revitalizes Minakami resort
The Open House Group mainly sells single-family dwellings in Tokyo, but it also has interests including condominium development, financing of U.S. real estate sales and businesses related to solar power. Total sales in 2022 so far are ¥952.6 billion ($7 billion). Another of its current projects is “regional co-creation” — collaborative attempts to revitalize Japan’s regional towns. As a company dedicated to providing housing, it is keen to help address the problems of aging and population decline in rural Japan. In Gunma Prefecture, the home area of company founder and CEO Masaaki Arai, it is engaged in several regional co-creation projects, including in the cities of Kiryu and Ota. Here we will focus on its efforts at the Minakami hot springs resort.
The town of Minakami, located relatively close to Tokyo, became a thriving onsen resort during the period of rapid economic growth after World War II, when railroads and highways were developed throughout Japan. During the 1970s and 1980s, facilities for large numbers of group travelers became necessary, and so the town’s hotels became larger and taller. However, the collapse of the bubble economy in the early 1990s and other behavioral changes, such as a shift away from group-based to more individual tourism, led customer numbers to plummet and many of the large hotels to close down. The hotel buildings remained, however, eventually becoming derelict and creating a big problem for the town.
In the spring of 2021, the Open House Group learned of the situation facing Minakami through Gunma Bank. In September, it signed a comprehensive partnership agreement with the town, Gunma Bank and the University of Tokyo Graduate School of Engineering. The “Onsen Resort Revitalization Project” started soon after, and as part of that project, plans are now afoot to renovate the derelict Ichiyotei Hotel. Having originally opened in 1948, the hotel closed in 2016, then briefly reopened and closed again in 2019. The total area of the site is about 18,000 square meters. There were originally four buildings: the main building, the new building, the leisure building and the energy center. The leisure building has been demolished (work was completed in March), the new building was reduced in size in November, and the main building and energy center will be renovated from 2023. The demolition costs were paid for by Minakami using a subsidy from the Japan Tourism Agency.
In parallel with this work, the University of Tokyo Urban Design Lab is conducting research on the Minakami onsen resort, and multiple parties across private industry, government, academia and the banking sector have combined to hold experimental events. Five minutes’ walk from the main building, at the former Ichiyotei employee dormitory, public markets and summer evening events have been held as attempts to involve local residents in efforts to utilize these disused buildings.
Based on this work, the Urban Design Lab proposed a revitalization plan for Ichiyotei called “From Ruins to Town Square.” Instead of Japan’s usual approach of just scrapping and rebuilding disused structures, the building’s existing frame will be utilized as much as possible to renovate the building or reduce its scale. Some buildings will be demolished, but the vacated land will be turned into a town square that will reconnect the adjacent river with the town and give tourists and local residents a place to gather.
On Nov. 29, Open House Development, which is part of the Open House Group, made a donation to Minakami using a corporate version of the furusato nōzei (hometown tax donation) system. This donation will now be used for the “Onsen Resort Revitalization Project,” including the “From Ruins to Town Square” proposal.
It will be fascinating to see how these initiatives in Minakami, which are led largely by the Open House Group, develop in the future, and what kind of effects they ultimately produce for the town.