Thursday 21 December 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Thursday. 21/12/2023

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

It might not all be downhill from here

Image: Getty Images

Tourism / Ben Davis

On the ascent

The early 1990s, when Japan’s alpine slopes and mountain villages became playgrounds for a generation of winter-sports enthusiasts, were a golden age for the country’s ski industry. At the turn of the millennium, Japan had more than 700 ski resorts (Switzerland only has about 300) with the domestic skiing and snowboarding population peaking at 18 million participants a year.

But in the decades since, demographic and economic factors have weighed significantly on Japan’s skiing scene, with the industry’s value remaining flat at about ¥50bn-¥60bn (€310m-€370m) a year. Despite the challenges facing the domestic market, some skiers have continued to descend on Japan (though there was a pause at the height of the coronavirus pandemic), with numbers in mountain towns steadily increasing almost annually over the past 10 years.

How can Japan capitalise on this growing inbound interest and rival the likes of Aspen in the US and Switzerland’s Andermatt, while still supporting local communities? One answer might be to offer a more obviously Japanese skiing experience, not only celebrating the snow but the country’s cuisine, culture and natural beauty too. It’s an approach that could appeal not only to the burgeoning international scene but also the local community.

It sounds like an uphill struggle, but I recently visited a village that is striking this balance: Nozawa Onsen in Nagano prefecture. The Nozawa Onsen Ski Club was established here in 1918 to promote the burgeoning sport in the village. Since the club’s foundation the area has nurtured 16 Olympians and has become a destination that retains its character, rooted in ancient traditions in which the 3,200-strong population takes great pride. Ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) and minshuku (family-operated B&Bs) bring a distinctly local flavour to hospitality in contrast to other resorts nationwide, where large hotels take the prime positions. The Nozawa Onsen community will hopefully set a precedent that other Japanese resorts and snowy entrepreneurs can follow in their tracks. It might not be as big as the boom in the 1990s but this time it stands a chance of being sustainable and bringing the community along too.

Ben Davis is Monocle’s Tokyo-based contributing editor. For his full report, buy a copy of Monocle’s seasonal winter newspaper, ‘Alpino’. Or treat yourself to a subscription today.


Image: Alamy

Aviation / Global

High water

This year’s record-breaking summer wildfires in Greece, Italy, Portugal, Tunisia and Algeria have renewed focus on a storied, Canadian-made method of putting them out. Nicknamed “Super Scoopers” in the US, where they are among the firefighting craft of national and state forest services, Canadair’s red-and-yellow amphibious water-bombing planes can take on more than 6,000 litres before ascending to douse wildfires from the sky. Originally launched in 1969, the planes ceased production in 2015 as a result of dwindling demand.

However, moves to restart manufacturing began in 2019 when Indonesia’s defence ministry made a one-off order for six new CL-515s and a CL-415EAF, which will be delivered in 2024. And interest in the aircraft, which are manufactured at De Havilland Canada’s facility in Calgary, has been ticking up. France bought 16 new Canadair planes in 2022 to reinforce its existing fleet and the European Commission ordered an extra 12 last July, to be stationed across the EU. Both deliveries are due by 2027. Demand from other territories might just take off too.

Image: Mud Rock

Soft power / Singapore

Sunken treasures

Soon after ceramicists Ng Seok Har and Michelle Lim founded Mud Rock studio, Singapore’s high commissioner in Canberra hosted a dinner that was served on its plates. “There’s a long history of soft power in ceramics,” Lim tells Monocle. As the business grew, the pair began supplying Michelin-starred restaurants and fashioning gifts for diplomats and monarchs.

The ministry of foreign affairs also commissioned Lim and Ng to make gifts for royal families and dignitaries across the world, including those from Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Egypt and the Vatican. Mud Rock’s beautifully rendered vases, bowls and tiles showcase Singaporean art and local craftsmanship, offering new perspectives on a country associated more with finance and business than with artisanal pottery. “We don’t want our work to be hidden behind a cabinet,” says Lim. “We imagine people bringing it out every time they meet a Singaporean.”

For more about Singapore’s soft-power pull – and our annual survey of the top soft-power nations – buy a copy of the December/January issue of Monocle.

Illustration: Karin Kellner

Advent gift guide / Global

Step ahead

Looking for the perfect present this holiday season? Then let us inspire you with our Advent gift guide. Every day until Christmas, we are showcasing one item featured in our Alpino newspaper, which is out now in kiosks and on our online shop.

French shoemaker Paraboot joined forces with New York-based brand Engineered Garments to reinterpret its Clusaz mountain boots. We have our eye on this forest-green iteration for everyday adventures that take you beyond the beaten track.

Beyond the Headlines

Q&A / Laura Schälchli

Full of beans

Laura Schälchli is co-founder of Laflor, a Swiss chocolate manufacturer based in Zürich. It produces organic confections using sustainably sourced ingredients from five single-origin localities. We meet Laura at Monocle’s Zürich Christmas Market to discuss what makes her bars stand out in the highly competitive chocolate industry.

How did your journey with chocolate begin and why start in Switzerland, where there is already a saturated market?
I never thought that I was going to be a co-owner of a chocolate company but life doesn’t always work out the way that you imagine. Swiss chocolate is dominated by milk and sugar, which we love, but there’s also room for chocolate with a more complex flavour.

Tell us more about how you source your cacao beans.
We work with producers from five countries: Ecuador, Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela. Our chocolates are always named after the place where they come from, for example, Hacienda Limon and Rio Sinu. There are differences in how the beans are fermented from place to place, so they all have a unique taste. We create our chocolate recipes to match the flavour of the beans.

Do you think that more people will become interested in Laflor as a result of consumer trends?
If a consumer cares about where a product comes from – no matter whether it’s a piece of clothing or food – and its effect on the environment, then they will buy more of our chocolate. It has a high price tag but that’s because we use organic ingredients as much as possible, from farms that we feel connected to. Our Colombian cacao comes to Europe by sailboat to reduce its transport emissions and we then add Alpine salt to it here in Switzerland.

For more on Laura Schälchli and Laflor, tune in to Eureka episode 367 of ‘The Entrepreneurs’ on Monocle Radio.

Monocle Radio / Meet the Writers

Michel Faber and Caspar Henderson

Georgina Godwin is joined by two authors who are both on a quest to find new ways to listen – and they invite you to do the same. Dutch-born writer Michel Faber has written several works of fiction including ‘The Crimson Petal and the White’. His first non-fiction book, ‘Listen: On Music, Sound and Us’ explores how psychological pressure influences musical taste. Author and science journalist Caspar Henderson’s ‘A Book of Noises: Notes on the Auraculous’, shows us how we can become re-enchanted by the sounds around us, from the everyday to the celestial.


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