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LIVING IS EASY IN JAPAN WORKAHOLIC COUNTRY SLOWLY DISCOVERS LEISURE

By Published on .

TOKYO-A slow but indisputable sea change in this land of workaholics that has brought the concept of leisure to the fore is being met with some recession-related marketing problems.

Trying to shake off its economic doldrums, Japanese entrepreneurs are struggling to build attendance at new family-oriented amusement parks and recreational facilities, woefully scarce in this country of 125 million.

The new attitude toward leisure-there isn't even a Japanese word with the same meaning so an adaptation of the English word, pronounced "re-jah,"-has encouraged entrepreneurs to construct an indoor ski slope and a man-made indoor beach as they seek to tap into the new trend.

Chris Beaumont, managing director of INFOPLAN Ltd., an independent market research subsidiary of McCann-Erickson Hakuhodo, believes the discovery of leisure "is part of the quest to find a more balanced lifestyle.*.*.Young people, especially, no longer want to sacrifice their lives to the company."

The government first began to encourage leisure time in 1986 with the release of the Maekawa Report. It called for reducing work hours to stimulate domestic demand by allowing people time off. But it has taken eight years for the leisure market to develop.

Although golf has been popular in Japan for decades, its prohibitive cost and relatively few courses make it an activity mainly for rich men on fat expense accounts.

Among the attractions spawned by the new interest in playtime are the Seagaia Ocean Dome, including the largest retractable roof in the world covering a 12,000-sq. meter indoor beach and "ocean" larger than six Olympic-sized swimming pools, and SSAWS, an enclosed ski slope.

Seagaia, the island resort in Kyushu, about 800 miles west southwest from Tokyo, includes Ocean Dome, a covered artificial seaside and amusement park. Artificial waves roll down a fan-shaped pool to lap gently on an artificial 140-meter-long beach using a computer-controlled system to produce waves ranging from quiet ripples to 2.5-meter-high breakers.

Owned by hotel chain Phoenix Resort Ltd., the Miyazaki Prefectural government, the Miyazaki city government and eight local companies including All Nippon Airways Inc., Seagaia is scheduled to officially debut in October 1994 with 18-hole golf courses, convention centers, condominiums and hotels and 17 restaurants.

An ad campaign will support the October grand opening but it hasn't been decided whether Seagaia's agency, Osaka Yomiuri Advertising, will handle the campaign, and marketing plans haven't been formulated yet.

TV, newspaper and magazine ads from Hakuhodo showing skiiers gliding down the slopes supports another new attraction "Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter and Snow," a indoor ski resort which takes its name, SSAWS, from the ad theme. The slopes opened last July 1993 and are built on 100,000 square meter plot just outside Tokyo. Inside the dome, visitors find a 100-meter-wide, 490-meter-long indoor ski slope with room for 2,000 skiers.

But while the Japanese are looking to leisure resorts to lift recession-ravaged spirits, the economic situation is also keeping attendance down. Attendance at the Seagaia Ocean Dome was projected at 2.5 million visitors a year at its August opening but only 500,000 leisure-seekers hit the man-made beach in its first five months.

SSAWS has done somewhat better, with 1 million visitors shussing down the slopes at a cost of $54 for a two-hour lift ticket.

Even Mickey Mouse is feeling the pinch. Oriental Land Co.'s Tokyo Disneyland has drawn more than 100 million visitors since its opening in 1983. But the number of visitors to the $44 a day park fell 6.3% during the summer vacation period. Helped by its new Splash Mountain attraction, Oriental Land Co. expects just under 16 milion visitors this year.

Disney's consistent advertising has helped stem the tide. While the creative doesn't break much new ground-themed "Tokyo Disneyland. It's magic," it shows families enjoying rides in TV, magazine and newspaper ads in Japan and, on a limited basis, Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan-the park is the only attraction in Japan to advertise nationally on a continuing basis. And its budget, split among Dentsu, Hakuhodo and McCann-Erickson Hakuhodo, is signficant, at $13 million.

There's still work to be done to convince older Japanese of leisure's benefits, however. More than 60% of Japanese men aged 40-59 still believe work is the chief reason to be alive.

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