The representative director of Bio Hotels Japan says a night at one of these idyllic sanctuaries reminds guests of the importance of being a good steward of the planet while teaching that caring about one’s self and about nature goes hand-in-hand.
“Whether it’s the food, cosmetics, bed linen or just the atmosphere, I want the guests to unwind in a stress-free environment. If they then decide to adopt any element of the organic (lifestyle) it would be immensely gratifying.”
The 61-year-old head of Bio Hotels Japan, which he established in 2013 to advocate for slow living in a country where convenience – exemplified by its 24-hour convenience stores, punctual trains, vending machines, 100 yen shops and capsule hotels – is still king.
Though officially recognised by the Austria-based Bio Hotels Association, the largest group of ecological hotels in Europe, Bio Hotels Japan creates its own brand guidelines and even offers consulting services to businesses interested in going green.
However, going organic does not mean going broke. As Nakaishi explains, there can be financial rewards in operating with a sense of social responsibility. They may not all be “quick win” opportunities, but the size of the opportunity is enormous, he says.
Organic food typically costs about twice as much in Japan than its conventionally produced equivalent. In Europe, the hit is much less severe, as consumers pay just an additional 20 percent or so for such items.
“About 80 or 90pc of the certified organic products you’ll find on store shelves in Japan today are imported. So, obviously, the transport costs and handling charges are reflected in the retail price. It’s expensive,” he says.
Many countries have been promoting environmentally-friendly tourism practices, with conscientious travellers, many of whom pack minimally and try to minimise their carbon footprint, flocking to standout destinations like Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm.
But Nakaishi thinks that ne to change and urges Japan to put sustainable tourism development high on its agenda. And with the government having set a target of 40 million foreign visitors in 2020, he says there is no better time to start.
While two were existing hotels that underwent renovations to meet the requirements of Bio Hotels Japan, Yasuesou in Nagano, famous for its German chamomile fields and chamomile extract bath, was committed to sustainability from the start.
For Nakaishi, jumping on the organic bandwagon meant investing in his health. When he discovered that eating clean would ease his crippling migraine headaches, which started early in childhood, he quickly became an organic convert.
“In my 40s the headaches were so bad they were affecting my daily activities, so I tried to avoid harmful food additives. Within a few months, the symptoms faded. That’s when spreading organic goodness became my passion,” he said.
Instead of venturing into the organic food business or trying his hand at selling organic products, he chose to sell experiences that would add to the quality of people’s lives and keep them coming back. At least that was the plan.
“In Europe, tourists are choosing bio hotels. But in Japan, the market is so small, and none of the three bio hotels are in the Tokyo area, so they’re not so accessible. It’s frustrating that we’re not seeing the shift in consumer behaviour we wanted to see by now.”
Contrary to heightened ecological awareness among consumers in Europe, the United States and other developed nations, the societal shift here has not been deep enough to break the price-sensitive Japanese culture, Nakaishi said.
The challenge is to close the price gap between organic and non-organic products and services, he said, but Japanese businesses remain focused on short-term profits at the expense of long-term sustainability.
“We’re trying to teach Japanese businesses that sustainable development requires immediate action. The longer we wait, the more left behind we will be from the rest of the world. Both the sellers and the buyers need to change. The policymakers need to wake up.”
“Surveys show that many Japanese people are interested in organic products, but whether they will buy and continue to buy is a different story. We need to make these services more affordable and attractive. Clothing, food, everything,” Nakaishi says.
“Bio hotels don’t charge any more than neighbouring hotels. We’re partnering up with travel agencies and department stores to create exclusive tour packages. We want to offer customised hotel experiences. We want to do something that sets us apart.”
In an ideal world, Nakaishi would like to see at least 47 bio hotels, one in each of Japan’s prefectures. He says in Europe, more business travellers understand how their travel impacts the environment, thus the trend in green hotels in big cities.
He says sustainable luxury is not an oxymoron and sustainable can also be luxurious and health-enhancing. He empowers people to be “global citizens” who aren’t vulnerable to society’s need for instant gratification and quick-fix solutions.
You will not find genetically-modified food or imported fruit at any of the three bio hotels in Japan. Instead you will be served farm-to-table cuisine using locally grown ingredients. Ecotourism gives tourists a chance to observe nature up close and enjoy its benefits.
“It’s time to redefine luxury. Organic feels good. Slow life feels right. In order to increase the number of bio hotels in Japan, we need more people to choose eco-friendly accommodations so the demand goes up,” Nakaishi says.
“Being environmentally friendly does not have to cost money. Many times it saves costs. It’s not just about doing something out of the goodness of your heart. Sustainability makes business sense.” – Kyodo