Staff writerATAMI, Shizuoka Pref. — This used to be one of the most popular spa resorts in Japan, with streets packed with yukata-dressed tourists and hotel rooms fully booked for company parties.But such memories have been fading in Atami. Hard-hit by earthquakes and the recession, the city’s central area seems more deserted than ever. “During my over 50 years in Atami, I never have seen such few tourists here,” said Tomiichi Sugiyama, owner of a ryokan near JR Atami Station. “The number of customers at our hotel has dropped to one-third of what it was just a couple of years ago.”The hotel cut the room rate in half — to nearly 15,000 yen — but that hasn’t helped increase business. He said his hotel now earns merely one-sixth of what it did three years ago. Although Atami is not the only tourist spot to suffer a severe blow from the nation’s economic slump, lately the sharp decline in business here has attracted nationwide attention.Atami, whose hot springs are noted for their success in healing maladies such as rheumatism and neuralgia, had its heyday in the late 1960s after bullet trains began to stop at Atami Station in 1964. The number of overnight tourists to the city topped 6.1 million in 1968, according to Kazuo Koiso, the city’s tourism and commerce section chief.But as spa resorts increased nationwide, Atami’s popularity gradually declined. The real jolt came in the early 1990s, when the bubble economy burst and people began to cut spending on luxuries. “Tourists used to come here in groups, but then they began to travel abroad or take trips by themselves,” Koiso said, noting companies that used to entertain clients by bringing them to Atami in large groups are also staying away.He also blamed Atami’s decline on the opening of new attractions in the Tokyo metropolitan area, such as the Umihotaru man-made island in Tokyo Bay. People in the Kanto region have accounted for about 80 percent of Atami’s visitors.Last year, only about 3.6 million people came to the city for overnight visits, about half as many as three decades ago.Total revenues at the city’s hotels dropped from 75.6 million yen in 1992 to 57.9 million yen in 1997, whereas that of restaurants fell from 8.7 million yen to 4.7 million yen during the same period, according to the city’s finance office. Also, a series of earthquakes hit the region in March last year, scaring away an already dwindling number of tourists.
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