Russian and Japanese investors have begun work on the first hot-springs spa resort in Russia to use geothermal mineral water and follow the traditional Japanese bathing style. The bathing complex, known in Japan as an “onsen,” is due to open in 2019 on Sakhalin island in the North Pacific, and will, it is hoped, attract tourists from various parts of the Asia Pacific region.

Russian company Honoka Sakhalin is working together on the project with Japan’s largest onsen operator, Marushin Iwadera. Both companies will invest about US$4.7 million.

The spa complex, which will be built near the Mountain Air ski resort near, will have a total area of more than 7,000 square meters. At its heart will be an onsen – a traditional Japanese bath that sources mineral-rich water from deep below the ground. The water used will be extracted from the depths via a well.

“[The local water] is saturated with iodine within the required limits,” says Sergey Dmitriev, managing director of Honoka Sakhalin. “Data on this was provided by the Japanese side.”

Visitor numbers are expected to average 400 people per day. A trial launch is mooted for November 2018 and an official opening scheduled for 2019. Payback on the investment is expected within five to eight years.

Roman Ivanishchev, president of the Far Eastern Association of Restaurateurs and Hoteliers, said the complex will be in demand locally, as the people of Sakhalin are relatively well-off. “Sakhalin is also popular with foreign tourists, including skiers,” he told Asia Times. “Therefore, expectations of visitors from the Asia Pacific region have a basis.”

In 2016, about 165,000 people visited Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands, a 60% year-on-year increase from 2015. Up to 90% of tourists are residents of Japan. In the first half of 2017, Sakhalin was visited by more than 200,000 people.