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Discover Zao in 2024: Snow Monsters, Hot Springs, Fox Village, and Skiing

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The Zao region, nestled between Miyagi and Yamagata prefectures, offers natural marvels like the snow monsters, ancient hot springs, a fox village, and the volcanic crater lake Okama. This nature-rich paradise is ideal for outdoor enthusiasts with hiking and skiing opportunities.

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The Enchanting Zao Packed with Dreamy Attractions

Zao is located on the border of Yamagata and Miyagi prefectures in the Tohoku region. In recent years, it has gained popularity due to the snow monsters (juhyo) and Zao Fox Village being prominent tourist spots.

In addition to these two attractions, the Zao area in Yamagata, known for its hot springs, has nature-rich surroundings worth exploring. You can also climb an active volcano to see the volcanic crater lake known as Okama. In winter, there are excellent ski resorts to enjoy as well.

Below, we have compiled attractions in Zao to serve as a reference when planning your trip to Tohoku!

How to Get to Zao

The main attractions in Zao are centered around Zao Onsen. To reach Zao Onsen, you must take a bus to Zao Onsen Bus Terminal. The bus ride from JR Yamagata Station takes about 40 minutes.

Buses are also available from Sendai Airport and JR Sendai Station. However, it's essential to note that buses in the Sendai area require advance reservations. Be sure to confirm and prepare your transportation method before embarking on your trip!

For travelers departing from Tokyo, we recommend purchasing the JR East Tohoku Area Pass, which offers unlimited rides on the Shinkansen alongside various express, rapid, and local trains and JR buses within the designated area. This pass will save both time and money on travel expenses.

See the Snow Monsters of Zao

Zao and Yamadera

When it comes to Zao, the first attraction that comes to mind is the snow monsters, called juhyo in Japanese. The snow monsters form due to the notoriously cold winters in the Tohoku region. Moisture in the air freezes on branches and intertwines with snow, creating unique and peculiar-shaped ice formations nicknamed "Zao's Snow Monsters."

The snow monsters can be seen in both Yamagata and Miyagi prefectures. Those in the Miyagi area have a more pristine appearance, while visitors in the Yamagata area can take a ropeway to overlook the spectacular scenery from a high altitude. Additionally, visitors can ski or take a snowcat ride among these frozen attractions. At night, witnessing the snow monsters illuminated by lights is a unique spectacle, each offering distinct and varied experiences!

We once visited the snow monsters at -20 degrees Celsius. It was freezing, and standing in the observatory for only 30 seconds caused frost to form on our eyelashes. But witnessing such natural artistry is truly worthwhile!

Zao Snow Monster Festival

Zao Juhyo

The Zao Snow Monster Festival is held in the surrounding area of Yamagata during the period when the snow monsters form. The festival includes various activities such as an LED skiing event, an auspicious location tour, a children's snow play park, and winter fireworks. These diverse activities allow travelers to fully appreciate the charm of Zao's snow monsters!

The Okama Crater

Zao Five-Colored Pond Okama

Photo by Pixta
Okama is a volcanic crater lake surrounded by the peaks of Mount Zao, Mt. Kumano, and Mt. Goshiki. The shape resembles a pot, earning it the name "okama." Additionally, the lake's water contains sulfur and other components.

Depending on the weather, the lake's surface exhibits various colors, such as lapis lazuli and emerald, presenting a mysterious and dreamy spectacle. This is why it's known as the "Five-Colored Lake."

Additionally, it has a unique double hot water layer. When the water depth exceeds a certain level, the temperature rises. This rare and unique lake lacks living organisms due to its acidic nature but offers a serene and otherworldly landscape. It's definitely a sight worth seeing!

Zao Fox Village

Miyagi Zao Fox Village

Miyagi Zao Fox Village (Miyagi Zao Kitsune Mura) can be described as the newest and most popular attraction in Zao. It's easily accessible by taxi from Shiroishi Station or Shiroishi-Zao Station, taking less than half an hour. The village is open year-round, housing hundreds of adorable foxes from six species. Visitors can watch the foxes living leisurely and have the opportunity to feed and interact with fox babies using treats available within the park.

However, it's important to note that foxes are wild animals. There's a high probability of being bitten or attacked if you approach or touch them without caution. When entering the park, be sure to read the fox village's safety guidelines, which are available in multiple languages due to an increase of overseas visitors. Be extremely careful to avoid any unfortunate incidents during your trip!

Zao Ropeway

Zao Ropeway

Photo by Pixta
Zao offers several cable car routes, resembling a stroll through the sky to admire the scenery. One of the most popular ones is the Zao Ropeway, connecting the Zao Onsen area's Zao Sanroku Station to Juhyo Kogen Station and from there to Zao Jizosancho Station.

In winter, you can enjoy skiing and the spectacular view of the juhyo landscape. In summer, the cable cars are widely used by hikers, and you can witness the magnificent foliage in autumn. When you ride the cable car, choosing a seat on either side is best to take full advantage of the surrounding scenery.

Zao Chuo Ropeway

Zao Chuo Ropeway, another cable car connecting Zao Onsen Station, is a large cable car capable of accommodating 101 passengers. It has a total length of 1787 meters and ascends 524 meters, allowing passengers to view the magnificent scenery of Zao from high above. After reaching the mountaintop viewpoint, you can enjoy a panoramic view of the neighboring city.

Zao Central Highland Dokkonuma Pond

Zao Highland Swamp

Photo by Pixta
Dokkonuma is a pond located in the Zao Central Highland, with a circumference of approximately 350 meters, known for its mysterious emerald green surface. The pond can be reached by taking the Zao Chuo Ropeway. However, if you enjoy hiking, there are well-maintained paths where you can trek. Visitors can enjoy the outdoors while surrounded by the scent of the forest.

Zao Onsen

Zao Course

The hot springs in Zao Onsen are said to have been discovered in 110 AD, boasting a remarkable history of over 1,900 years. Along with the hot springs of Shirabu Onsen in Yamagata and Takayu Onsen in Fukushima, they are also referred to as the "Three Great Hot Springs of the Tohoku Region."

The thermal quality of Zao Onsen is sulfuric and strongly acidic, possessing sterilizing and skin care properties. No wonder it has earned the reputation as a beautifying hot spring. Moreover, the hot spring area has several public bathhouses and hot spring facilities. When the hot spring water mixes with air, it acidifies and turns a milky white color, making it particularly unique.

Zao Onsen Ski Resort

Zao Onsen Ski Resort

Photo by Pixta
Adjacent to Zao Onsen is the renowned Zao Onsen Ski Resort, famous for its high-quality powder snow. The ski season typically starts from late December until late April the following year, offering a total of 14 ski resorts, 12 ski courses, and several ropeways.

One of the main highlights is the one-of-a-kind skiing experience among the snow monsters. Additionally, the resort provides skiing lessons and snowshoeing activities for beginners or non-skiers to enjoy this snow-filled landscape.

Enjoying a soothing outdoor hot spring bath in the icy landscape is another unique experience!

Yamagata Sake Museum

Zao Course

Yamagata Prefecture's abundant produce and rice production have driven Japan's sake brewing culture. It's been dubbed the "Sake Brewing Kingdom" of the Tohoku region due to its high sake export. The Yamagata Sake Museum showcases Japanese sake crafted by 49 breweries within the prefecture.

Visitors can taste rare, highly acclaimed Japanese sake crafted from various competitions, along with an array of local Yamagata dishes. Located within the Zao Onsen area, the museum collaborates with neighboring accommodation facilities, providing each visitor with a daily complimentary tasting coupon.

Don't miss this opportunity to experience the beauty of Japanese sake and find your most delightful brew to take back home!

Enjoy Exploring Zao!

To fully enjoy Zao, we recommend arranging a two-day, one-night itinerary and utilizing the JR East Tohoku Area Pass when visiting additional attractions such as Ginzan Onsen and Matsushima in Miyagi!

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