Zao Onsen is one of the most popular onsen town and ski resort in the Yamagata Prefecture. The highlight for every visitors is the Zao Snow Monsters – ice trees covered with heavy snow, also known as Juhyo. At the height of winter, as freezing winds rushes through the Zao mountain range, thick heavy snow gets accumulated on the trees along the mountain, forming snow monsters as seen below.
Does it look like a row of snow Godzilla marching away?
Getting to Zao Onsen Resort
We were staying near JR Yamagata Station and took a 40 minutes bus ride to the Zao Onsen area. One way bus fare is 1000 yen. Many hot springs and restaurants can be found here. Remember to take note of the bus timetable. On our return, we were shocked to see a long queue at the terminal. We did manage to get on the bus by sitting on the aisle foldable seats.
From the onsen bus terminal, it is a 15 minutes walk to the Zao Ropeway Sanroku station. There are 2 legs of ropeway to the top of the mountain and each lasts around 10 minutes. As we ascend the ropeway, we could see the climate changing and the trees getting more covered snow near the top.
Zao Snow Monsters and Ski Resort
Zao ski resort is one of the oldest in Japan and is very popular in the region due to its thick and soft snow during winter. When we reached the top, it was extremely cold and foggy. Visibility was really low and we could hardly see where we were walking. But there were still skiers and snowboarders daring enough to continue their fun.
Due to the freezing cold, we couldn’t spend too much time in the open. Most of the photos we took of Zao Snow Monsters were from inside the heated coffee shop. Nice to enjoy a hot cup of coffee while admiring these amazing works of nature.
The observation deck known as the Lover’s Sanctuary (恋人の聖地).
A buddha statue is seen at the ski resort, with half of the body covered under snow.
Zao Onsen Resort
There are many onsen and accommodation choices for visitors to choose from. We tried out Shinzaemon no Yu which is located just beside the ropeway station. This is a modern hot spring facility with indoor and outdoor onsen. Soaking in the outdoor hot spring as the snow falls is really one of the best thing in life.
Dinner was sukiyaki at a traditional Japanese style restaurant in this hot spring resort.
Zao Onsen is a really nice place to visit especially in winter. Do not miss the world famous Zao Snow Monsters if you visit Yamagata or Tohoku region during winter.
Other recommended places to visit in Tohoku during winter
- Beautiful Winter at Geibikei Gorge
- Pikachu Themed POKEMON with YOU Train in Tohoku
- Winter Hike at Yamadera