Located on the eastern side of Yamagata Prefecture sits Zao Onsen, a historic town and one of Japan's best kept skiing and hot spring secrets. No matter what time of year you're planning to visit, Zao has something to offer for every traveler. With some of the best snowfields in winter and beautiful scenic landscapes throughout the rest of the year, a visit to Zao Onsen is definitely worth adding to your itinerary.
Said to have been originally founded approximately 1900 years ago, the Zao Onsen village is a hot spring hot spot like no other. Thanks to its location at the foot of the Zao Onsen ski resort, the village often sees swarms of weary locals come to enjoy the natural healing baths after a long day on the ski slopes. Though its acidic sulphuric spring has a much stronger aroma than many other hot springs, the healing powers of Zao's water is reputed to be some of the best in the entire country.
For those chasing something unique, Zao is also one of the only places in Japan that you can witness 'snow monsters'. Known to the locals as 'juhyo' these iconic white figures tower over the area's mountainous peaks. The monsters are actually created by the heavy snowfall and freezing winds that covers the trees in snow and sculpt them into unique formations.
For those who love their winter spots, Zao Onsen ski resort is an incredible getaway from the at time maniac energy of Japan's other popular winter destinations. The resort is in fact Japan's oldest ski resort and it still remains one of the country's best. With over thirty different lifts, gondolas and ropeways to get you up to slopes, there are a number of runs for every level of skier. It doesn't matter whether you've torn up the Swiss alps, or never seen snow before in your life, Zao is home to something for you. If you're all about getting you money's worth Zao is also home to a 10km slope that takes guests on an intimate tour through the unique snow monster forest.
If you're traveling from Tokyo, the best way to get to Zao is by catching the JR Tohoku Shinkansen heading to Yamagata from Tokyo or Ueno station, the trip takes about two and a half hours and costs 11,000 yen each way. From Yamagata station, transfer to the bus heading to Zao Onsen, this bus takes around 40 minutes and costs 1,000 yen each way. If you're traveling from somewhere a little closer like Sendai the best way to get there is by catching the Zao Onsen bus from Sendai station. This journey takes about an hour and a half, costs 1,600 yen and runs one round trip per day.
Zao Onsen Overview
NAVITIME TRAVEL EDITOR