On the summit of Mt. Zao, a combination of Siberian winds and heavy snowfall creates dozens of frost-covered trees all around, and these are strikingly known as “Zao snow monsters” or otherwise, “juhyo” in Japanese. While this magical natural beauty may seem like needs quite a hassle to climb up the mountain, it can be easily seen on the upper ice-field course of Zao Onsen Ski Resort.
What Is A Snow Monster?
Snow monsters are a type of rime. Rime is formed when the temperature is below freezing, water vapor in the air and supercooled fog particles that do not freeze even when the temperature is below 0 degrees Celsius adhere to trees and form ice. These rime are a surface layer of of ice formed by the repetition of the process of taking in snowflakes and hardening them in the gaps between the ice formed on the trees. Once they are big enough, it is called “snow monsters”.
The best timing to see these spooky snow monsters are around mid-February. As the temperature rises in March, the ice melt, and the trees become thinner. While in Japan, these snow monsters can be seen at Asahidake in Hokkaido, Hakkoda in Aomori, Moriyoshi in Akita, and Shiga Kogen in Nagano, the most famous is Zao, which occupies the border between Miyagi and Yamagata prefectures. Unlike all others, snow monsters on the Miyagi side are created by pure nature, untouched by human hands. It is solemnly dependent on the natural climate. However, there are no ropeways or other transportation facilities to visit the snow monsters there. Instead, visitors will need to prebook and take the Wild Monster snowmobile from Sumikawa Snow Park in Zao Town. (Reservation is a must and can be done from here)
On the other hand, snow monsters on the Yamagata side, snow monsters are located on the upper ice-field course of Zao Onsen Ski Resort. Therefore, it is possible to take the ropeway to see them.
The ropeway/gondola is also open for extended hours when the snow monsters are lit up. Without being frozen, visitors can stay inside the cabin and be amazed at this fantastic view of the glowing snow monsters from above either in the darkness or at sunset. Sunset is also a popular timing to board the cabin as the natural light from the sun adds stunning color to the snow. Because this ropeway/gondola is quite stable with less swaying and swinging, viewing from its large windows and taking pictures is highly recommended.
Spooky Night Time Illumination
Under the pitch black sky, the lit up snow monsters create a rather spooky scenery. In the midst of a silence, different colorful lights cast on these gigantic snow monsters that give out a completely different look from the daytime. Zao is an extremely cold place at night, with temperatures below minus 10 degrees Celsius. When visiting the snow monsters at night, bringing extra warm clothing is a must.
For an extra fun and memorable experience, booking the Juhyo Illusion Corridor Tour is something to consider. Riding on a snowmobile to see the illuminated snow monsters is surely a great way to see them from different angles. For more information and to book, see here>.
Zao Onsen Ski Resort
40 minute bus ride from Yamagata Station
Take the JR Yamagata Shinkansen from Tokyo to Yamagata which takes about 2.5 hours. Then, transfer to a bus to Zao Onsen (40 minutes, one bus per hour). The train ride is covered by the Japan Rail Pass, JR East Tohoku Area Pass and JR East South Hokkaido Pass, but the bus ride is not so bringing cash is recommended.