Sightseeing in Yamagata
Option A: "Ice Monsters" and Zao Onsen
Half-day (2,500 yen, transportation only)
Frolic in a winter (or spring, or summer, or autumn) wonderland
Zao Onsen is a world-renowned skiing and snowboarding destination, with 15 slopes and 12 courses served by 4 gondolas and 35 lifts. It also offers abundant recreational opportunities year-round. In spring, summer or autumn, trek the gorgeous mountain trails, surrounded by alpine flowers growing wild on the highlands, as well as magnificent panoramic views. You can soak away any fatigue or stress at Zao Onsen's famous hot spring baths. One thing you can only see in winter are Zao's "ice monsters", created when coniferous trees become encrusted by ice rime. You can ski among these fantastical wonders of nature, or view them from the gondolas.
Zao is an alpine area on the Yamagata-Miyagi prefectural border. "Onsen" is the Japanese word for a natural hot spring, and Zao Onsen, at the mouth of Zao National Park, has been drawing people for almost 2,000 years. The sulphurous natural volcanic waters relax and refresh body and mind. There are three bathhouses and four open-air hot springs open to the public. More than 100 hotels and inns also have their own private onsen. The "Dai Roten Buro" (open spring through autumn) is an open-air bath built into a beautiful mountain ravine that can accommodate 200 people at a time. Don't miss out on fresh igamochi, a local treat stuffed with sweet red bean paste.
Yamagata City Tourist Association:
Association of Zao Hot Springs Tourism:
The famous Ice Monsters ("juhyo" in Japanese) of Zao are wonders of the natural world. They form from about late December through mid-March, peaking in February, and are readily visible from the Zao Ropeway, an aerial cable car running up the mountainside. Juhyo form only when there is a very specific combination of temperature, wind and moisture: supercooled water droplets freeze on coniferous trees and form an ice rime that grows into unique shapes colloquially known as "shrimp tails", eventually transforming the trees into monstrous-looking ice sculptures. They are spectacularly illuminated at night during New Year's and on weekends in January and February.
English website (unofficial):