The Tohoku region consists of six unique and equally amazingly prefectures, so it is a very difficult task to pin-point just one attraction that represents the ‘essence’ of Tohoku. If there had to be one though, this would be it!
There is simply nothing like this anywhere else in the world.
Forget an elusive ‘Bigfoot’ – we’re talking a whole army of giant abominal snowmen, making a silent march up to the peak of a select number of mountains in North-Eastern Japan. These are the infamous ‘Juhyo’ (Snow Monsters) of Tohoku!
More spectacular than scary, these ‘monsters’ are a naturally occuring phenomenon created by a unique combination of seasonal factors and weather conditions during the coldest months of winter(late December – early March). An unbelievable icy cold jet-stream from Siberia blows wet, sticky snow and ice across the North of Japan where it attaches to forests of massive fir trees at the top of the mountains, which then freezes over to form these bizarre, other-wordly shapes. There are a few locations around Tohoku where you can witness this amazing natural wonder (see below), Zao Onsen Ski Resort is the unquestionable highlight.
Also known for its fantastic powder-snow, snow-depth and variety of runs (14 different slopes with 12 courses, including runs of up to 10km long), at Zao Onsen Ski Resort you can opt to take a gondola to the very peak of the mountain and ski/snowboard through the forests of monsters before making your way to one of the many onsen (hot-spring) resorts of the traditional onsen town (Zao Onsen) at the foot of the mountain. But the good news is that you don’t even have to know how to ski to enjoy this jaw-dropping sight. A round-trip ticket on the gondola is also accessible to those wishing to ride to the top to enjoy the scenery from the viewing platform (particularly recommended for families, photographers and non-skiers).
During peak season, Zao Onsen Ski Resort also runs a fantastic ‘illumination’ event where the usually pitch-black mountain is lit-up with various coloured lights between 5pm~9pm, creating eery atmosphere by casting spooky shadows of the monsters onto the white snow. The illumination is accessible either by gondola or, for the adventurous, by taking an exhilarating ride on a massive snow-cat for a slightly more up-close-and-personal view.
Zao Onsen Ski Resort homepage: http://www.zao-spa.or.jp/english/
Resort conditions and ticket prices: http://www.snowjapan.com/japan-ski-resorts/zao-onsen (Please note that most Ryokan/inns and hotels in the area will offer packages including lift-tickets/discounts. Please consult the homepage of your chosen accommodation.)
Resort conditions and reviews: http://www.powderhounds.com/Japan/Honshu/Zao-Onsen/Ski-Resort.aspx
Those traveling with their own ski/snowboarding gear are recommended to make use of Japan’s fantastic ‘Takkyubin’ (luggage courier) service. For a modest price, you can have your gear safely shipped ahead of you to your hotel or address of your choice. For more info, search Yamato ‘Kuroneko’ Japan.
Onsen experience for day-trippers: if you don’t plan on staying overnight at Zao Onsen but still want to sooth your ski-legs after a hard day on the slopes, drop-in to ‘Shinzaemon-no-yu’ at the foot of the mountain. This hot-spring is open to casual visitors (until 6pm) and boasts some of the highest-quality mineral-filled spring water in the area.
How to get there:
Take the Yamagata Shinkansen from Tokyo to Yamagata Station (around 2hrs and 30 minutes). Take a bus from Yamagata Station to Zao Onsen (click here for bus times and more details).
Take the JR Senzan Line to Yamagata Station. Take a bus from Yamagata Station to Zao Onsen (click here for bus times and more details).
There is an express bus service from Sendai Station (East Exit Bay 76) to Zao Onsen, however there is only one service daily and reservation is required. (Reserve tickets here) Cost: 1600 yen
There is also an express bus service from Sendai Aiport to Zao Onsen which runs over the winter season. Cost: 1800 yen
Other recommended ‘Snow Monster’ locations:
Other snow monster locations, tours and packages: http://www.japanican.com/en/special/info/tohoku/index
Make friends with dozens of adorable fluffy foxes at Shiroishi-Zao’s Fox Village
For more great locations in Tohoku, check out our homepage!