Ever thought of visiting a place like Mount Zao before? This post reveals one of its stunning highlights that you can only experience in the winter. To get the most out of your Japan holiday this winter, you should visit renowned mountain.

The words “Snow Monsters” might create some fear in your mind. Usually, monsters are found in legends or horror fiction which appears in a large form and be a frightening creature. I don’t think that this sort of monster has ever been found in Japan. So, don’t get scared, there is nothing to be scared of.

The real thing is that you are going to explore a stunning winter holiday destination here in Japan. Guess what?! Located on the border between Yamagata and Miyagi prefecture in the Tohoku region, Mount Zao offers an iconic scenery of frost covered trees in winter that is recognized as snow monsters or (Juhyo in Japanese).

Zao in winter! Photo Credit: Yuhei Kuratomi at Flickr.

The icy monsters never make a move; you don’t scream seeing these giant snow creatures created by mother nature. They are the symbol of Zao Onsen in the winter that attracts thousands of visitors every year. This is considered one of Japan’s best winter attractions.

It is one of only very few places in Japan where frost-covered trees can be seen. The frost-covered trees are formed due to the heavy snowfall and seasonal freezing winds. If you are looking for a unique winter holiday spot in Japan, you can come to Yamagata to Zao’s snow monsters.

Zao Onsen

Ski at Zao. Photo Credit: hirotomo t at Flickr.

Located on the foothills of Mt. Zao range, Zao onsen is one of the best places to spend your winter holiday in the Tohoku region. It was built about 1,900 years ago and often it is considered one of Japan’s oldest hot spring ski resorts.

People just don’t come here to see the Ice Monsters, instead they also pay a visit to have a great time with skiing, and snowboarding. You can start your epic winter expedition here in Zao Onsen believing yourself that it is the best and most enjoyable skiing and snowboarding route you wish to experience this winter.

Whether you are skilled skier or newbie, the instructors of Utopia Ski School would always there to help you and guide to enjoy the slopes. They are true professionals, who know everything about Mt. Zao slopes and the ski courses available for visitors. If you want to wish to have a private lesson from them then it is also available for you to get.

A wide range of courses (about 12) covering a large area of the Mt. Zao provide an excellent atmosphere for skiing and snowboarding. It is truly overwhelming when descending about the 15 different slopes through ice-covered coniferous trees.

There are several restaurants can be spotted on the Mt. Zao slopes that offers variety of foods and scenic views of stunning winter nature. Zao Onsen is a small ski resort town where various ski and snowboard rental shops around the village can be found as well. Though, the largest ski rental shop is located inside the new Zao Base Centre Jupia. A number of winter equipment can be rented from this shop.

Zao Onsen itself is a hot spring village featuring three open-air hot springs, and three public bathhouses. The hot volcanic water would be very essential after taking few ski courses. It will be quite relaxing and refreshing for your mind. You surly would get tired of skiing and snowboarding; therefore I believe you should head to a hot spring bathhouse and regenerate your soul.

What is the Best Time to See Ice Monsters in Zao?

Snow monsters of Mount Zao. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Ice monsters start appearing at the end of January. The best time to see ice on the slopes of Mt. Zao is between mid February and Early March. Though, the end of February is the prime time to experience these frost-covered trees. Indeed, the slopes of the snowy Mt. Zao look breathtaking with those giant ice monsters!

Unlike any other places you find in Japan during winter, it showcases a unique view of Japanese winter. Even Sapporo’s Snow Festival cannot beat this spot; it remains unique till all the snow starts melting from the tree branches of Zao forest. Please note that spectacular views of the frost covered trees on a bright sunny day are truly overwhelming.

Scream of the Mt. Zao

Snow monsters! Photo Credit Wikimedia Commons.

Mount Zao is one of the top 100 famous mountains in Japan. It is famous not only for the ice monsters you see in the winter but also for the Onsen (hot springs) and ski resorts.

Zao onsen ski resort is one of the leading ski resorts that attract skiers from all over the world. Diverse ski slopes of the mountain could only explain you better than me how beautiful it is to perform skiing across the slopes covered with those snow monsters standing nearby.

The Snow monster or Juhyo is an art of Japanese nature made by the snow, wind and ice. Mt. Zao screams when winter arrives that remain silent to us until we find the snow monsters out there. As winter rolls around in the Tohoku region, a seasonal wind starts blowing in from Siberia, Russia.

There is an ongoing process that repeats over and over again which turns trees of Zao into snow monsters. The process begins with freezing winds pass over the Sea of Japan. This creates moisture in the air and after crossing the Asahi Mountain Rang that lies to the west of Mt. Zao, that moisture forms clouds of cold droplets.

These clouds frost the conifers on the slopes of Mt. Zao as it is hardly pushed by strong winds. The clouds pushed by strong winds help to frost the conifers on the slopes of Mt. Zao. Thus how the trees start forming like snow monsters.

Zao Ropeway in Yamagata

Zao Ropeway. Photo Credit: Christopher Johnson at Flickr.

Zao ropeway is located at the foot of the Mt. Zao on Yokokura slope of Zao Onsen Ski Resort. It consists of two lines and three distinct stations. To enjoy 360 Degree panoramic views of Zao Onsen area and the Mt. Zao Snowy Slopes you have to rely on this.

There are available cable cars, gondola lifts and chair lifts to get to the top of the Mt. Zao summit thorough the designated ropeway lines.

The lines: Sanroku Line and Sancho Line

The Stations: Zao Sanroku Station, Juhyo Kogen Station, and Jizo Sancho Station.

This is the only easiest and comfortable way you could experience the amazing view of the snow monsters and the snowy slopes of Mt. Zao in winter. It would take you to the summit of the Mt. Zao where you can see the statute of Zao Jizoson and Zao natural botanical garden.

On the Sanroku line, it takes about 7 minutes to reach to Juhyu Kogen station from Zao Sanroku station. On the other hand, reaching from Juhyo Kogen station to Jizo Sancho station through Sancho line takes about a 10 minute.

Hours of Operation:

1) In winter (11 December – 31 March): Sanroku Line (8:15 – 16:45) and Sancho Line (8:30 – 16:30)
2) In summer (1 April – 10 December): 8:30 – 17:00

The Ropeway Fare:

The ropeway fare varies depending on your age. There is a distinct fare for both adult and children. An adult person has to pay 800 yen for a single trip from Zao Sanroku Station to Juhyo Kogen Station on the Sanroku line and for a round trip it costs 1,600 yen. For children it is 400 and 800.

When it comes to Sancho line, you will have to pay 1,500 for one way trip and 2,600 for a round trip. If you have kids then please pay only 800 and 1,300 yen for both single and round trip. I think it is better and a good idea to pay for round trip fare at once because you don’t need to pay again at the time of descending.

Phone number: 023-694-9518. You can make a phone call for any information you need to know.

Ice Monster Light up

Photo Credit: Mamusi Taka at Wikimedia Commons.

Darkness fades away when the ice monsters (Juhyu) are lit up. It is one of the interesting features one could enjoy the night view of Mt. Zao slopes and the ice monsters. The night illumination is seen during the Japanese New Year, Weekends in January and full month of February.

Illuminated Juhyu is perfect for photographers to capture some great photographs. You would be seeing a lot of visitors who are indeed get busy with capturing their own photographs and selifes in front of the snow monsters.

Bird’s eye view of those monsters from the ropeway is impressive as it takes you to the highest elevation of the mountain. You could experience an unforgettable winter holiday season here in Zao Onsen area.

Where to Stay?

There are some hotels in Zao Onsen area including a ryokan (Japanese style inn) which could solve your accommodation problem. But I stayed at a really good hotel called “Zao Astraea Hotel.” You can get to the hotel by the Zao Ropeway.

Scenic views of highest elevation of Zao from the outdoor hot springs of the hotel are truly magnificent. Providing the best hospitality to its every customer is the motto of this famous hotel. You will be surprised seeing all the facilities they offer you during your stay.

The rooms are specious, well decorated and clean. You even can get a triple bed room if you need one of those. I always wish to have a comfortable stay when it comes to staying in a hotel. I think you do have the same desire as I have.

This is the hotel you could comfortably sleep at night. Two minivans and 2 microbuses are all it has to offer to its visitors as part of transportation facility. It offers a free shuttle service to and from Yamagata, Tendo and Kaminoyama city for a group of tourist of 10 members or more.

How to Get There?

Photo Credit: Mamusi Taka at Wikimedia Commons.

To see the snow monster, you have to get to Zao Onsen Ski Resort because this is where they belong. You can access to Zao hot springs resort by Taxi, Train (JR East), Highway Bus, and Car (Tohoku Expressway). There is a JR East route that takes you to Yamagata Station from Tokyo, taking only 2 hours 30 minutes.

When you get off the Yamagata station, you hop on a bus (45 minutes ride) to reach Zao Onsen Ski Resort. If you decided to get there by taxi, it would take at least 40 minutes with spending about 6,000 yen as taxi fare. It is also possible for you to reach this spot by highway bus from the city Sendai and Tokyo (Capital city of Miyagi prefecture).

In Conclusion

You just got familiar with the winter beauty of Mt. Zao but I have not shared the spring, autumn and summer beauty of this breathtaking place.

I strongly suggest you to take your useful travel accessories and most importantly all the winter travel accessories such as jackets, sweaters, shoes, gloves, caps and etc. Sometimes, the weather could be very extreme out there, so check the weather forecast before you head to Zao Onsen.

Thanks for reading this post. Have a wonderful and safe trip to Zao Onsen!