Sittin' pretty on the borders of Yamagata and Miyagi.
Zao is known for its surreal winter scenes, but the area is worth another trip in the spring, fall and summer months. Skiers and tourists flock to Zao each winter for its powder snow and Juhyo forest, also known as the “Snow Monsters,” but one of the most well-known and brilliant views is that of Okama.
Its rich color plays a part in its mysterious magic…
This enormous crater lake with a circumference of 1,080 meters is situated in between Mount Katta, Mount Goshiki and Mount Kumano within the Zao Mountain range. Bordering both Miyagi and Yamagata prefectures, the lake’s unique color makes it one of the most photogenic areas in the Tohoku region.
The crater was formed by a volcanic eruption in the 1720s and the volcanoes in Zao are still active to this day. Considered a “symbol” of Zao, the 27-meter-deep lake cannot sustain life because of the water’s acidity.
Its rich color plays a part in its mysterious magic, as it changes colors from turquoise to emerald green several times a day depending on how the sunlight hits it. Because of this, it’s often referred to as “Goshikinuma” or a five-colored pond. (That’s not to be confused with another area in Fukushima by the same name.)
In spring, the snow starts to melt making Okama accessible and great for a brisk hike. In summer, wildflowers called komakusa bloom and sprinkle the surroundings with color in June through July, but autumn brings blushes of red and orange that are just as striking.
For hiking, mountain guides can be hired to show you around or simply choose one of its many courses and explore by yourself. Luckily, most routes lead to Okama. Take the Zao Echo Line trail to Kattadake, from where you can get a view of the crater from a picture-perfect distance.
Not up for a hike? Okama is also accessible by bus, car and ski lift. For specific routes, see details below. Also not to be missed is a local hot spring about an hour and a half hike from the crater area called Kamoshika Onsen (Map). This free outdoor sulfuric hot spring among rocky terrain is a blessed mountainous respite.