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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.


okama yamagata

Photo by: Kotaro Haishi You cannot go close to Okama as the word is hazardous to humans.

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.

okama yamagata

Photo by: Kotaro Haishi On a cloudy day, Okama may not be visible. But, when the clouds clear it is magnificent.

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.

Things To Know

Fees and hours

No admission fee. Best times to visit are May, June, July, August, September and October. Hours: Sunrise to sunset from about 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

How To Get There


Zao Highline, Katta-gun, Miyagi-ken, Japan

By train

From Miyagi: Take the Tohoku Shinkansen (bullet train) to Shiroshi-Zao station. There are just two buses per day that leave from here for the 100-minute trip. On the bus, go to “Zao-Katta Sancho.” From here, walk five minutes.

From Yamagata: Take the train bound for Kaminoya Onsen station at JR Yamagata station. From there, you can take a free shuttle bus (Miyako bus bound for “Zao-Katta Sancho”) to Katta parking lot area. Get off after about an hour. Next, you can take the Zao-Katta ski lift up the mountainside, and then walk a few minutes.

(Here is a timetable from Yamagata station with times according to the Zao Onsen tourist site.)

By bus

From Yamagata: Take the Miyako bus bound for “Zao-Katta Sancho (mountaintop)” from Togatta hot springs. Get off at the last stop (Buses run on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays only). Use the Zao-Katta ski lift and walk a few minutes from there.

By car

Take the Naoe Echo Line, which is accessible from Shrioish-Zao station. This road will take you through the mountains toward Okama. The road itself does not have tolls, but to enter the Zao Highline from near the mountaintop to go to Okama (peak of Mt. Katta) has a small fee around ¥500. The line is open from the end of April to early November.

Where To Stay

Zao Onsen Zao Kokusai Hotel
  • 933 Zao Onsen, Yamagata-shi, Yamagata, 990-2301 Japan
  • ¥20,460 - ¥35,200
  • 6.1 km
Zao Onsen Sakaiya Morino Hotel Wald Berg
  • 889-1 Zao Onsen, Yamagata-shi, Yamagata, 990-2301 Japan
  • ¥11,495 - ¥16,720
  • 4.46/5 (722 reviews)
  • 6.1 km
Zao Onsen Takamiya Resort Rurikura
  • 1118-7 Zao Onsen, Yamagata-shi, Yamagata, 990-2301 Japan
  • ¥19,250 - ¥19,250
  • 4.53/5 (587 reviews)
  • 6.2 km
Zao Onsen Levert Zao
  • 878-5 Zao Onsen, Yamagata-shi, Yamagata, 990-2301 Japan
  • ¥14,500 - ¥23,500
  • 4/5 (185 reviews)
  • 6.3 km
Zao Onsen Kinosato
  • 1271-1 Zao Onsen, Yamagata-shi, Yamagata, 990-2301 Japan
  • ¥23,760 - ¥23,760
  • 6.3 km

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