Making stripping worthwhile since 110 A.D.
About less than an hour away from the capital of Yamagata Prefecture by bus, Zao Onsen is a ski resort and hot spring town with a long history. While the most popular season to come visit is undoubtedly in the winter to take full advantage of the quality of snow, there’s still so many things to do and see regardless of the season.
Skiing and Ice Monsters
There are multiple ski equipment rental shops available as well as several ski and snowboarding schools in town. Lift tickets are valid on all of the lifts throughout the resort, ranging from a 4-hour ticket for ¥4000 to a 7-day ticket for ¥21,600. There are also season ticket options. Suffice it to say, you have no excuse not to spend your day zipping down the scenic mountain slopes. With 15 slopes and 12 courses, there is enough of a range to satisfy complete beginners as well as seasoned pros.
Take a cable-car to the top of Mount Zao to get an aerial view of the juhyo or ice monsters – rows of snow-covered trees that look like gnarled creatures out of a dreamscape which you’ll have skied or boarded through earlier. Temperatures can go as low as -20C so make sure to bundle up.
Zao Onsen Outdoor Hot Springs
Once you’ve tired yourself out, wind down in one of the many onsen (hot springs) that give the town its name. Supposedly discovered in 110 A.D., Zao’s hot springs are the oldest in the Tohoku region. The waters are renowned for their high-acidity which helps heal skin conditions and gastrointestinal disorders – whatever the benefits, this is bath time at its most epic.
There are three public bathhouses and each hotel has its own fully fitted onsen too. However, it’s the three open-air onsen you should make time for. Sitting in a hot bath while looking out into the forest at any time of the year is an unforgettable experience.
The Dai Rotenburo (Big Outdoor Spring) sits deep in a mountain ravine. With views that overlook the surrounding snow-coated mountains and forests, it makes stripping off in front of strangers totally worth it. Plus, this particular onsen is one of our Top 30 Tattoo-friendly onsen in Japan.
Hiking Mount Zao
If you miss the winter season, Zao Onsen is a hiker’s paradise during the rest of the year. Mountain guides can be hired to show you around or simply choose one of its many courses and explore by yourself. Most routes lead to the enormous Okama crater, or the Five Color Lake, in the middle of volcanic Mount Zao.
Take the Zao Echo Line trail to Kattadake, from where you can get a view of the crater from a picture-perfect distance.
Zao is a magical place, filled with natural elegance no matter the season.