Largest City

Zao Onsen

Making stripping worthwhile since 110 A.D.

Picture this: the sun is setting on a perfectly snowy winter evening and you’re outside after a long day of skiing, relaxing in a hot spring full of skin-enriching minerals. Sounds amazing, right? This is exactly the kind of experience you’re able to have in the charming little town of Zao Onsen.

Photo by: Zao Onsen Dairotenburo The epic waters of the Zao Onsen Dai Rotenburo.

Yamagata Prefecture is known for its ski resorts and Zao Onsen is one of the most famous, and largest, in Japan. With 15 slopes and 12 courses, there is enough of a range to satisfy complete beginners as well as seasoned pros.

Equipment can be hired out from one of the many rental shops dotted around the town and there are several ski and snowboard schools in the area. Lift tickets are valid on all of the lifts throughout the resort, ranging from a 4-hour ticket for 4000 yen to a 7-day ticket for 21,600 yen. There are also season ticket options. Basically, you have no excuse not to enjoy skiing or snowboarding down the scenic mountain slopes.

Carve through ice monsters at Zao ski resort.

Carve through ice monsters at Zao ski resort.

Once you’ve tired yourself out, relax 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 bathtime 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.

Dip into the healing hot springs that gave Zao its name.

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

Refreshed you can take a cable-car to the top of Mount Zao to get an aerial view 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 this high can get as low as -20C so make sure to wrap up warm.

Okama crater at Zao Onsen, Yamagata.

Zao Onsen is also a top notch hiking destination.  Visit the beautiful landscape of Okama. Photo by Tomoaki Inaba.

If you miss the winter season — don’t worry. 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 super magical place, dotted with natural elegance no matter what season you go there.

Things To Know

JR East Pass - Tohoku Area

If you are traveling around northern Japan and you are a temporary visitor try this pass: Flexible 5-day pass (any 5 days within two weeks of issuance). If you buy it in Japan, it is typically ¥20,000 for an adult and ¥10,000 for children (6 to 11). If you are purchasing from overseas, typically there is a slight discount of ¥1000 off for adults and ¥500 off for children. More info:

How To Get There


Zaoonsen, Yamagata, Yamagata Prefecture 990-2301, Japan

By train

From Tokyo:

From Tokyo, take the JR Yamagata Shinkansen to Yamagata (approx. 2 1/2 hours). From there you have to transfer to a bus heading to Zao Onsen (approx. 40 minutes, ¥1000).

From Tokyo via Sendai (Winter Only):

From Tokyo take the JR Tohoku Shinkansen to Sendai (approx. 100-130 minutes). From there you need to transfer to a bus to Zao Onsen (100 minutes, ¥1600). This bus only has one round trip a day and seat reservations are required.

From Sendai:

From Sendai take the JR Senzan Line to Yamagata (70-90 minutes) and transfer to a bus to Zao Onsen (40 minutes, ¥1000).

By bus

From Tokyo:

During the winter, there is one daily overnight bus from Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station to Zao Onsen. The journey takes eight hours one way and costs 4500 yen, round trip tickets are available for 8000 yen. On the return journey, from Zao Onsen to Shinjuku, the bus runs during the day time. Seat reservations are mandatory.

From Sendai (Winter Only):

During the winter, there is one round trip per day between Sendai and Zao Onsen. The one way journey takes 100 minutes and costs 1600 yen. Seat reservations are mandatory.

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