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Zao Onsen

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

Carve through ice monsters at Zao ski resort.

Carve through ice monsters at Zao ski resort.

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

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

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

Okama Crater

Most famous for having the shape of a pot, Okama crater can only be seen at a distance.

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.

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: https://www.jreast.co.jp/e/eastpass_t

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, round trip tickets are available for ¥8000. 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. Seat reservations are mandatory.

Where To Stay

Zao Onsen Zao Kokusai Hotel
  • 933 Zao Onsen, Yamagata-shi, Yamagata, 990-2301 Japan
  • ¥20,460 - ¥35,200
  • 1.8 km
Zao Onsen Sakaiya Morino Hotel Wald Berg
  • 889-1 Zao Onsen, Yamagata-shi, Yamagata, 990-2301 Japan
  • ¥11,495 - ¥16,720
  • 4.47/5 (720 reviews)
  • 1.9 km
Zao Onsen Levert Zao
  • 878-5 Zao Onsen, Yamagata-shi, Yamagata, 990-2301 Japan
  • ¥13,500 - ¥23,500
  • 4/5 (185 reviews)
  • 1.9 km
Zao Onsen Meitoya Sou
  • 48 Zao Onsen, Yamagata-shi, Yamagata, 990-2301 Japan
  • ¥13,585 - ¥13,585
  • 4.05/5 (434 reviews)
  • 2.0 km
Zao Onsen Ryokan Wakamatsuya
  • 951-1 Zao Onsen, Yamagata-shi, Yamagata, 990-2301 Japan
  • ¥22,000 - ¥23,200
  • 4.47/5 (687 reviews)
  • 2.1 km

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