Japan is a bow-shaped country that has amazing sights to see during each and every season. Within those sights, the Tohoku Region is often seen as having a harsh winter, but alongside it comes some amazingly picturesque scenes that look like they come out of a fantasy world for visitors and locals to check out. Let's check out our 4 top winter spots in the Tohoku region together in the article.
1. Mount Zaō's Rime Ice (Yamagata Prefecture)
Mount Zaō in Yamagata Prefecture is well-known for the beauty of its frost-covered trees. From January through February, the old-growth forest atop the 1500m tall mountain is covered in snow and frost, transforming it into what can only be described as a frozen monster.
In December the cold winds from Siberia blow over Japan's sea creating clouds that carry an abundance of cold water droplets, eventually reaching Mount Zaō. These droplets, once they reach the Maries' fir trees instantly freeze, covering the whole area in frost and snow. Furthermore, as the wind heads upward, large shrimp-like formations are created through the frost on the trees.
The view and beauty of the pure-white snow atop the mountain during the coldest period of the year is breathtaking. As night draws in the mountain is lit up in beautiful colors, creating an otherworldly feel as you walk through the snow during the night. The light-up event takes place from 17:00 - 21:00.
Atop this ice monster, you'll also find the Zao Onsen Ski Resort, Tohoku's largest ski resort. It holds many things to enjoy including the powder snow, hot springs, ropeway, and more.
At the ski resort you'll find courses where you can enjoy the sights of the frosted trees, or maybe take the ropeway and enjoy the sights from above? Even if you're not up for trying out skiing or snowboarding, you're able to use the ropeway for the sole purpose of seeing the sights. There's even an observation tower from which you can enjoy a nice snack at the restaurant and look down towards the frosted trees. How about visiting and experiencing this precious and powerful sight for yourself during your next trip to Japan?
How to Get to Mount Zaō's Rime Ice
- Approximately 40 minutes via bus from JR Yamagata Station, and 1 hour 30 minutes via bus from Sendai Station
- A 15-minute walk from Zao Onsen Bus Terminal
- Name: Zao Ropeway
- Business Hours: 8:30～17:00 (Sanrokusen), 8:45～16:45（Sanchosen）
- Fee: Adult 1 Section ¥800, 2 Sections ¥1,500 2 Sections (Round Trip) ¥3,000 / Child 1 Section ¥400, 2 Sections ¥800 2 Sections (Round Trip) ¥1,500
- Payment Using JCB Card Possible
2. Yokote Snow Festival (Akita Prefecture)
The thousands of the lights that can be found scattered along he snowy Janosaki River Beach are actually mini snow huts. Candles illuminate these small homes that are made from hardened snow, lighting the snowy field in a soft orange glow.
The one thing that truly makes you feel and appreciate that this is a snow kingdom is the traditional snow festival that has been continued for over 450 years. It's a Koshōgatsu (Little New Year Festival) that celebrates the Suijin (Water God) every year on the 15th and 16th of February.
It is said that the city once suffered from a lack of water, and as such, they are now extremely thankful for water and celebrate the Suijin (water god). You can enter a snow hut, and raise a monetary offering to the enshrined god to request peace and prosperity in the household, prosperous business, and abundant crops.
Within the 80 snow huts that are dotted around the city, the local children will serve you with amazake (sweet drink made from fermented rice). The warmth of this hospitality will help warm you up after your exploration of the cold outside and is sure to become an unforgettable memory from your journey. While you may have an image of the inside of the snow hut being cold, it's actually quite warm.
Yokote Snow Festival
- Schedule: Every Year - Feb 15 + 16
- Location: Yokote City Hall-Main / Yokote Park
- Access: A 10-minute walk from JR Ou Line Yokote Station. Free Shuttle Bus to Snow Hut Grounds Available (From 17:40 to around 21:00)
- Time: 18:00～21:00
※ Activities, timings, and more are subject to change/cancellation due to COVID-19.
３．Hakkōda Mountains（Aomori Prefecture）
The Hakkōda Mountains can be found in Aomori, Aomori Prefecture. The Hakkōda Mountains in the winter can only be called a "Snow Monster". Atop the mountain you'll find many Maries' fir trees, that are covered in frost and snow, getting larger and larger until the trees themselves also become known as a monster. You're able to reach the summit of the mountain in just 10 minutes using the ropeway and can check out the snow-covered trees and true charm of the mountain in winter as you head up. (Can be used for the hoarfrost alone).
You're of course able to ski on Mount Hakkōda, with courses showing you the frost-tipped trees as well as the distant Tsugaru Region, Shimokita Peninsula, and Hokkaido. Maybe you prefer snowshoe hiking where you can see the trees up close, with, depending on the weather, the chance to even experience some fierce snow blown around. If you're up and about early in the morning, you may even be able to see some squirrels or rabbits, or maybe just their footprints in the snow, there's so much to enjoy.
Another location to check out is the Hakkōda / Towada Gold Line which is closed during winter and has snow walls stacked extremely high creating a corridor. There's an event for 2 days before the road opens again known as the "Hakkōda Walk", where you can walk alongside the 9m-tall walls of snow and experience their majesty for an 8km walk. All of these and more allow you to experience Hakkōda's abundance of nature (Reservation required in advance). Don't forget to cool off (or heat up) in a hot spring after your journey.
Accessing Hakkoda Ropeway's Skiway：80 minutes via bus from JR Aomori Station
- Business Hours：Mar - Start of Nov 9:00 - 16:20, Middle of Nov - Feb 9:00 - 15:40
- Fee：Adult 1-way ￥1,250 Round Trip ¥2,000, Children 1-way ¥450 Round Trip ¥700
４．Ginzan Onsen（Yamagata Prefecture）
Ginzan Onsen is a popular hot spring is hidden away in a valley around a 30-minute drive away from Obanazawa, Yamagata Prefecture. The retro buildings alongside the snow during January and February are popular within Yamagata each and every year. The town itself is as it was 100 years prior, this retro style alongside the freshly fallen snow and gas lights created a nostalgic atmosphere that brings about a great number of tourists every year.
It's said that Ginzan Onsen was founded around 1,600 years ago. The name "Ginzan" originated from the Edo Period of Japan (1603 - 1868), with this location said to be one of the few within which silver (Gin in Japanese) was mined. After the silver veins dried up, the mines closed and the area was refunded as a hot spring resort.
Also, if you didn't know, this is where the worldwide famous Japanese drama "Oshin" was filmed, as the location where Oshin's mother worked as a waitress, the retro-style traditional Japanese inn being the main stage. At the wooden Japanese-style Kosekiya (Annex) found in the center of Ginzan Onsen, you're able to enjoy a delicious breakfast of "Oshin-meshi" that consists of white rice and Japanese radish.
How to Get to Ginzan Onsen
1 Hour 20 minutes from Yamagata Airport via bus, 3 hours 20 minutes from Tokyo Station to JR Ōishida Station using the Shinkansen, then a further 40 minutes from JR Ōishida Station to Ginzan Onsen via bus