Yamagata’s famous winter scenery! A travel guide to fully enjoy the Zao Juhyo (Snow Monsters).

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Written by 編集部

The Zao Juhyo - Natural beauty that can only be seen during winter.
It is also known as “Snow Monsters,” the mystical sight of giant juhyo.
This article will provide you with tips and information to maximize your experience of this mystical scenery, the Snow Monsters.

Table of Contents

What is juhyo?

In order to enjoy the Snow Monsters to the fullest, let us first define “juhyo”.
Juhyo is ice that builds up when fog and clouds are blown over tree trunks and branches while the temperature is below zero.
It is a rare natural event that only occurs in parts of the Ou Mountains in the Tohoku region and in the subalpine zone.
The huge, unique-shaped juhyo is known as the ”Snow Monsters” and can only be seen in Japan.


The conditions for forming juhyo

These three conditions are required for juhyo to form.
・The wind must be blowing in one direction only.
・Abies mariesii (Aomori Todomatsu, evergreen conifer) trees grow naturally.
・An appropriate amount of snowfall.
Juhyo, the natural ice and snow artwork, will form only when all of the above conditions are met.

When can juhyo be seen?

It varies slightly by region, but the Juhyo season is roughly from late December to late March.
And the best time to see the massive, beautiful juhyo is from late January to late February.

The Juhyo season is quite short because when the temperature is too high, the snow melts and when it is too low, the snow does not stick to the trees.
If possible, you should plan your visit to see the juhyo around the weather and temperature.

The “Snow Monsters,” one of Japan’s three most famous juhyo

Juhyo is rare in Japan, and the three areas known as "Japan's Three Major Juhyo." are well-known.
At Mt. Zao, one of “Japan’s Three Major Juhyo,” visitors can admire the impressive and mystical scenery of the massive snow-covered trees that look like snow monsters.
The spectacular scenery attracts tourists from both inside and outside of Japan.

Juhyo, also known as the "Snow Monster."
Juhyo, also known as the "Snow Monster."

The Yamagata Zao is the best place to maximize your Snow Monsters experience.

The Zao mountains are parts of the Ou Mountains in the center of the Tohoku region, on the border of Miyagi and Yamagata prefectures.
The Zao mountains are a group of mountains, with Miyagi Prefecture's side being called Miyagi Zao, and Yamagata Prefecture's side being called Yamagata Zao.

Juhyo can be found in both Yamagata Zao and Miyagi Zao, but Yamagata Zao should be the better choice for tourists.
Yamagata Zao, including Juhyogen, is a ski resort, so visitors can enjoy both juhyo and winter sports.
Yamagata Zao is also the only location where the juhyo is illuminated at night.

Yamagata Zao
Yamagata Zao

How to enjoy Yamagata Zao

Let us introduce three attractions to enjoy Yamagata Zao to its fullest.
You don’t want to miss them when you visit Yamagata Zao.

The breathtaking panoramic view of Juhyogen from the ropeway.

If you want to fully appreciate the scenery of Yamagata Zao, the Zao Ropeway is a must-ride.
As the Zao Ropeway moves slowly, the 360-degree panoramic white and silver scenery gives visitors an illusion that they have wandered into another dimension.

Zao ropeway
Zao ropeway

Night in Yamagata Zao - A spectacular view created by juhyo and lighting

In Yamagata Zao, the juhyo is illuminated during a specific period.
The illuminated juhyo in various colors in the dark looks extraordinary, and you may feel as if you are dreaming.

The “Night Cruiser,” a heated snow groomer, can take visitors up close to the illuminated juhyo, so be sure to include it in your itinerary.

In Yamagata Zao, the juhyo is illuminated during a specific period.
In Yamagata Zao, the juhyo is illuminated during a specific period.

Superb skiing experience, gliding down through the spectacular scenery.

There is the “Yamagata Zao Onsen Ski Resort” in Yamagata Zao, which is the only place where skiers can enjoy skiing through the juhyo.
The “Yamagata Zao Onsen Ski Resort” is vast, with 26 courses, so staying for a couple of nights is recommended to visit them all.
The powder snow is fun for both skiers and non-skiers, making the “Yamagata Zao Onsen Ski Resort” a must-visit when in Yamagata Zao.

Dazzling ice trees are a must-see
Dazzling ice trees are a must-see

How to get to Yamagata Zao

Yamagata Zao can be reached in various ways, and the best way is to take the ropeway from Zao Onsen (hot springs) at the foot of the mountain to Juhyogen, while admiring the great nature.
To reach the summit of Yamagata Zao, take the Sanroku Line from Zao-Sanroku Station for 7 minutes, and then the Sancho Line to Jizo-Sancho Station for 10 minutes.
The following are the directions to Zao Onsen, the base for sightseeing in Yamagata Zao.

 Zao Onsen, the base for sightseeing in Yamagata Zao.
Zao Onsen, the base for sightseeing in Yamagata Zao.

From Tokyo

From Tokyo to Zao Onsen, Taking the Shinkansen (bullet train) and a bus is recommended.
Take the Yamagata Shinkansen to Yamagata Station for 2 hours and 30 minutes, then a bus to the Zao Onsen bus stop for 40 minutes.

By Air

Yamagata Airport is only 1 hour to 1 hour and 20 minutes by air from Haneda Airport (Tokyo), Itami Airport (Osaka), or Komaki Airport (Nagoya).
From Yamagata Airport to Zao Onsen takes about 1 hour and 50 minutes by bus.
The adorable natural scenery of Yamagata from the bus must keep you occupied.
It also takes about 1 hour and 50 minutes from Sendai Airport to Zao Onsen by bus.

Soothe your body at the foot of Yamagata Zao

After a long day of enjoying Yamagata Zao, why not unwind at Zao Onsen Hot Spring at the foot of the mountain?
Zao Onsen is a renowned hot spring in Yamagata with 1,900 years of history.
Since ancient times, the highly acidic sulfur spring water has been loved because it is believed to be effective not only for skin beauty but also for cuts, burns, diabetes, and other conditions.
The atmosphere of the old hot spring town is also charming, with traditional Japanese-style inns and souvenir shops in the steam rising from every corner.
The following are our picks of the three best attractions in Yamagata Zao.

Zao Onsen is a renowned hot spring in Yamagata with 1,900 years of history.
Zao Onsen is a renowned hot spring in Yamagata with 1,900 years of history.

The most popular day spa! Zao Onsen Big Open-air Spa

The Zao Onsen Big Open-air Spa features a huge open-air bath that can accommodate 200 people at once.
As it is surrounded by forests and a stream is nearby, visitors can admire nature while bathing.
This is a day spa that visitors can stop by without a reservation or bringing bath amenities, so it can be a good alternative to their lodging’s hot springs.

Enjoy the fantastic atmosphere! Genshichi Open-air Spa

The plentiful natural hot spring water continues to flow, and the milky white water has a faint scent of sulfur.
Visitors can enjoy bathing at night while the surrounding trees are lit up, creating a fantastic atmosphere.
The indoor bath made with Japanese cypress is also recommended for its relaxing aroma.

100% pure natural hot spring water straight from the source! Uta-no-yado Wakamatsuya

"Uta-no-yado Wakamatsuya" is famous for its hot spring, which was praised as a sacred spring by Mokichi Saito, a local great poet.
The highlight of this inn is the impressive, massive stone open-air bath, created by hollowing out an 18-ton piece of Zao Mesuki stone.
Guest rooms feature spectacular views of the Zao Mountains, making “Uta-no-yado Wakamatsuya” an ideal base for exploring Yamagata Zao.

The outdoor bath made of a 18-ton boulder carved out
The outdoor bath made of a 18-ton boulder carved out


Zao, one of the few places in Japan where rare juhyo can be seen.
Since the juhyo season is short, getting the right timing to see it may be difficult, but the scenery of Snow Monsters is indescribable.
Because Yamagata Zao offers not only juhyo but also Zao Onsen and a ski resort, it requires at least two nights to fully enjoy.
This article focuses on Yamagata Zao, but Miyagi Zao is also worth a visit.
Miyagi Zao’s juhyo has a different stunning view than Yamagata Zao since it is in an untouched wilderness.
Why not enjoy both Yamagata Zao and Miyagi Zao if you have a chance to visit to see the Snow Monsters?